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If your ancestors are from the Lagan Valley area in Ulster, chances are they worked within the prosperous linen industry. Linen has been manufactured in Ireland as far back as the 13th century. The versatile clothe could be used to create shirts, tablecloths and handkerchiefs, but it was also used for sails on ships and even covers on the wings of early airplanes. The industry did not start to flourish in Ireland until the 1700s. During these early years and up to 1850 much of linen production took place in the home. In rural Ireland many families split their time between farming the land and producing linen.
It was very labour intensive to produce linen especially before industrial developments in manufacturing throughout the 19th century. There were a number of processes the plant, fibres and cloth had to go through. It could take up to a year to create a linen garment.
During spinning of linen the fibres are drawn out and twisted together to create a continuous thread. In the 18th century, women were often found sitting outside cottages working on the spinning wheels. Girls started to learn how to spin linen as young as 5 or 6. The flax was tied to the spinning wheel with a coloured ribbon. The colour would tell visitors whether the woman was single (a spinster) or married. White, pink and red meant she was single and darker colours like green or blue would convey that the woman was married. Spinning was not easy work. Women would spin for up to twelve hours a day, it would take eight hours to fill one bobbin of thread. They would often have a large muscular leg on the side they used to continuously move the thread and sores would form in the corners of their lips from running the thread through their mouth to help the fibres gel together.
Once a bobbin was full it was given to the weaver. In many homes the weaver was the husband or brother. He worked on a hand loom inside the house. The weaver’s room was usually the cleanest and the brightest, with plenty of windows. When the cloth was ready it was taken to the local market house for sale on the designated monthly market days. The towns would come alive on these days with people from all across the area to purchase or sell linen, livestock and produce. You could discover a linen worker in your family tree amongst the largest collection of online Irish family records on findmypast.com.
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