Bringing weaving back to the Liberties

Tapestry of Dublin (photo courtesy of Marja Almqvist) 

With a fabric tape measure around her neck, Marja Almqvist talks with passion about the textile history of the Liberties. 

Textile apparels going back to the Vikings era were found in this part of Dublin and it was, for centuries, a true hub for textile production and trade. French Huguenots weavers who came here in the 1600s also greatly participated in the development of this industry. 

In the Liberties, you would find “silk of the highest quality” says Almqvist. 

However, at the beginning of the 19th century, trade slowly started to decline and the textile centre of this area no longer existed. 

Today, there is only one weaving company left in the Liberties, Botany Weavings, mainly providing the aviation world with its work. 

Noticing how the history of the textile industry in the area had been forgotten, Marja Almqvist (community education tutor and founder of the Yarn School) and Cathy Scufill (Dublin City Council Historian In Residence) created the Weaving in the Liberties project. 

They also got the support of the CDETB Adult Education Service and of the Dublin City Council Community Development Section. 

The project was created to “remember and possibly revive the textile industry in the Liberties”, says Almqvist. 

Reminissing on how weaving used to be the “focal point of multiculturalism and immigration”, Almqvist and Scufill are aiming to “build a new community for a new future”.  

The Liberties is an area in constant development and tourism has considerably increased over the last  few years. But instead of being advertised as a historic textile hub, the area had a “big push on [being] an alcohol centre”, Almqvist says with regret, noting the distilling and brewing tourism sites in the neighbourhood. 

This is where the Weaving in the Liberties project takes on its full meaning. For two years now, thirty people have followed the course to learn weaving as well as the history of this technique.  

There are currently fifteen weavers working on tapestries. Workshops are still happening in smaller groups despite the current circumstances, allowing people to connect and avoid isolation. 

One of the core topics addressed with the Weaving in the Liberties project is sustainability. 

The industry of textile has a strong environmental impact and Almqvist shared the importance of “making people aware of what is happening” while showing them they can “make and repair their own clothes” instead of buying new. 

The future of the project is bright and it is receiving support. Recently a call for wool donation on social media had an “overwhelming” success. 

Almqvist is hoping to organise workshops with children and is also looking to expose the creations of the weavers in the future.  

The only thing missing is a permanent premise to continue their work. 

“Right now, we are in a place without enough storage to be able to do what we want,” she says. “We are looking for a large room with ventilations in the area of the Liberties.”