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Living Linen Interview LL2_R00/18

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Sound Recording on Reel: Lira. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: Lowry Archibald completed a chemistry degree at Queen's University in 1956. He applied for several jobs and decided to accept the offer of a position with the Linen Industry Research Association (LIRA) at Lambeg. Lowry was interviewed by the then Director of research - Mr Derritt-Smith - and started in the Chemical Testing Department. LIRA had been set up in 1920 by the industry itself, to a large extent, to troubleshoot problems for the trade and to carry out pioneering research. The staff at Lambeg included botanists, physicists and chemists. There were spinning, weaving, and bleaching, dyeing and finishing sections within LIRA. These committees were made up of representatives from the different firms in the industry. The Testing Department did work for the various sections. They tested yarns and cloth that were sent to them from individual firms, as well as helping out with Lambeg's own projects. The problems raised by local firms included yarn and cloth staining, yarn breakages, holes in the finished fabric, inconsistency of shade and streaking. Although the member firms usually brought their problems to Lambeg, it was not uncommon for members of the Research Department to travel to the firm in question to see the manufacturing process and the problem as it occurred. Although most linen companies had their own 'laboratories' few were able to carry out anything other than routine testing and costing. Each company was guaranteed confidentiality. The Testing Department was involved in research projects as well as with routine testing. They did work on flax-fibres, yarn strength, and on cloth abrasion, fire and crease resistance. LIRA also took over the role of the Belfast Testing House. The Testing House carried out routine tests on finished cloth for customers, whereas LIRA worked with the manufacturers. The Testing House checked strength, durability, colour fastness and other such qualities. These tests would have been carried out a number of times and the results averaged to give a more accurate indication of the quality of the batch. Each customer (Woolworths or M&S for instance) gave Lambeg a specification that the cloth had to meet and often insisted on particular tests of their own. Over the years the contraction of the linen industry was reflected in LIRA's work. The local industry was not only contracting but beginning to diversify as well. Lambeg attempted to provide a lead for local firms, by moving into flax blends. They held a number of exhibitions on site in conjunction with the likes of ICI, Chemstrand and Courtaulds. Although these blends were viable and helped widen/improve the application of linen, LIRA encountered opposition from within the industry. Some firms refused to consider manufacturing anything other than linen, while others raised questions such as the possibility of fibre cross-contamination. Linen blends often had a greater abrasion resistance than pure linen and produced cloth that was also significantly easier to handle. Due to the widening scope of Lambeg it was decided to change the name. The acronym LIRA was, however, retained due to its ease of recognition. LIRA became the Lambeg Institute Research Association. As the linen industry went into decline local firms became less and less willing to fund research and development work at Lambeg. After Lambeg closed its doors in 1993 Lowry worked from home as a textile consultant for a number of years - dealing with many of the same people he had helped out through LIRA.