The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Damask weaving (linen)

 

The hand weaving of pure linen patterned damask fabric on jacquard looms.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category
Historic area of significance North East Ulster and Scotland
Area currently practised Lisburn, Northern Ireland;
Lecale, County Down, Northern Ireland;
Montrose, Scotland
Origin in the UK
Current no. of professionals (main income) 3
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
2
Current no. of trainees 0
Current total no. serious amateur makers
Current total no. of leisure makers
Minimum no. of craftspeople required

 

History

The art of linen damask weaving in Britain dates to the seventeenth century. It was prized by royalty and aristocracy for the breadth of elaborate patterns it afforded – armorial bearings, royal cyphers, historic commemorative events and heraldic designs.

In 1737 George II turned to Irish linen domestic weavers to provide napery for his household, foregoing European providers who to that point had dominated the market. From this time on, the British crown only ordered from British manufactories.

In France, in 1801, Joseph-Marie Jacquard perfected a semi-automatic mechanism for silk damask weaving, replacing the highly labour-intensive draw loom. It was soon adapted for linen damask weaving, reaching Britain by the 1820s.

In the 1850s, with the introduction of power loom weaving, linen damask weaving became fully automated, theoretically ending Jacquard linen damask weaving at a stroke. However, the power loom struggled to match its fineness, quality and soft handle.

Hand woven linen damask continued to be prized, and survived well into the twentieth century. With annual orders fulfilled by John Mc Collum’s Manufactory for Buckingham Palace, Windsor, and Sandringham his client list read like the pages from Debretts. In Ireland it continued as a commercial craft until the end of the 1960s, from which point it has been kept alive within museum settings.

 

Techniques

 

 

Local forms

  • 5 leaf: single damask
  • 8 leaf: double damask

 

Sub-crafts

  • Jacquard card cutting (3 practitioners known – one at 84 years old)
  • Traditional Damask Designing and Drafting (2 practitioners known)

Allied crafts:

  • Silk damask
  • Poplin damask (silk warp with wool weft)

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • The looms and apparatus are now so rare, they are usually museum artefacts.
  • No apprenticeship programmes current or pending.
  • Rarity of card cutting machines and operatives.

 

Support organisations

  • Irish Linen Centre / Lisburn Museum, Northern Ireland
  • Heritage Crafts Association.
  • Ulster University, Belfast School of Art, Faculty of Arts, Humanities & Social Sciences.
  • Northern Bridge Consortium.
  • The Textile Society
  • The Theo Moorman Trust for Weavers.
  • National Museum Northern Ireland

 

Craftspeople currently known

  • Deborah White and Alyson McNamee, Irish Linen Centre
  • Ian Dale, House of Dun, Montrose, Scotland

 

Other information

Irish Linen Centre / Lisburn Museum employ two master weavers. However, there are no training schemes. Deborah White worked alongside one of the last traditional damask handloom weavers in Ireland and says it takes 5-7 years apprenticeship to master the trade.

Deborah White was awarded an AHRC / NBC Scholarship in September 2020 with Ulster University; PhD Topic: An Empirical Study of Hand loom Jacquard Design and Production in Ireland. White worked alongside one of the last traditional Damask hand- loom weavers in Ireland, from 1994-1999, after graduating from Ulster with a BA (hons) in Woven and Constructed Textile Design. Recent awards such as HCA’s Endangered Craft Award  (2019), The Textile Society’s Professional Development Award (2019), and The Theo Moorman Trust for Weavers Award (2019), have helped secure an independent practise.

References

  • Gill, C, (1921) The Rise of the Irish Linen Industry (Oxford)
  • Collins, B, and Ollerenshaw, P, (eds.) Industry, Trade and People in Irleand, 1650-1950
  • Crawford, W H, The Impact of the Domestic Linen Industry in Ulster