Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 29 January 2015

Renaissance looms for a lost art

I had heard of 'plain' and 'purl' from my attempts at knitting, but 'weft' and 'warp' sounded like a form of torture.

In fact, they are the language of a lost industry which Ulster was once famous for - weaving.

I went along to Street Weave, a workshop in St Anne's Square in Belfast yesterday aiming to reintroduce traditional hand-weaving to the public. The event was organised by Craft NI as part of August Craft Month, in conjunction with the new MAC arts centre.

Weaving was once a major industry in the north of Ireland, with industrial-sized looms exporting linens and fabrics around the world.

Smaller table looms were also a familiar sight in homes, particularly in rural areas, as weaving helped supplement people's income. But with the demise of the textile industry the traditional skill of weaving has practically vanished.

I had a go at weaving wool and cotton on a traditional table loom and was introduced to a whole new language. Before long I was "weaving my weft or wand" and, like magic, I had created a piece of fabric.

It does take a while to get the hang of it, and I discovered you really needed to concentrate.

After an hour the group of us had woven just 10 inches of a fabric. Textile designer Judith Cassidy revealed the more impressive workrate of weaving a metre-and-a-half in a day using fine thread.

The 26-year-old from Belfast is part of a new generation of weavers who are rediscovering the skill, and turning it into a business.

"I got my first big contract last year to design 76 cushions for the Merchant Hotel," she said. "Since then I've been exporting textiles to London. We want to show that weaving can be fun and enjoyable."

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