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Making a Move

Our textiles collection encompasses over 35,000 pieces dating from the 1700s, sourced from all nine counties of Ulster. Join Valerie Wilson, Curator of Textiles, as she introduces us to Context - the project to move our collection to new, state-of-the-art storage.

A white spool of thread, with a label reading 'One Mile'.

'A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step' is a common saying that originates from an old Chinese proverb.

The textiles collection at the Ulster Folk Museum is currently being prepared for a journey – not of a thousand miles, but to a new location on site at Cultra that provides modern purpose-built storage designed to improve and increase public access to wonderful examples of dress and accessories, domestic textiles, linens, embroidery, lace, and quilts. 

'Context', our textiles collection relocation project, is part of Reawakening the Ulster Folk Museum. This is an exciting project that will expand the role the museum plays as a dynamic heritage and environmental resource. Through the creation of more ways to get involved with the museum, the Reawakening will create active links between past and present and will ensure the museum serves as a hub of connection - to ourselves, to each other, and to the environment. 

An old manor sits in the sunlight.
The Manor House at the Ulster Folk Museum

In the beginning

The Ulster Folk Museum was first opened to the public in June 1964 in the setting of over 100 acres of rolling woodland near Holywood, County Down. It was established after many years of planning, fieldwork and collecting of both data and objects. Some of the earliest items acquired for this new museum were of dress and textiles. For the first 14 years of its existence the Ulster Folk Museum’s textiles collection was stored in the impressive early 1900s Manor House at Cultra.

During this period the anatomy of the collection as we know it today started to evolve, with a strong emphasis on objects from across the nine counties of Ulster, carrying stories of those who made, wore, sold and recycled the clothes on their backs, and used the linens in their kitchens and on their tables and beds.

Work in progress

In 1978 the collection moved to its current location on the museum site, into a storage space with environmentally controlled conditions. From then until recently, the textiles collection has supported a number of significant exhibitions at home and abroad, exploring aspects of wedding dress, needlework skills, shirt making, patchwork, and costume for Irish dance. 

As the result of a programme of continuous research, development and acquisitions, the collection has increased considerably in size over the last 45 years and it has now outgrown its present home, making relocation necessary. 

Looking to the future

The Ballycultra Store, located near the entrance to the museum, will become the new home for the textiles collection. It's a redeveloped building which includes controlled environmental conditions and electronically-operated roller racking for storage. The store will also provide easy access for the public, by appointment. 

As the relocation project develops, the rails and shelves will fill up with dress and textile objects dating from the early 1700s to present day, arranged in a logical layout with plenty of space and good lighting available for close study of selected pieces.  

Many hands make light work

Moving the collection to its new home is a major undertaking involving the updating of existing records, packing and labelling, new photography, digitisation, transportation and installation. 

The project team incudes staff from across a number of National Museums NI departments, including Curatorial, Collections Information, Collections Care, Stores Logistics, and Visitor Services, ably assisted by local volunteers with specialist needlework skills.  

Stay involved

Join us on online to follow this journey as our team of museum staff and volunteers work together to prepare all 35,000+ objects for their move to the new store. Check in for regular updates of ‘steps’ along the way, with news of interesting objects ‘uncovered’ in the store, selected highlights of dress and accessories, traditional needlework techniques and skills, and much more.  

Welcome on board!