Costume and Textiles

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Costume and Textiles

National Museums NI holds Ireland’s largest public collection of costume and textiles.

Over 50 years of fieldwork, research and donations has created a collection rich in both content and context. It represents the full spectrum of textile history in Ireland, from the thrifty recycling of everyday clothing into quilts and rag rugs, to the most fashionable of dress and world-famous linens. The collection covers four broad themes –


• Historic Costume
• Contemporary Fashion
• Fashion Accessories
• Textiles

The objects date from the early 18th century to present day and they tell stories of daily life in Ireland, from high fashion to hobby needlework, industry to artistry.

The costume collections includes dress from international designers and the high street, the result of a focussed collecting policy over the last 40 years to build a significant archive of contemporary fashion.

Historic fashion is well represented with costumes illustrating both social history and aspects of fashionable dress over three centuries.
A highlight of the eighteenth century collection is the suit of cut velvet and metal thread worn by the ‘Black Rod’ of the Irish Houses of Parliament in 1751.

Three specific collections of haberdashery and costume illustrate drapery retailing in Ulster from the 1880s to the late 1990s. The costume and accessories collections reflect not only life in Ireland but also the challenges and successes met by those who chose to emigrate in search of a better life.

The collections of textiles celebrate Ulster’s prominence as a manufacturer of linen fabric and highly ornamented and embroidered domestic furnishings. Collections of Irish lace, embroidery and patchwork explore aspects of needlework education in Ireland, domestic economy, and artistic achievement.