Linen Futures

Festival: 2016

This collaborative exhibition celebrating craft and design practice based on the past, current and future landscape of Irish linen was curated by Jane McCann for R-Space Gallery, Lisburn in 2015. Ten Northern Ireland textile-oriented practitioners and ten Welsh counterparts embraced past heritage and modern style, developing novel techniques and customization including felt making, embroidery, natural dying and digital finishes. Linen Futures aims to communicate the value of textiles, eroded through globalization, by encouraging design that emphasizes longevity, durability and the timeless quality of linen. Collaborative practice fosters the design and making of products that demonstrate potential for the future production of multiples.

Festival workshops with Linen Futures exhibitors:
See for more information on workshop themes:

Monday 12th September: –  Susan Smith – Embroidery: 10, Market Place, Mandy Nash – Felt making: Derbyshire Eco Centre, Claire Cawte – Natural dying: Derbyshire Eco Centre

Tuesday 13th September: – Stella Jose – Up-cycling materials: Derbyshire Eco Centre, Cath Lewis – Fabric book making: Derbyshire Eco Centre


Visiting this collaborative exhibition I was thrilled to see such an inspiring display, showcasing a wealth of innovative and fresh techniques alongside reminders of the heritage and tradition of Irish Linen.

In putting together the exhibition curator Jane McCann wanted to communicate the value of textiles, eroded through globalization, by encouraging design that emphasizes longevity, durability and the timeless quality of linen. She brought together 2 groups of textile-oriented practitioners, one from Northern Ireland, the other their Celtic neighbours from South Wales and together they have produced a most refreshing body of work, embracing past, present and future. At the height of the linen industry in Northern Ireland, Belfast was known as ‘Linenopolis’, so the venue of the Belfast Room in the Ulster Museum was most appropriate. Much has changed since those days, when the city was home to many vast mills and more than 50% of the working population was involved in the production of Irish Linen. The industry still exists, albeit in a much reduced form, but to see the variety and quality of work on display the visitor can be reassured that creativity and talent abound.

The participants had most certainly risen to the challenge; traditional techniques sat alongside innovative processes and antique pieces beside new interpretations. In addition Valerie Wilson, textiles curator at the Folk and Transport Museum, had sourced items from the museum’s collections, which were the perfect complement to the new work on show. A wall hanging of linen gauze had been hand woven by Cecilia Stephens, then printed using natural dyes by Claire Cawte – a stunning piece of work portraying a coastal landscape, sitting alongside a gouache painting of the shoreline near Jane McCann’s home in Co Down, the starting point for the piece.

The partnership of Elspeth Thomas and Penny Patterson, both dog lovers, resulted in a delightful selection of work. Penny’s dog images were interpreted by Elspeth in a mixture of machine embroidery and print on natural linen, then made into cushions and bags. The history and heritage of linen was visible in many of the collaborations; in her witty trilogy of samplers stitched and appliquéd on linen Susan Smith incorporated rescued linen pieces donated by her partner McBurney and Black, who in turn displayed a traditional vintage linen damask napkin revived in a vibrant and contemporary fuchsia pink.

Belfast not only had an important linen industry, but was also had a great tradition of shipbuilding. Lynda Shell took her inspiration from interior details on Titanic following a conversation with her collaborator, Johnny Andrews, who not only had a close family link to the ship but also to the Irish Linen industry. Designs with a strong architectural feel were screen printed onto linen to make a selection of cushions and bags; yet another example of past meeting present. Distressed foil printing, natural dyeing, hand and machine embroidery, beading and screen printing are just some of the techniques used by other artists; scarves, aprons, cushions, dolls and napkins just some of the items created, but in fresh and exciting ways.

Another of Jane McCann’s aims was for ‘Linen Futures’ to showcase prototypes, which might inform the production of new commercial products and I think this was certainly achieved, not least by the garments displayed towards the back of the Belfast Room. As a clothing designer Jane decided to celebrate the heritage of shirt making in Northern Ireland through the development of a range of prototype garments that focused on the durability of linen and the need for enduring styling. She created one basic shirt pattern and adapted individual garments with each of the artists in mind.

By altering lengths, proportions, fabric weights and fastenings, Jane produced classic shirts, shirtdresses, smocks and shirt jackets with embellishment influenced by the work of the participants. For example, a lightweight shirt’s handkerchief pocket was printed by Pauline Hearn, a simple mid-weight shirtdress displays the natural dyeing techniques of Claire Cawte, a hooded shirt jacket, in fabric woven by Flax Mill Textiles, has a foil print by Trish Belford, while a mix of linen weaves, in different shades, constitutes a shirtdress in the proportions of a doll’s dress by Sue Cathcart.


Other Trail Artists: