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Click to enlarge: A bedcover of handwoven linen, quilted by hand in the ‘corded’ or ‘italian’ technique. Made at Bessbrook , Co Armagh in 1790.

Linen has had many uses - from the most delicate handkerchiefs, to wing coverings on early 1900s aircraft.  These, and many more applications, are reflected in the  Ulster Folk and Transport Museum’s collection.  

Power loom production reached its peak in the late nineteenth century.  At that time, the linen industry in Ulster employed tens of thousands workers engaged in spinning, weaving, bleaching and finishing cloth.  Click to enlarge: An unbleached, loom –state line napkin. One of a series handwoven by John McAtasney at The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum during the 1970s.Shirt making in the many factories in Belfast and the north west of Ulster, and embroidery, employed huge numbers of women previously engaged in the hand spinning of flax for weaving.

The linen collection of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum includes:
•    A large collection of loom-state proof cloths, and designs for damask linen.
•    Several sets of laying-out linens, some with detailed embroidery.
•    Everyday household linens, including napkins, tablecloths, towels and bedding. A collection of domestic linens is used to furnish the exhibit buildings of the open air museum and may be viewed during any visit.
•    A small collection of elaborately embroidered eighteenth century bedcovers.

Click to enlarge: A detail form one of a series of napkins made in 1821 by the Lisburn, Co Antrim firm of Coulson. The design commemorates Nelson’s victory at Trafalgar. Handwoven, with embroidered details for housekeeping purposes. 89 x 77 cms Acc. no UFTMThe Living Linen Archive at the museum is a substantial oral history of a most significant industry in Ulster’s history.

Every year, for a weekend in August, the education staff of the Ulster Folk and Transport Museum tell the story of linen from flax to fabric, in the open air museum. Click to enlarge: (Corner detail). A line cloth decorated with hand embroidery



Throughout the year, on selected days, museum visitors can follow the skill of one of Irelands last remaining hand weavers of linen damask, as John McAtasney works on a loom in the Ballydugan weaver's house.