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Living Linen Interview LL2_R99/16 1 of 2


Sound Recording on Reel: Design and product development - William Adams, Ewarts, Blackstaff & Ulster Weavers. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Whan family moved from Belfast to Dromore, after their house was destroyed in the blitz. Mr Whan remembers carrying a cup of tea to the factory, where his grandmother worked as a hemstitcher, every morning. Jack studied art and design at Lisburn ‘Tech, and in 1945 responded to an advert for a textile designer with the firm of William on the Donegall Road. William Adams pioneered the hand-painting of damasks at their works in Luke Street, Lurgan. Mr Whan maintains that the designer needs to be in direct contact with the customer rather than receiving information via an agent, salesman or other indirect route. Adams produced household linens on their 350 or so looms, and were the first firm to weave 100% polyester. Jack worked under the tutelage of Mr Fry - head designer - who painted `The Martyrdom of Oliver Plunkett', which hangs in Drogheda Cathedral. In 1965 Jack left Adams to join Ewarts as their head designer. In Ewarts, Jack had a staff of 14 and excellent facilities at his disposal. The design department was based in the Crumlin Road factory, but once a week went to Bedford Street to meet representatives of the various departments to discuss customer orders. Most but not all of their designing was therefore done on a commission basis - to specific customer requests. Jack designed the fabric used on Concorde. Ewarts was asked to produce a double damask banqueting cloth for the German Chancellor. This cloth was 20 yards long and had the Bonn and Belfast coats of arms woven at alternate place settings. Jack also designed upholstery fabrics, which remain in current production for the like of Parker Knoll. The department also worked on its own creations, many of which were designed with specific national markets in mind. He worked very closely with Ewarts' research department at Glenbank. In order to test new fabric finishes, before committing them to a full production run of several thousand yards of cloth, Jack had a batch of 6 looms, a weaver and a winder at his permanent disposal. The apparel trade became increasingly important after the association between Ewarts and Liddells. Marks and Spencer had a very large contract with the firm, and for the first time Jack was put in direct contact with his customers. Most of these apparel fabrics were printed at Dunmurry Print Works. In 1977, Jack was approached by Jimmy Webb. Managing Director of Blackstaff, and persuaded to leave Ewarts. After the apparel division was sold to Ulster Weavers, Jack concentrated on household linens and rose to become a Director of Blackstaff. Blackstaff produced a wide range of character bed-linens and were the sole European agents/distributors for Fieldcrest towels. The firm were also one of the first to produce goods for the home shopping catalogues such as Marshall Ward and Great Universal. In 1985, when James Gillespie, the chairman of Blackstaff, was in negotiation with Ulster weavers to sell off the firm, Jack was approached separately. He was appointed Product Development Manager and eventually moved, with their apparel division, to Montgomery Road. He set up a sample development department in Montgomery Road where he had a small number of looms to work on. At this stage Jack was able to insist that he meet his customers directly and travelled Europe on a regular basis designing fabrics for leading fashion houses such as Ralph Lauren, Versace, Paul Costelloe and John Rocha. Although Jack retired in 1995 he remains with Ulster Weavers in a consultancy role.

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Living Linen Interview LL2_R99/16 2 of 2

Living Linen Interview LL2_R99/16 2 of 2

Sound Recording on Reel: Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Whan family moved from Belfast to Dromore, after their house was destroyed in th...