From the Portfolio: FO_Portfolio_01 Wet spinning machine

Anna Duffy (Contributor), Alison Gault (Contributor), Lila Boschet

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


Harvest, scutch and heckle the flax plant and it is ready to spin into linen yarn. This was once a common practice in Northern Ireland, but the rise of synthetic fabrics in the 1950s curtailed the region’s history of field-to-fabric linen production. Spinning equipment was shipped away to new textile hubs in South Africa, Portugal and China, and with them went the linen skills and knowledge needed to keep those practices alive. But in 2023 when Mario Sierra, the director of Mourne Textiles, a traditional weaving mill, discovered a suite of industrial spinning equipment in a derelict linen mill, it set in motion a project that might just revive Irish linen.

What Sierra stumbled upon is not simply a relic of a bygone industry. Each of the seven machines – from the wet ring spinner to the spreader, doubler and the hackler – plugs a gap in the linen production supply chain. If restored, Irish linen is back. But the overhaul of these bulky and intricate machines is no small feat. Take the Wet Spinning Machine. This machine dissolves flax fibres in a liquid spinning solution that is then extruded into continuous filaments. The environment of the machine plays a part in this process too. It needs to be 25 degrees and high humidity so that liquid solution can bind the fibres together; the machine constantly pulls and elongates the flax fibres until they are twisted and wound on the bobbin. The Spinner is in a rickety state; its frame is worn and the motor responsible for heating the spinning solution is in dire need of replacement. Removing the rust and replacing the missing parts is only a part of revitalising the supply chain. Each machine – from the Shuttle Loom, Spinner, Spreader, to the Doubler and Hackler – requires knowledge from craftspeople to operate. Alongside the restoration, the project team, which involves researchers from Ulster University working on a Future Observatory Design Exchange Partnership project, are connecting with expert spinners to record and pass on their knowledge to a new generation. ‘If everything goes according to plan’ reports Anna Duffy, researcher at Ulster University ‘we will have some wet spun linen by the summer.’ Although the machinery is vintage, this mini-mill and the self-sustaining system it enables, where linen can be farmed, processed and spun in Northern Ireland, is fit for an ecological future.
Original languageEnglish
JournalFuture Observatory Journal
Issue numberNo.1
Publication statusPublished online - 25 Apr 2024


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