Living Linen Interview LL2_R02/53


Sound Recording on Reel: R J Wooch, Old Park Printing Company, Belfast Silk and Rayon, Flaxall. Library Transcript: Transcript. Summary: The Craigs lived in Mossley and some of the family worked in Henry Campbells. Mr Craig's father had worked on a farm near Broughshane and Robert remembers going up to the farm in his summer holidays where he helped to pull flax. There were 6 children in the family. The first 3 were sent out to work to help support the family while the younger 3 stayed in school. Robert was number 3! After a short spell working as an apprentice cabinet-maker for Robert Watson & Co, Mr Craig joined R J Woods - Damask designer. R J Woods was an elderly gentleman and a well- known painter in his own right. The premises were in the loft of a warehouse in the centre of Belfast. Mr Craig then joined Oldpark Printworks in Donegall Sq West. Oldpark was a subsidiary of Allied Turkey Red in Alexandria Scotland. The firm had been founded by the Blairs. Mr BIair's 2 sons Robert Cooke Blair and John Blair were still very much involved. R C Blair ran the Belfast office and John Blair (who was based in Scotland) came over quite regularly to talk to customers. All of the printing was carried out in Scotland. Mr Craig designed handkerchiefs and apparel cloth at this time. Lamonts were one of the major local customers. The Belfast office dealt exclusively with NI customers. Allied Turkey Red used copper roller printing. This was incredibly expensive to set up and print runs of less than 80,000 yards were uneconomical. The copper rollers were etched with the pattern and then inked up. Although most patterns had between 5 and 8 colours, the more intricate designs could have had up to 16! In 1951 Mr Craig joined Belfast Silk & Rayon in Waterford St as a designer. The firm was run by the Sochor family. The firm used manual silk-screen printing. The firm printed large numbers of tablecloths and tea-towels for Lamonts and Ulster Weavers. Mr Craig was also working on apparel designs throughout the 1960s and witnessed major changes in fashion. In the earlier years a dress was very simply designed and lasted for years. In more modern times, fashion was more transient. This called for short runs and faster turn round times. This change in market demand suited the screen printing process, much more than the copper romler system, as smaller orders could be processed economically and the whole process was speeded up. Silk Screen printing involves pressing dyestuff through a silk or nylon mesh to create the desired pattern on the cloth. The screens were manufactured by a photographic process. Each colour required a different screen. In the 1970s the business moved to a new site in Whitehouse. Waterford St was retained as a design office. Belfast Silk & Rayon was a sizeable operation employing upwards of 3-400 people. Many of the processes were, however, manual. Conditions at Whitehouse were terrible compared with those at Waterford St. After leaving Belfast Silk & Rayon, Mr Craig worked as a freelance designer before joining FIaxalls of Carrickfergus. Flaxall specialised in Duplex printing (both sides of the cloth at once) furnishing and curtain cloth. FIaxall utilised a form of roller printing that combined the speed of rollers with the economy of a screen film system. There was a tie-up between Flaxall and Kirkpatrick Bros in Ballyclare - where the base cloth would have been bleached and dyed as required prior to printing. Mr Craig took early retirement and continued to work freelance for firms such as Lamonts, Ulster Weavers and Belfast Silk & Rayon until a couple of years ago.