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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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/
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.
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.
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.
For more information on this exhibition, go to the museum’s website at:
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.
Having precious metal embroidery on your clothing did come with some risk. ‘Friends’ or staff might cut off threads to steal the expensive metal!
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!
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!
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!
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 districtwith 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!
I’ll be adding photos and posts about the sights, experiences, and of course textiles I come across during my trip, so check back!