The Avoca Mill
A piece of Ireland’s history
Avoca Handweavers, is known mostly as Avoca Mill has a presence over a great deal of Ireland. Its name is well known and there are many shops and stores sporting the Avoca name, which has grown from hand-woven products to gourmet foods, jewelry, china and household items from candles to soaps. I have always loved an Avoca throw and was really interested in taking a trip to the small town of Avoca where the original mill still operates.
The mill is the oldest working woolen mill in the country and one of the world’s oldest manufacturing companies. On the banks of the River Avoca, the mill dates back to 1723. Apparently travel to and from the remote village at that time was very difficult so the villagers created a barter system using the mill as a base. The mill was used for grinding grains for bread, spinning, and weaving of the local wool.
Three sisters, the Wynnes, inherited the mill in the 1920s and introduced colour to the fabrics, which have to be seen to be believed they are gorgeous. Avoca Handweavers’ tweed was used by Italian designer Elsa Schiaparelli. and also used for a waistcoat for King George VI and baby blankets for the children of Queen Elizabeth II. The Mills stellar reputation did not help in bad economic times though. In 1974, solicitor Donald Pratt was employed to sell the mill when it faced closure. Instead, he decided to buy it himself and began running the place with his wife Hilary (who apparently told him that if he did buy it, she would never speak to him again). They produced a range of bedspreads, throws and women’s classics in the fabrics created by the Mill.
Now managed by two generations of the Pratt family, Avoca continues to develop with several large retail outlets around Ireland, including Powerscourt and Malahide Castle, and in Belfast. Many of these also have popular foodhalls & cafes attached and have become immensely popular with both tourists and locals. The Avoca Café Cookbooks have also proven to be popular bestsellers.
At the Avoca Mill, you can take a self-guided tour of the operation there is no admission fee and you can wander through at your own pace. The entry into the mill is a small room with audiovisual displays and videos of the mills origins and interview with the owners. The history of the mill is laid out before you in bright colours and placards that tell the history of the place.
From the entrance where you can see the types of yarns and the yarn store you move into the working area where the first thing you see is the racks of wool and a display of where each of the wool comes from.
The noise mounts and you enter into the area where the looms are being set to weave. The colours and the textures are simply breathtaking.
We watched as a worker strung the woolen threads, literally thousands of them into a machine that was creating the warp for the looms.
These then go onto to the weaving looms to be turned into yards of fabric. There are also cutting and fringing machines for different items.
Finally into the packing and sorting room where you can see rolls of the woven fabric getting ready to be turned into blankets, scarves and more.
Avoca Mill store clothing, and blankets for sale.
See more about getting out of Dublin for a day here
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