Weaving an historical craft in Dungiven mill

Tucked away down a narrow lane in the countryside three miles outside Dungiven stands the picture postcard Flax Mill Hostel.

Inside its white washed walls and the dimly fire-lit interior, owners Herman and his wife Marian are hard at work making their popular eco-friendly linen products.

"The linen industry in Ireland fascinated me, as it was the biggest in the world. I have an apprenticeship in weaving and always had a desire to see Ireland. We had been to Ireland a few times and we really liked the attitude of the people here. It was more important to stop and have a cup of tea than to chase money."

Initially the family planned to settle in Donegal but it was the quiet hamlet of Gortnaghey they settled for 20 years ago.

Herman was in Ireland and came across the Mill, known locally as McReynold's Mill, after its owner in Derrylane.

"The last man who worked here showed me his pay book. On 18 April 1953 it closed as a Flax Mill. He actually threw the key away once he had locked the Mill door. He was able to come back and show me where it was," said Herman, a keen historian.

"Herman had to make the house habitable as it had not been lived in for 37 years," recalled Marian, whose two daughters Tamara and Fiona were just toddlers at the time.

"When we travelled to Ireland we had always stayed in hostels, we liked the idea of it. Coming to Ireland as outsiders we had to create a job, make a living. Running the hostel was a nice way of meeting a lot of people from different countries. It was good for my girls to ensure that they never had a racist attitude."

Down-to-earth Marian recalled how friends and family thought they it was madness coming to Northern Ireland with two small children in the Troubles.

"I didn't know any English when I came. I thought that at least if it doesn't work out here that at least I have learnt a new language," she said, laughing.

The restoration of the Mill by the Baur family started in 1995 and took a painstaking five years to complete, including the removal of three massive tress from the inside.

"There was a lot of ivy growing all over the roof and when we took it off half of the mill collapsed. We had to rebuild and completely put on a new roof and put in a second floor."

With the tourism industry in decline the couple decided the new Millennium was an ideal time to get back to "my first love, weaving," explained Marian.

"I completed an apprenticeship in weaving but could not get a job after it so I did another apprenticeship as a Textile Merchant.

"When we moved to Ireland I eventually got my own loom! It was made in Finland as Scandinavian wood is slow grown wood so it doesn't boggle as there is lots of tension in the loom."

"In the ten years that we ran the hostel (closed since 2006) I always kept up with my knitting and embroidery. I love weaving and instead of using the traditional patterns I weave my own unique more modern designs."

Marian and her husband work long hours, six days a week. Herman prepares the threads according to the specifications of what is being made, which is time consuming and takes exact precision.

Marian designs and weaves each piece. Their linen designs have become so in demand that they employ a part-time weaver and textile designer, Sarah Morrison. The range of products has expanded over the years from woollen products to a nearly entire linen range now taking its place. They have named their brand 'Flaxmill Textiles' and make a colourful collection of products including shopping bags, tableware, clothing, shawls and carpets.

"Most of the stuff we make we sell here, and on Friday and Saturday we have a stall at St George's Market and some of the stuff goes to Germany," explained Marian.

"We get a lot of the linen from Belgium as this is the best. The wool is often from Scotland as there is still quite a tradition of spinners."

Each year the Baur's products are showcased in their popular annual fashion show, which is held on the Flax Mill Hostel grounds.

For more information about the Flax Mill Hostel call Herman and Marian Baur on 028 777 42655 or go online at www.flaxmill-textiles.com