One of The Liberties best-known traditional industries has been given a 21st century lease of life thanks to the happy partnership of a local textile artist and an historian. As a new clutch of enthusiasts are sought to learn the skills of weaving in The Liberties, we take a look at the resurgence of interest in the trade that once dominated working life in the area.
The idea to develop a project promoting weaving in The Liberties first started in 2018 when Marja Almqvist, a textile artist and adult education tutor with CDETB Adult Education Service for South Inner-City Dublin, met Cathy Scuffil, Dublin City Council’s Historian in Residence for Dublin South Central. Both are passionate about the history of the tradition of weaving in The Liberties and also concerned about the narrative that has been emerging that the Liberties is only famous for the production of whiskey and beer.
“I had been approached by Dublin City Council to run a weaving workshop”, says Marja, “and together with Cathy we decided to pitch the idea that a course would combine the history of weaving in the area with practical hands-on weaving skills.”
With the sponsorship of Dublin City Council and supported by CDETB they ran a series of taster workshops in 2018, and discovered through these, that there was considerable local interest in the project. Through the taster workshops twelve participants were recruited and the first Weaving in the Liberties course started in September 2018.
The course proved to be a great success and in September 2019 a further ten students were recruited for a night-class along the same lines.
In January 2020, Weaving in the Liberties ran a two-day seminar, exhibition and weaving workshops in the new Hyatt Centric Hotel on The Coombe. This was attended by over 200 people, and was a great success. Marja explains: “It proved to us that the idea of promoting weaving as a craft and a means for local development was indeed a viable idea, and we faced the new year with considerable optimism.”
“However, then the Covid pandemic struck and we found ourselves operating in very different circumstances. Due to social distancing restrictions we were no longer able to meet in our original premises but we managed to meet in limited ways in new locations and online. In this situation we decided not to recruit new members, but to do our best to support our existing participants through the Covid crises.”
“The silver lining to this situation was that it brought our already tightly woven group of budding weavers and historians closer together and as the months progressed this group became determined to expand and develop the project once we were able to work and meet more freely.”
Establishing The Liberties Weavers
In early 2021 Claire Byrne, one of our original students, took the initiative to establish The Liberties Weavers as an independent community group.
The overall aim of The Liberties Weavers is to breathe new life into the 1,000 years of history, weaving and textile production in the Liberties. The group aims to do this through organising weaving classes, community-based workshops (online and face to face), exhibitions and historical lectures for local residents and visitors to the area.
“We aim to be as inclusive as we can, and particularly welcome newcomers to the Liberties to get involved in the project and expand our local knowledge with their own textile know-how and histories. We also want to reach out to people who for various reasons find it difficult to attend weaving workshops in person.”
Plans for the future
The ambition is make The Liberties famous for weaving once more. To this end The Liberties Weavers are developing the Weavebox project, which is an online introduction to the local history and practice of weaving. The Weavebox is being developed with the support of Dolphin’s Barn public library, and its planned to run the first online workshop in September 2022. Weavebox workshops will also be available face to face for groups and visitors to Dublin 8.
The Weavers are also working to become part of the fabric of the Liberties by co-operating with other local development organisations. In 2022 they hope to work alongside The Tenters 100 group, to celebrate the centenary of the first public housing scheme undertaken by the Free State in the area historically known as the Tenters. This was an area with textile production at its heart. They are also working with Solas Project, a local youth support organisation who run a woodworking workshop, to produce and sell weaving equipment.
Marja continues: “We see enormous potential for developing The Liberties Weavers project over the coming years. Our biggest challenge is finding a permanent premises to house our collection of looms, yarns and other weaving equipment. Our ultimate dream is to establish a Weaving Shed, along the lines of the popular Men’s Shed movement. This will be a place in the Liberties where weavers can drop in to meet and make, thus continue the centuries long Liberties tradition of people working and living together in supportive and creative ways.”
CDETB Adult Education Service for South Inner-City Dublin will be running four face to face groups this autumn:
If you are interested in joining any of these classes you will be welcomed with open arms. For information about upcoming courses please contact Meliosa Bracken, CDETB Adult Education Co-ordinator firstname.lastname@example.org or email The Liberties Weavers at email@example.com for details of The Liberties Weavers, their classes or the Weavebox project.
You can also read more about the project by following this link: http://theyarnschool.ie/weaving-in-the-liberties/
Weaving in The Liberties is an initiative supported by Dublin City Council South Central Area Community Office.