Reviving Liddell's Damask Designs

Uncovering, conserving and celebrating a unique archive of Damask design

The Project

The Heritage Lottery funded project ‘Reviving William Liddell’s Damask Designs’ concerns a unique collection of 1600 photographic glass plates discovered in 2007 during the dismantling of the Ewart-Liddell factory at Donacloney, County Down. The photographs document the design and development work for Liddell’s Damask patterns. This work represents the labour of highly skilled workforce of designers, draughtsmen and women and weavers working for the company during the years 1900's to 1970's. The project team from the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University comprises of Senior Research Fellow Trish Belford and Professor Barbara Dass.

The Team

The project team from the Belfast School of Art, Ulster University comprises of Senior Research Fellow Trish Belford and Professor Barbara Dass.

Trish Belford

Senior Research Fellow Belfast School of Art and Design Ulster University Trish’s work focuses on the project management and research as a response to to an Irish Archive, using a range of textile techniques.

Professor Barbara Dass

Belfast School of Art and Design Ulster University Barbara’s work focuses on investigating design methodologies associated with the production Damask cloth and responding to the traces of the Irish Linen heritage through her weaving practice.

The Plates

The discovery of the photographic plates has provided a rare opportunity to uncover and celebrate the often-understated artistic, design and technical skills of the generations of individuals working in the design offices of the textile industries in Ireland.

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The Plates

The initial stages of the project focussed on the preservation of the glass plates, their digitization and classification for an open access digital archive.

The photographic plate preceded film and was used to capture images on a light-sensitive emulsion of silver salts that coated the glass plate. The use of glass plates for photography declined after the 1910's yet this method of photography appears to have been used to record design work produced in the Liddell design office throughout seven decades of the twentieth century.

The photographic glass plates were stored in the original Kodak and Ilford cardboard boxes and were in an extremely fragile condition. The deteriorating residual chemicals on the plates had produced brownish-bluish tinges sometimes damaging the images. The glass itself was in very poor condition with sharp and often chipped edges making the manual handling and viewing of the plates extremely precarious. However through a painstaking process of digitally scanning each plate the content of the archive has become accessible for closer scrutiny for the first time in over 50 years. In their digital form the plates reveal an astounding detailed and unique record of the working methods of the talented and highly skilled individuals who worked in the design office of the Liddell factory.

Unpacking the plates

The photographic glass plates were stored in the original Kodak and Ilford cardboard boxes and were in an extremely fragile condition.

Unpacking the plates

The photographic glass plates were stored in the original Kodak and Ilford cardboard boxes and were in an extremely fragile condition.

Ageing

The deteriorating residual chemicals on the plates had produced brownish-bluish tinges sometimes damaging the images.

Handling

The glass itself was in very poor condition with sharp and often chipped edges making the manual handling and viewing of the plates extremely precarious.

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Roadshows

Public and community engagement has been the ultimate focus of the project, running three road shows at Cultra, Donacloney and Lisburn to view and photograph artefacts and listen to and record oral histories of individuals and families who have connections with the Irish linen industry. These road shows were supported by the Centre for Data Digitisation and Analysis (CDDA), Queen’s University, Belfast, design historian Dr Catherine O’Hara and Sharon Adams.

The Roadshows

Three strategic locations were selected and promotion was through local networking and specifically targeted leaflets. The roadshows were facilitated by the Centre for Data and Digitisation Analysis (CDDA) Queen’s University Belfast.

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum Roadshow

This launch roadshow was held in the Parochial Hall, Ulster Folk and Transport museum as part of the museums ‘Linen Day’ of activities and craft demonstrations. Trestle tables were laid showing a selection of the glass plates, their first showing since being cleaned and digitised. The public had been invited to bring any artefacts, memorabilia or stories to be recorded, photographed and digitised which were carefully recorded backed up by artefacts being scanned into the system.

Ulster Folk & Transport Museum Roadshow

The Linen Trade Association commemoration continues to document many historical highlights too numerous to mention, however the last snapshot is a piece recounting the making of a film 1936 Irish Linen Film. Marion Baur from Flaxmill Dungiven arrived with a descriptive label dated 1928, a treasured gift to Marion from Wallace Clark. “This cloth is 11/10 made by Acme Co Ltd, Montreal Sept 1928 as requested by Mr Williamson. Made in our own factory”

Donacloney Roadshow

The second roadshow was located in Donacloney, the home town of the William Liddell factory. Keith Ogle brought the most wonderful information in the form of a school project from 1983, “The History of Donacloney” what a gem this was to read, as seen through the eyes of a youngster. The mark awarded for Philips project was 17/20. A glimpse into the weaving ladies attire is evident in an evocative photograph recorded from Alison Davidsons scrapbook.

Lisburn Roadshow

As the historic centre of Ulster’s Linen history, Lisburn was selected for the third and final roadshow. Alison Magown, who we first met in Donacloney, returned bringing a timekeeping book that had been her father’s responsibility in the late 1960s and early 1970s. A Linen Gold medal from Paris 1867. Liam Ewing was proud to present several excellent photographs of his father demonstrating to Anthony Armstrong Jones the testing of linen fibre, this royal visit was as a result of receiving the Queens award for Industry.

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The Exhibition

The initial research findings are disseminated through the ‘Recall: Shuttles and Shafts exhibition’, Linen Biennale, Lisburn Museum, September–November, 2018 and a series of public lectures given at several venues across the province. Belford and Dass have also partnered with local community groups and the Lisburn Museum to run workshops that encourage participants to respond to the archive using simple weaving techniques. A key aspect of the project is the exhibiting of new contemporary textile work designed and developed by Dass and Belford in response to the Liddell Damask collection.

The complete collection of digitised photographic plates has been arranged into four key classifications: logistics (shipping, trains and air lines), hospitality (cafés, restaurants and hotels), organisations (clubs, societies and institutions) and domestic patterns (with sub-themes of floras, rural scenes, geometric, Celtic, neo-classical and constructivist). The project team have collaborated with graphic designer Paul Kelly to design the exhibition space and website for the archive. Research Assistant Beth Milligan has provided technical support for weaving and printing in the development and production of new work for the exhibition.

Key classifications

The complete collection of digitised photographic plates has been arranged into four key classifications: logistics (shipping, trains and air lines), hospitality (cafés, restaurants and hotels), organisations (clubs, societies and institutions) and domestic patterns (with sub-themes of floras, rural scenes, geometric, Celtic, neo-classical and constructivist).

Reviving The William Liddell Collection, 27th September 2018 – 1st February 2019

Displayed at the Lisburn Linen Centre as part of the Linen Biennale NI

Reviving The William Liddell Collection, 27th September 2018 – 1st February 2019

Displayed at the Lisburn Linen Centre as part of the Linen Biennale NI

Reviving The William Liddell Collection, 27th September 2018 – 1st February 2019

Displayed at the Lisburn Linen Centre as part of the Linen Biennale NI

Reviving The William Liddell Collection, 27th September 2018 – 1st February 2019

Displayed at the Lisburn Linen Centre as part of the Linen Biennale NI

Primal Weave & Primal Print

The monochromatic paper weaves bring to life minute sections of four segments of the design captured on Plate 1-01-016, thus exposing its most basic or primal state—a binary sequence of interlacing woven in off-white warp and black weft. Responding to the scaled up visible patterns within the body of the main glass plate, 1-01-016, extracting the simple rhythm and pattern to create a collection of screen prints, that work separately and in harmony with the paper cut weaves.

Digital – Looking back to look forward

The Digital Print was developed at William Clark & Sons Ltd, Upperlands. Working with the creative Director Duncan Neil the challenge was to reimagine the small delicate monotone glass plate design into a larger scale repeating coloured design, working across the width of the cloth.

Sculpting the Cloth. Liddell’s Compendium of Weaves Barbara Dass

The proof cloth-style sampler piece responds to the tonal and textural effects of both sides of the Damask linen cloth. There are twenty-five different structures with both face and reverse sides of the cloth visible. Woven in an unbleached linen warp and procion red-dyed linen weft the face and reverse sides of the cloth show the range of contrast in tone and texture that can be achieved. The squares are arranged to reflect subtle tonal changes that are achieved by changes in the proportion of weft to warp on the face of the cloth.

The glass plates

The delicate plates are on display

Bleached Composition, Trish Belford & Barbara Dass

This piece was generated from a process of collaboration, a printer and weaver working together. Blocks of structures were woven continuously using pre dyed black linen yarn, the weaver creating different structures responding to the Liddell archive. The printer using the traditional process of discharge printing (bleaching effect) to remove colour from yarns.

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