Monday, 4 March 2013

Irish Linen

Famous throughout the textile world, Irish linen is now rare and very costly - I can just remember two Irish linen shops in Bond Street, during the war, Givans and the Irish Linen Shop, I think they were called. The attached picture shows farm workers cutting the flax in Ireland and you can also date it by the pipes and flat cloth caps the men are wearing. I have recently bought a large quantity of vintage Irish linen, sheets, pillowcases, even bolster cases, all finely embroidered to match; some very glossy double damask tablecloths with lovely scrolling flowers, one with ivy leaves all over and another with arabesques decorating the borders, dozens of double damask napkins with the wartime utility sign stamped on each. Typically, they were all passed on to the recent owner by her mother and grandmother so are mostly pre-war and with original labels. In addition there are lots of Madeiran coloured embroidered table cloths, large for a dining table (8 seats) and dozens of little ones to decorate dressing tables, night tables and every possible shelf and flat surface - not fashionable now, but like crinoline ladies, they may have their day once again!  N.B.  All this linen, in perfect condition, will be on sale at the forthcoming RAG MARKET here in Bradford on Avon on Sunday, May 19th at the Mason's Hall, Church Street, 9am - 3pm.  Do come! Free entry.
Harvesting the flax was back-breaking work but there were many other 'hard labour' processes to do until the thread was ready for weaving. Retting (soaking), scutching (removing woody parts from fibres). carding (combing), bleaching, were all part of the preparation and involved working in cold water and rough conditions. There is a pub in Long Melford, Suffolk, called 'The Scutchers Arms'. I have been to the Irish mill where they demonstrate the callendering of linen - hammering it with heavy wooden blocks all driven by the mill waters to mesh the fibres of the linen together for strength and long life.and blend the hairy fibres into a smooth cloth and give them a glossy finish.


  1. I learn so much by reading your blog. Thanks for passing on some of your knowledge of textiles and textile art. I wish I lived close enough to attend your markets.

  2. I've always found Irish linen a very beautiful fabric, although I did not know just how much was involved in its production. Thank you for enlightening me!

    How I do wish I could view some of the treasures you describe. The upcoming fair is too far away...over an ocean....

    Best wishes.