The 396 files in this series document the printed and woven textiles designed and produced by the KDW textiles department over the period from 1966 to 1988. The documentation is in the form of slides, photographs, negatives, photocopies of technical drawings and a sample textile swatch. The items depicted in this collection include: household textiles; bed linen; upholstery; and fashion fabrics and items.
The KDW printed and woven textiles departments were part of the early workshops established in 1965, alongside candle-making, ceramics, woodturning and silversmithing. Some historical records account for weavers arriving in 1964, while the silk-screen equipment for printing textiles was already in action since 1963. However other records describe how the Swedish born designer, Helena Ruuth, was invited to Ireland in 1965 to help establish the weaving section of the KDW. Ruuth stayed in KDW until 1967 though many of her initial designs remained in production for years afterwards. One example of Ruuth's towel designs for the Fifth Avenue department store, B. Altmans in New York, was highly successful and much copied. Some newspaper articles from 1965 record that Sigrid Follin, also from Sweden, was in charge of the Textile department alongside Helena Ruuth and an exhibition catalogue from the first KDW exhibition mentions both Follin and Ruuth as the principal designers for the textiles on show. The first annual report for the KDW also produced in 1966 outlines the textile department's primary concern; to develop new types of fabrics and produce colour ranges for Irish manufacturers with a concentration on natural fibres such as wool, linen and silk. They also concentrated on firms where improvements in design were most urgently needed. The KDW was quickly embraced by Irish textile companies, many such as Robert Usher, Lissadell Towels and Charles Gallen worked with KDW for years.
The success of the textile department was in part due to their well equipped prototyping facilities where designs were 'fully detailed and technically de-bugged before they were handed over to the manufacturers'. The resources of the textile department included a tappet, dobby and jacquard looms, a 14-metre hand-silk-screen printing table and screen-making equipment. During the first decade of the KDW there were two distinct workshops in the textiles department, one for woven products and the other for printed products. From 1977 the textile department amalgamated with other departments in the KDW, which undertook larger contracts incorporating industrial design, furniture making, graphics and promotion. One initiative which was driven by this amalgamation, highlighted the expertise and knowledge of the textile department. They performed a national survey of Irish furnishing & fabric producers in 1977, which resulted in the production of a catalogue entitled the Kilkenny Contract Interiors Index. This index was a comprehensive colour coordinated selection of some 2,000 contract textile furnishing materials which were available from approximately twenty-two Irish producers, many of whom KDW had provided guidance and prototype designs. This resourceful index was used by many architectural firms, interior designers and overseas buyers.
The files in this series are divided into two sections, approximately 156 files at the beginning of the series relate to printed textiles, while the remainder focuses primarily on woven textiles, with a combination of both towards the end of the series. Some designers feature prolifically throughout the series, such as Helena Ruuth and Jenny Trigwell.
Ruuth was instrumental in establishing the weaving section of the department, and as a result most of her designs feature in the woven textile files. Ruuth produced design prototypes for travel rugs, blankets and bedspreads which were in turn manufactured by many textile companies such as the Irish Tapestry Company (Drogheda) Ltd., F. & J. Clayton & Company Ltd., Kerry Woollen Mills and William Liddell & Co. Ltd. A press release from the Irish Tapestry Company (Drogheda) Ltd. which features in the NIVAL archives, details how the company expanded from zero exports in 1965, to almost 95% of their products being exported in 1967. They claimed that this was a result of their company being fully re-equipped and by placing 'a very high requirement on design', which was encouraged by the consultancy of Helena Ruuth and another person, Lenora Fowler. This particular company was successful in securing contracts in hotels as far away as Hawaii, Fiji and Canada. Another notable design by Ruuth that is depicted in this series includes the upholstery design for terminal one of Heathrow Airport, made from 100% velvet pile moquette, which was manufactured by Birr Fabrics in Co. Offally in 1969.
Designs by Jenny Trigwell are depicted extensively across this series, incorporating miscellaneous designs for both printed and woven textiles. The UK designers, Jenny Trigwell and Jenni Green, were students of Central Saint Martin's College of Art & Design in London, and were both recruited by Pat Scott and William H. Walsh in 1969. They were fondly known in the KDW as the 'Spinning Jennys'. Trigwell stayed with the KDW until its closure, and some of her notable designs depicted in this series include; a range of glass cloths which featured illustrations of a stylised Irish male 'Padraigh' and female 'Brigid' wearing traditional 'Aran' clothing, which could be cut out and sewn together to make rag dolls; a series of kitchen accessories featuring an illustrated 'Irish Wild Flowers' theme; miscellaneous terry towelling designs for Robert Usher; soft mohair rugs designed for Cushendale Mills; and finally many upholstery swatches for companies such as Woods & Sons, Dripsey Woollen Mills and Nenagh Textile Mills. In the early 1980s Trigwell worked alongside other designers on large interior contracts, such as the furnishings for Aughenish Alumina (Alcan) with J. Smith in 1981. Files on this particular project show photographs of various mood boards and swatches. Jenni Green features less extensively in this series, with a focus on printed textiles using bold and graphic patterns.
Oisin Kelly, the artist-in-residence at the KDW from 1964 to 1981, produced many illustrations for the textiles department. A range of glass cloths designed primarily for the tourist market, feature his interpretations of Irish proverbs such as 'Far away hills are green' or 'Dead with tea, dead without it', and Irish folk songs such as 'If I were a Blackbird' which also incorporate sheet music. Other examples in this series by an unidentified designer which catered for the tourism market, include a set of tea towels made by Riverdale Textiles in Antrim. These tea towels depict four old shop fronts – a victualler, a fish shop, a baker and confectioner, and a select bar & lounge – each one with a traditional Irish recipe incorporated into the design. It is likely that ranges such as these, as well as the Trigwell 'Irish Wild Flower' kitchen accessories range were on sale in the Kilkenny Shops in Kilkenny and Dublin to attract the tourist market, as well as being exported to the Kilkenny Shops in San Francisco and to stores such as B. Altmans in New York.
Other designers who feature prominently in this series are Kathy Hiltner and Bodil Andersen. Hiltner produced both printed and woven textiles over the period from 1966 to 1969, while Andersen worked solely in woven textiles from 1967 to 1968. Within this series Hiltner shows a preference for bold and graphic patterns on her printed fabrics, designing for clients such as Charles Gallen & Co. and Robert Usher. Similarly large geometric patterns are featured on her beach towel design entitled 'Polaris', also manufactured by Robert Usher. Woven designs by Bodil Andersen which are depicted in this series are primarily woollen travel rugs or woollen bedspreads for clients such as Irish Tapestry Company, John Cogan and Sons Ltd. and J. F. Quinlan and Company. A 'Sisal' place mat designed by Andersen in four colour ways was produced for Harrods.
Some notable projects that are illustrated in this series but whose designers remain unidentified include; a series of children's furnishing fabrics which consist of trains and aeroplanes, or jungle themes, manufactured by Seafield Fabrics Ltd., Cork and identified as the 'Kanturk Collection' from the Kilkenny Trading Company – these were possibly designed by Jenni Green; a coordinated set of wallpaper and curtains entitled 'Canasta' made circa 1974-77 which is shown in a room setting at the Kilkenny Shop in Dublin, was manufactured by Kildare Wallpaper Makers and the Textile Design Centre respectively; a range of upholstery and curtain furnishings for the Bank of Ireland Building on Baggot Street in Dublin which consisted of semi-sheer leno weave curtaining in pure new wool made by Dripsey Woollen Mills in Cork and heavy duty upholstery fabric by Kerry Woollen Mills, Killarney; and a carpet/rug design for the Ante Room at the Senate which is shown in location.
Finally, at the end of this series some files relate to larger contracts that were undertaken by the textile department and the KDW design consultancy. KDW designers were associated with other people who may have been interior designers or architects. Examples include; Breda Malone who worked with Jenny Trigwell on the interior design of Smithwicks Brewery presentation room and also on children's clothing designs for the client John Peters (Kinsale Smocks); Dan Smith who worked with Breda Malone and Jenny Trigwell on the interior of Auteven Hospital; and Harold Bailey who worked with Breda Malone and Jenny Trigwell on Viking themed wall hangings for Reginald’s Bar in Waterford.