Day 5 – Giants’ Causeway and the Dark Hedges

Seascapes series © Breda McNelis, fiber artist https://bredamcnelis.ie/ 

As a member of one of my favorite organizations, the Contemporary Quilt Art Association, I’m hoping to enter an exhibition next year called “Natural Geometry”.  Boy, do I have inspiration to tackle that theme!  A World Heritage site, the Giant’s Causeway is comprised of polygonal basalt blocks, most frequently 6-sided but some have 4, 5, 7, or 10 sides.

Basalt rock formations at the Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland

Basalt rock formations at the Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

The legend behind the name of this geological wonder goes as follows.  The giant from Ireland, Fionn mac Cumhaill (aka Finn McCool) is being threatened by the Scottish giant Benandonner across the sea.  Finn grabs up huge rock pieces from the coastline and throws them into the sea, to make a pathway for Finn to go across.  However, when he gets across, he realizes that Benandonner is terrifyingly massive!  Finn rushes back home to Ireland where his wife disguises him as a baby.  When the Scottish giant comes to their door and sees McCool as a baby, he thinks the father must be much larger than he is, so he races back across the rock bridge to Scotland, causing most of the bridge to sink!

The Giant’s steps

 

One of the things that surprised and delighted me was the gift shop and interpretative center.  Rather than just have the typical tourist doodads, they had a wide variety of quality artwork from local artisans, fiber art included!

Giant’s Causeway © Breda McNelis

Breda McNelis is one of the textile artists that are represented by the shop.  Her work is inspired by the colors and textures of the Irish landscape.  She also works with traditional Irish fabrics- Báinín, a traditional Irish fabric which is an un-dyed, woven 100% natural wool and colorful Donegal tweeds.  Her pieces are layered with silk fibers, hand-painted silks, merino wool, and beautiful yarns.

You can find more of her lovely work on her website at https://bredamcnelis.ie/

 

 

 

 

“Sunset, Giant’s Causeway” © Breda McNelis

 

 

 

Christina Fairley Erickson at the Giant's Causeway

Christina Fairley Erickson at the Giant’s Causeway

The mystery and magic of the Causeway Coastal area at the North-western edge of Ireland has drawn tourists for 400 years, but most recently has gained greater fame from the Game of Thrones series.  With the abundance of medieval buildings, beautiful landscapes, and mysterious caves, Northern Ireland became a natural location for filming this fantasy mega-hit.

 

 

One of the locations, “The Dark Hedges”, was used as the Kingsroad for the people of Westeros and was shown in Season 2, Episode 1 when Arya Stark escaped King’s Landing in the back of a cart.  Planted in the 18th century, the intertwining beech trees create a spooky, other-worldly setting.

In 2016, storm Gertrude hit Northern Ireland with 130 km/hr winds, causing a number of the trees to fall.  But the creative genius of the people of this area took this tragedy and made something beautiful out of it.  The huge trunks were removed and a group of designers and craftsmen interpreted different scenes from the Game of Thrones Session 6 into a series of 10 incredibly carved doors. Each of the doors were then installed at a pub at a Game of Thrones film location in Northern Ireland.  Click here to see a short film on the making of the Doors of Thrones.

Coming soon: Blog on the “Game of Thrones Tapestry”!

The Dark Hedges aka the Kings Road in the Game of Thrones

 

The soaring and mysterious Dark Hedges aka the Kings Road in the Game of Thrones

The soaring and mysterious Dark Hedges

Towering columns of the Giant's Causeway

Towering columns of the Giant’s Causeway

The Giant's Causeway steps into the Inner Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland

The Giant’s Causeway steps into the Inner Sea between Northern Ireland and Scotland

One of many wooded lanes lending to the mystical atmosphere in Northern Ireland

Day 3 – Part 2 – Lisburn Linen Museum & More

As many of you know, I have a wee bit ‘o Irish in my heritage.  My paternal great-grandfather, Robert Fairley, emigrated from Lisburn in Northern Ireland around the turn of the century.  I also have two g-g-grandparents from Ireland from different sides of my family tree.  So between my familial name, red-headed genes from my Dad, and family lore, being Irish was the strongest ethnic identity stressed in my childhood.

So I was very pleased to have found some possible distant cousins living outside of Lisburn prior to our trip!  Unfortunately, many records in Ireland were destroyed in the Irish Civil War during a bombardment and resulting fire that ravaged the building in Dublin which housed Public Records, so we haven’t yet been able to trace the exact relationship.  But, considering how few Fairley’s lived in the area, it’s quite likely we have ties a few generations back.  We stopped in to meet these cousins in person and then went together to lunch and the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum.

Robert McKee Fairley, my great-grandfather, at his tailoring shop in Salinas CA, c 1900.

Lisburn, Northern Ireland – exhibition tracing the history of Irish Linen

The Museum’s researcher, Ciaran Toal, had kindly answered my inquiries about my family and met with me when we were there.  The top floor of the museum is dedicated to their “Flax to Fabric – the Story of Irish Linen” exhibition.  If you get a chance to go to Lisburn, a visit here is a must!

It starts with through the whole process of growing flax; hand harvesting & tying into parcels called”beets”; soaking the beets in water to soften the stems (a very pungent process); drying out the beets; and “Scrunching” by beating the flax stems with wooden clubs and then separating flax fibres from the unwanted woody parts of the stems.  They have wonderful old photos of the each step of the process, as well as equipment used and samples.

After the flax production, the history of linen in the Lisburn area is displayed in depth, starting in 1698 when King William III appointed an Overseer of the Royal Linen Manufacture in Ireland and a weaving premises was set up in Lisburn.  In the late 17th C, many immigrants from Northern England and Southern Scotland came to the Ulster region, probably including my Fairley ancestors.

Linen seal stamped on linen to assure quality

The spinning of the flax into linen yarn or thread was mechanized in the 1820s, giving a fine quality yarn which was more reliable for weavers than hand-spun. When the linen cloth was taken from the loom, it was the original brown colour of the yarn.  This was sold in “brown linen” markets.  The process of bleaching brown linen yarn was complex and could last up to six months, but created a finer product.  To create a lovely sheen on white linen, the bleached cloth went through a final process known as beetling, involving beating the cloth with mallets to close up the weave and achieve a dense, lustrous finish.  Both brown and white linens had quality inspection processes where they had a seal used to verify the quality.

The stitching of the cloth, whether into garments or as embroidered embellishments, was the final step of the long process.  While I’m not able to share any photos per agreement with the museum, I can tell you the needlework is nothing short of extraordinary!  Veils of soft, semi-transparent linen gauze with incredibly fine perfect stitching; cutwork and drawn-thread work; Irish crochet lace; and much more.

Some of the height of the collection includes pieces made for Queen Victoria, including a Golden Jubilee  damask table doily from 1887 which was part of a set of 24 damask doilies depicting the new Royal Irish Linen Warehouse and a set of different miniature household items made for Queen Mary’s dollhouse!  There was also information about Irish designer Sybil Connolly (1921-1998), who took inspiration from traditional Irish clothes and fabrics.  Her clients included the Rockefellers, Mellons, Elizabeth Taylor, and Jacqueline Kennedy.

I could go on and on, but suspect I’ve probably written more than most would care to read.  It was with some regret that I said good-bye to my newfound friends/cousins and to Lisburn.  But, I suspect that I’ll be back sometime in the future!

 

 

 

Outside of the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum

Day 3- Carrickmacross, Ireland

Ireland has a rich history of lace-making, including several distinct styles:

  • Carrickmacross lace
  • Irish Crochet lace
  • Krnmare kace
  • Limerick lace
  • Youghal lace

Knowing this, I wanted the chance to see some of this beautiful needle art!  Driving North from Dublin, we made our way to the little town of Carrickmacross.

Christina with talented lacemaker and member of the The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative at the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery

Carrickmacross lace was introduced into Ireland in about 1820 by Mrs Grey Porter, wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne, who taught it to local women so that they could earn some extra money.  During the famine years in the mid-1840’s, a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their starving tenants, and the lace became known and found sales.

A beautiful rare sample of a Carrickmacross Lace priest’s vestments. Most vestment pieces were buried with the clergy for whom they were made.

The lace is made on a base of cotton net (similar to tulle, but much softer and pliable).  A lightweight soft white muslin (sheer enough to see a pattern underneath) is appliquéd onto the net.  Additional embroidery stitches create edgings, patterns and cutwork.

Here you can see areas where the Muslim has been appliquéd to the net, as well as designs embroidered into the net.

The meaning of this Irish Gaelic saying is “a hundred thousand welcomes”- quite apt in our experience- the people are so friendly and welcoming here!

Christina Fairley Ericksonand Mom Nan outside the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery.

After the worst of the famine years, through the last half of the 19th century, the lacemaking declined. Then in the 1890’s, the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout the 20th century. In 1984 the St Louis Sisters assisted in the formation of The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative, which maintains the tradition to this day.

Display of some of the pieces that the Carrickmacross cooperative members have made and are available for sale.

Piece available with incredible miniature stitches in patterns

Detail of tiny stitches!

The lace cooperative also has some little kits and supplies if you want to try your hand at making your own Carrickmacross Lace.  Their kits are available via their website at: https://www.carrickmacrosslace.ie/

I couldn’t leave without bringing a little souvenir of this lovely technique From the Carrickmacross Lace Gallery!

Here in the 21st Century, the most famous use of this beautiful historic form of lace must be when Kate Middleton incorporated Carrickmacross lace into her wedding to Prince William.  I highly recommend you make the time to come visit, if you’re ever in Ireland!

Dublin Day 2, Part 2

While I’m no expert on couture fashion, the pieces displayed at the National Museum of Ireland- Decorative Arts’s Special exhibition of Ib Jorgensen’s fashion were clearly a cut above the ordinary. Born in Denmark, Jorgensen immigrated with his family to Ireland in 1950. He attended Dublin’s Grafton Academy of Dress Designing and first garnered attention when he won the Academy Cup is his graduating year fashion show in the tailored suits and coats division.

Hand embroidered and beaded silk jacket with evening skirt of green silk faille, 1989

Bead embroidery detail

Bead embroidery detail

Jorgensen’s work caught the eye of fashion hours, Nicolas O’Dwyer, who hired him as a designer and pattern cutter at only 20 years old.  He was strongly influenced by the high standards of quality demanded by the workforce dervived from an old Jewish tailoring business.

Ib Jorgensen on the exhibition poster at the National Museum of Ireland- Decorative Arts, Dublin

High quality tailoring, superior pattern cutting, a relentless attention to detail and flawless finishing became the hallmarks of Jorgensen’s work.

The exhibition looks back at Ib’s long career, displaying a selection of some forty garments including day, cocktail and evening wear from across three and a half decades, supplemented with original fashion photography and illustrations. His first wife Patricia, a textile designer, created designs for extravagant hand beading, appliqué and embroidery, and these techniques were frequently used to great effect on Ib’s evening wear.

Hand beaded sequin shift dress in a harlequin design of soft pastel colors, 1967

Evening dress of orange silk voile with halter necked bodice entirely beaded and embroidered, 1985

Halter bodice detail

Beadwork embroidery detail.

For more information on this exhibition, go to the museum’s website at:

https://www.museum.ie/Decorative-Arts-History/Exhibitions/Current-Exhibitions/Ib-Jorgensen-–-A-Fashion-Retrospective

Day 2 -Dublin, National Museum of Ireland

We headed over to the one National Museum of Ireland- Decorative Arts & History location after lunch. I’m impressed that the museums are Free!  I think this egalitarian concept prevails throughout much of current Irish society.

The preservation of clothing, however, is largely restricted to the upper classes, due to the poorer people wearing their clothes until they were worn out. In the 18th C. Only the wealthy could afford to wear luxurious dress, but by the late 19th C., prosperous people in towns and villages across all of Ireland could dress fashionably.

Silk waistcoat embroidered with silver thread in Ireland about 1760.

Having precious metal embroidery on your clothing did come with some risk. ‘Friends’ or staff might cut off threads to steal the expensive metal!

Detail of silver embroidery – silver thread darkens over time. In the 17th C., they would sprinkle hot breadcrumbs over the silver and rub with linen to remove the tarnish.

Lace has been an important industry in Ireland. Many families survived hard times by making lace. There are numerous distinct styles (several of which I hope to see on this trip!

Lace from Woman’s Drawers made in 1880’s Ireland. Women started wearing undergarments that could be ‘drawn on’ in the 1800’s. These had separate legs that were stepped into and tied at the waist with a linen band.

Beautifully embroidered Irish linen apron, 1740’s.

Apron embroidery detail

Man’s embroidered waistcoat, Irish 1790’s.

Lace collar worked by a girl in an embroidery class, County Down, Ireland, 1860’s.  In the 1840’s, thousands of girls as young as 5 years old worked for pitifully low wages to provide Glasgow merchants stock for London markets.  But the meager wages helped some families survive the famines.

Day gown made in Ballymore Co, Sligo, Ireland about 1867.

This gorgeous blue color of the silk was created using ‘new’ synthetic abalone dyes.  The gown remains pristine… Maria Sweeney had the gown made for her brother’s wedding and then also wore it to Mass the Sunday following the wedding. The priest disapproved of the “figure-displaying style” (say, what???) and Maria never wore the gown again!

Early Contemporary Machine Lace, about 1867 with wool braid trim.

Next time I’ll share the Irish fashion icon Ib Jorgensen’s couture designs, on special exhibition at the Museum  of Decorative Arts.

Slán go fóill!

Day 2- Dublin, Ireland

Design inspired by the Book of Kells by Christina Fairley Erickson

We started our day by walking over to Trinity College, to visit the Book of Kells Museum. A beautifully preserved illuminated manuscript created around 800 C.E., the book includes the four books of the gospels- Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Depiction of Matthew, Book of Kells, folio 27v

The museum hosts incredible displays of many of the intricate illuminated pages, the processes and materials that were used in making the book, as well as information on the few other manuscripts still surviving from about the same period in history. The treasury in the museum displays both the Book of Kells and the Book of Armagh, also from the 800’s.

Symbol of ‘the lion of Mark’, Book of Kells, folio 27v

Due to the delicate nature of the volumes, the Book of Kells is split in two parts, with one section open to an illuminated page and the second open to two of the pages of ancient Medieval Latin script. They change which pages are displayed every three months (and it takes several hours to do it, with all the precautions they have to take!) The Book of Armagh is much smaller in size than the Book of Kells. It contains the New Testament of the Bible in minuscule calligraphic text, without illumination.

Part of a display at the Book of Kells Museum showing details of circles and swirls along with pieces of jewelry from the same time period with similar Celtic imagery

One thing I found fascinating was the information on the different inks they used… they even had a purple ink- a very rare color in medieval times.

The ‘Chi Rho’ page using the Greek monogram of the name of Christ. Book of Kells, folio 34r

The twisting sinuous Centic knots and designs are masterfully executed- most likely by young monks, 15-19 years old or so, as they would have had the best eyesight. There are also some other details that also lead to this conclusion, such as tiny farcical characters such as two cats overlooking mice fighting over what appears to be a communion wafer!

Here are a few more images to enjoy from this inspiring design source!

A double-armed cross with eight circles, representing the eight days of Christ’s Passion. Book of Kells, folio 33r

Some of the purple ink is still visible!

If you’d like to see the Book of Kells but aren’t going to make it to Dublin anytime soon, Trinity College has done a fantastic job of scanning the complete book and posting it online. Go to: http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

We arrived in Dublin this afternoon and successfully navigated to our hotel in the downtown Temple Bar district

Beautiful primary colors at dusk – Temple Bar, Dublin, Republic of Ireland.

with only a few snafus. The architecture mixes some incredible contemporary buildings alongside beautiful historic brick ones, all brightened with overflowing flower baskets. The sweeping span of the Samuel Beckett Bridge over the River Liffee contrasts with beautiful scrolling designs on the streetlights. Lots of design inspiration!

We walked to a lively pub for a late Irish lunch and traditional live music. Another wonderful meal after a jet-lag break with an amazing duo performing both contemporary ballads and jaunty Irish jigs. Tomorrow we start at the Book of Kells Museum!

I grew up steeped in the pride of our Irish heritage, although that’s only one part of the complex mix of ancestry that makes me American.  My paternal great-grandfather emigrated from Lisburn, Northern Ireland (near Belfast) at the turn of the century.  I also have a maternal great-grandmother from outside the Dublin area.  I’m finally going to visit the Emerald Isle this summer, to both follow some of my ancestral threads and to explore the rich culture of textiles.

Our first stop will be Dublin, particularly to see the famous Book of Kells at Trinity College.  If you haven’t seen pictures of this amazing illustrated manuscript, the whole book is now available to view online in excellent resolution at http://digitalcollections.tcd.ie/home/index.php?DRIS_ID=MS58_003v

Here is a sample from on of the pages the is completely pictorial.  The elaborate Celtic knots must have been painstakingly drawn… so complex and beautiful!

Book of Kells from Folio 292r

I’ll be adding photos and posts about the sights, experiences, and of course textiles I come across during my trip, so check back!