During the 18th and early 19th centuries the east coast of Scotland concentrated on producing linen goods which could best be made from Dutch, Flemish and Baltic flax. Designs, patterns and quality of cloths were all influenced by these connections. Fife no longer grew it’s own flax. Much was imported and spun in Kirkcaldy. The 1830s saw the introduction of the power looms and by 1860 the cottage industry was dead. In 1867 over 11,500 people in Fife were employed in the linen industry, but by 1938 this had fallen to just over 7000.
Fine patterned table linen was woven in the Dunfermline mills, while sheetings and window blinds were woven in Falkand. Linen was often mixed with cotton and woven up into shirting and striped ticking fabrics, used to cover mattresses and pillows. Other coarser linens were also woven into sail cloth, tarpaulins and for packaging goods, especially in Dundee before it was replaced by cheaper imports of jute.
During the war years of 1914-18 and 1939-45 flax was grown again in many counties in Scotland and factories were revived to spin, bleach, dye and weave linen cloth again. During the first World War this was mainly for aeroplane fabrics. In the second World War mills in Aberdeenshire, Blairgowrie and Cupar were under government direction and factories tided the UK over during a difficult time. However, costs involved in treating the Scottish flax became prohibitive and they closed down.
There is one last main manufacture of linen left in Fife today and that is Peter Creig & Co, who were established in 1825. They are still weaving in the same mill in Kirkcaldy.
This research is so inspiring me to weave with linen again and to connect to the weavers who lived in my local area. It feels rather like they are talking to me. It would be good to bring back some handwoven linen to Fife. Perhaps even mix it with cotton as some of the local mills would have done to produce softer shirting and ticking. I feel that my next design process is beginning………….