AT THE WHEEL Carina Coyne has developed her Joyce Country Wool business from scratch at her home on the Mayo Galway border. Pic: Conor McKeown
Name: Carina Coyne
Lives: Shanafaraghaun, on the Mayo/Galway border
Occupation: Wool spinning entrepreneur, owner of Joyce Country Wool
There’s a lovely beach right beside us at Lough na Fooey that’s only walking distance from us. It’s a great way to start the morning to go to a walk along the shore and to get out in the countryside. Even if I go for a walk with the kids, I’ll always have the bag to collect the dyes and berries or whatever it is.
Usually once the kids are off to school I put on a fire in a range within in the workshop, because that’s important for the dying and the washing of the wool.
The workshop is just an old shed at the back of the house that’s all insulated and has running water inside. We’ve any amount of water because all the water comes from the mountain so we’ve our own supply coming in.
I break everything up. For Day one and two, I wash four fleeces at a time together. I get the packs of wool from all the neighbours and ourselves. I’ll pick out four and just take off the skirting around the side or whatever’s really dirty and hard.
Then I’ll take off all the bits that shouldn’t be in it like scrub or bits of thorns. Each fleece I leave soaking for a few hours in lukewarm water for about an hour or two, sometimes overnight if I’ve the time.
If I’m doing four of them together then I’ll work on the next one and then by the time I have them sort of all done I wash them then. I use ordinary soap or carbolic soap to wash them and that makes them come out really clean and really white.
Then after that they have to be dried. I always spin them in the machine or in the washing machine inside in the house just to help with the drying to make it a bit faster. Then I’d leave it to dry and I’d usually leave it out for airing in the conservatory in our house.
Once it’s dry I’ve to take all the thorns and the bits of ribs that shouldn’t be in it.
You’d be the full day just cleaning out the wool and getting it ready for carding, which is where I put a fist-full of wool onto two square paddles with wires pins on them which brushes all the fibres in the same direction so they’re not stuck together, because they have to be in the same direction for the wool to spin.
The more you brush and card the wool the better the spin will be, because if you’ve lumps still left in your carding you’ll still have lumps in your spinning. You might have to do each piece maybe 15-20 times. It’s a very slow, tedious and physical and takes hours and hours before you start the spinning.
When I’d be spinning, that’s the easy part. It’s very relaxing. It’s the most therapeutical thing in the world to do. You can do it with your eyes closed, there’s a nice rhythm to it and every piece of wool looks different every time. I’d be looking at the next fleece I’d be washing and looking forward to spinning that one.
They all come out different, every single fleece in the workshop. I’ve hundreds and hundreds of fleeces spun in the workshop and I can remember every single one of them. I think there’s only one or two out of a couple of a hundred that I wouldn’t have enjoyed spinning. You’ll find use for every single fleece, no matter what breed it is. It’s a beautiful thing to be able to do.
I’m awful addicted to it. I’d start in the morning and I could be still at it at 10 or 11 o’clock at night. I’d even have the spuds on within in the workshop, I just love it.
I’d be out there weekends, Saturday, Sunday, night time. It’s hard to get away from it, even when the kids would say: “Come on, Mom. You have to come in.” It’s really addictive.
I started spinning maybe about 15 years ago, but it’s the most honest feeling. I always liked knitting as a child but when I started using wool I realised how important it was. The first time I sat down at the spinning wheel I just got this really magical feeling. I knew I wanted to do it for the rest of my life.
I was so proud that it was our own fleeces that we were using. Even to do this day, I still get the exact same feeling when I sit down at the wheel, I feel like it’s the first ball of wool I’ve ever spun. Everyone that comes to the workshop they get the exact same feeling. It’s made before your eyes, it’s just unbelievable really.
I get all my dyes from Joyce Country only. I go out and I pick all of my blackberries, my nettles, my sloes. Come around August or September myself and the kids go out and get all the blackberries. We have a freezer especially for the berries. We gather buckets and buckets loads of blackberries along the side of the road and up the field and we freeze them.
I go up the mountains and I’d collect the different things that’d be growing on the rocks I’d dye with them and they give beautiful colours as well.
I’ve tried so many different plants that I don’t even know the names of them, just to see what colours I get. With every dye I could get three or four different colours. I think the natural colours are so beautiful.
My wool has never travelled. You see so much of the commercialised wool that they say it is Irish, but it’s done so much more travelling than I’ll ever do! I get loads of wool from the neighbours and I make blankets and socks and hats for them.
Usually we’d have tourists or young ones from different schools in the area and they’d come in and do the demonstrations for the hour. I’d have people stay with me for three nights and they’d do the four days of classes with me. I really miss them.
I love music. We’re very involved in the Comhaltas so we are, myself and the two kids. One of the girls plays concertina and the pipes and my other daughter plays the whistle and the accordion, and I play the fiddle myself. Before the virus we’d be playing in Clonbur every Wednesday night, all the adults going around from pub to pub in the Joyce Country area. Hopefully that will resume back to that again.
In conversation with Oisín McGovern
If money was no object, what would you do all day?
I would do exactly what I’m doing now, I can see myself spinning in my 90s
Tell us something about yourself we don’t know?
I done my apprenticeship in fitting and worked in male denominated jobs always, And they were all sound, I was very lucky
What’s the most unusual thing you’ve eaten?
We got a pike last week so we cooked it, tasteless
Where’s your favourite place in the world?
Where I live - and Clare island
What makes you angry?
Someone not moving fast enough
Your first hero?
First and only … my mom
Name three things that are always in your fridge?
Connaught gold butter, eggs, cheese
What makes you nervous?
Favourite TV show?
Ros na Rún
Most famous person you’ve met?
John Sheehan and Matt Molloy
What do you miss most about being a kid?
Spending time with my brothers
What’s your most prized possession?
My St Christopher’s chain my brother got me
Best advice you ever got?
Follow your dream
Describe yourself in three words?
Sociable, hardworking, passionate
How do you unwind?
Playing the fiddle, I’m missing the session in Burke’s so much with my buddies from Comhaltas Duiche Seoigheach