Established in 1881 on the banks of the Laxey River, Laxey Woollen Mills is the only commercial woollen mill on the Isle of Man. Producing traditional and contemporary tweeds, cloth and tartans, the Biosphere Partner boasts a long heritage in locally produced, hand-woven fabric. Julia Ashby Smyth gives us a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes:
With a focus on high quality, affordable, hand-made products Laxey Woollen Mills stands apart in this era of mass production and disposable fashion.
The Mill has been owned and run by the Wood family for 70 years, the legs of Master Weaver John Wood currently providing the power and expertise to operate the looms.
Master weaver John Wood at work and the 1926 loom
In recent years, the focus has been to bring back Loaghtan.
Famed for its supreme warmth and hard-wearing properties, the desire to be able to weave our native yarn, using wool from breeder Jim Middleton’s pure Manx Loaghtan flock, has resulted in a fabulous array of new products, from rugs to exquisitely tailored coats; toasty slippers to handsome hold-alls; all woven from natural, un-dyed Manx wool, born and bred in the Manx sunshine, wind and rain!
Loaghtan coats and bags
We buy the fleeces, then get the yarn spun, not just pure Manx Loaghtan, but also blending Manx white wool and Manx-bred Hebridean wool, to create a beautiful natural palette of colours from which are created our designs. Some are traditional, hundreds of years old, some are funky and contemporary, trying new weaves to create a truly unique Manx product.
We are the only commercial weavers in the world that can proudly boast that the scarf you buy is purely Manx; Manx Loaghtan wool; grown, woven and ‘finished’ on Island.
We have teamed up with Laxey Launderette to ‘finish’ (basically, wash, press and make fluffy) some of our bespoke small runs of tweed, so that we don’t have to send it across the water.
Dark Loaghtan rug
For our tailored ladies and gents coats, jackets, handbags and Loaghtan knitwear, we work with individuals and small companies on Island or, where needs be, in Scotland, England and Ireland, in a lovely spot of Celtic Collaboration, to produce bespoke, finely crafted goods, thus helping to nurture traditional skills and crafts and keep small businesses alive.
When asked 'where did that design come from?' John often says 'I was out walking Rick (the Mill dog) on Laxey beach, and I was looking at the stones' or 'We were up in the Glen looking at the leaves changing' or 'I was looking at all the colours in a fuchsia flower'.
Thus the ‘Biosphere range’, as we nicknamed it, was born, tying the specific designs to their locations; a range of extra long scarves, woven on the 1926 Hattersley loom.
Sometimes there may exist only two of a particular design: inspiration coming like a tide over shingle, changing and remixing the colours and structure of the beach. It’s like painting the colours of a landscape, or the details of a flower, with yarn and weave.
The Biosphere-inspired Laxey beach scarves
There are so many new products, many featuring our lovely new Manx labels, plus throughout November and December we are offering a 10% discount (use the code Biosphere20 if ordering online or mention the code if buying in the shop). We can ship worldwide.
Come down to Laxey Woollen Mills, loads of free parking, meet Rick the Mill dog, visit the Hodgson Loom Gallery upstairs for the Winter Show, starting 14th November, and pop to the Manx Tartan Shop or visit www.presenceofmann.com for all Laxey Manx Tartan and Manx Hunting Tartan products.
In one change with tradition, though, we are opening on Sundays between noon and 4pm from 8th November until Christmas. Our regular opening hours are Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm.
Facebook and Instagram: @LaxeyWoollenMills
Phone: 01624 861395