An upcoming art showcase is set to be a very good yarn for Donegal as the county’s rich knitting heritage comes to the fore.

Donegal designers make up almost half of the creatives featured in the WOOL showcase of Project Baa Baa – a unique programme celebrating the cultural, economic and environmental contribution of sheep to our lives. The event is taking place virtually as part of Galway’s year as the European Capital of Culture.

The showcase will launch this Friday and will feature captivating photographs, a fashion film and a live installation of home-grown fashion design.

Bernie Murphy – Donegal tweed Houndstooth trousers as featured in WOOL Showcase. Art directed and styled by Paula Hughes, photography by Eilish McCormick for Project Baa Baa

The calibre of makers featured should be a great source of pride for Donegal, according to renowned designer Edel MacBride.

“Donegal needs to stand proud as we are ‘owning’ this and we are grateful to be invited,” MacBride tells Donegal Woman.

MacBride is one of the makers in WOOL, and she is joined by Donegal brands Bernie Murphy, Ailbíona McLochlainn, Fisherman out of Ireland, Hanna Hats, Magee 1866, Eddie Doherty, Studio Donegal, Molloy & Sons, Donegal Yarns and The Tweed Project, co-founded by Galway restauranteur Aoibheann McNamara, originally from Ardara. 

The wealth of talent on that list sends out a strong message about Donegal, according to MacBride: “It shows we didn’t give up.”

Knitwear designer Edel MacBride

MacBride believes there is a force behind Donegal’s knitting heritage that has survived the hurdles over the years – from the decline of the textile industry to the current pandemic. Despite a year of huge losses with the absence of tourism, the shift in shopping habits and customer lifestyles that came with Covid-19 makes her hopeful for the year ahead. 

If makers knit together, they could be unstoppable, she said: 

“Brand Donegal exists among us and the work we are doing individually. We’ve got to capture it and we could have a force internationally. It would have huge benefits to see the northern region as a producing region.”

The opportunities now lie online, MacBride says, as the ‘shop local’ movement gathers real momentum.

“There has always been a talk of buying local, but it never quite materialised to how it has at the minute. Consumer awareness has raced forward to where I always wanted it to be,” she said.

“We are in this together and it’s not about getting traffic to any one destination, we’re all just as vulnerable. We have had the time to look outside our business cocoons and engage with other people.”

Molloy & Sons – Orange diamond weave blanket as featured in WOOL Showcase. Art directed and styled by Paula Hughes, photography by Eilish McCormick for Project Baa Baa

The Baa Baa project is also a way of bringing local designers together, albeit virtually.

“I think the sharing of information is good, and I think Baa Baa has been a light in the tunnel. This is a glamorous project but it’s also realistic and really driven to improve sheep farming and how it can be a sustainable product in our country,” MacBride said.

In the clothing world, it’s good time for wool, for real and natural fibres and it’s a good time for colour, MacBride adds. 

“Our look now is about relaxed comfort, and that really suits our wool world. We all want that go-to piece that we want to grab in the morning and that we want to wear for years and years.” 

Edel MacBride – Cape and Trousers – as featured in WOOL Showcase. Art directed and styled by Paula Hughes, photography by Eilish McCormick for Project Baa Baa

The Edel MacBride pieces featured in WOOL are customised from her AW2020 ‘Backstage Collection’.

The model above wears a one-off Brat Irish Cloak in Sliabh Liag tweed wool, which is exclusive to Edel MacBride and spun by Donegal Yarns. The look contains some blasts from the past too, with flare wool knit pleated trousers, from Edel’s 1999-2000 collection made at Convoy Woollen Mill, and a handwoven Magee of Donegal tweed bow from the 1985 archives.

All the designers and makers in WOOL have a unique approach to their use of wool in design, and this exhibition is set to be a visual celebration of the enduring sector. 

Curated by the international art director and stylist, Paula Hughes, with photographs by fashion photographer, Eilish McCormick, the exhibition also includes the fashion film FÍ by photographer and filmmaker, Perry Ogden.

WOOL Showcase, runs from 31st October to 20th November 2020 on