The Last Beetlers: Beetled Linen at William Clark

October 14th, 2015

William Clark has been involved in the linen manufacturing business since the 1700s and it is the only business in Ireland that still provides 100% Beetled Linen to the world’s top tailors and decorators.

What is Beetling?

The unique process of Beetling involves linen fabric being dampened and wound around an iron cylinder. The linen is then passed through a machine and pounded with heavy wooden blocks. This technique produces a hard, flat surface with high lustre and makes the linen fabric less porous. The distinctive sheen is very desirable amongst the tailoring and decorating industries.

In the Beginning

John Shiels, Schreiner Operator, William Clark, featured in Burkard Riegels "Linen Characters" exhibition at Stormont.The unique process of Beetling dates back to the early 1700s, and as Bruce Clark, family historian explains, in the days of his earliest forebears, linen production was a domestic industry in Ireland –

“In those days linen and flax were part of an agricultural way of life. Which were often combined with dairy farming. Linen was woven in cottages and buttermilk was used for bleaching.”

In the early years, in order to give linen fabric a gloss finish, people would lay it over stones in the middle of the river and pound it with wooden blocks.

However in 1736, Jackson Clark, founder of William Clark, revolutionised the finishing of linen fabric with the innovative beetling engine. Powered by a narrow stretch of river and simple, but ingenious water wheels, the beetling machine was able pound linen fabric for hours with vertical wooden blocks. The end product was smoother, shinier and completely unique.

As demand for the bespoke fabric grew, dams were built to ensure a regular flow of water which enabled William Clark to expand to serve global markets.

Innovation

Fast-forward to present day, and William Clark continues to produce innovating fabric which meets the evolving needs of customers. The textile technology offered in the Upperlands ranges from the ancient skill of Beetling, to state-of-the-art methods of laminating, erasing and dying and treating cloth.

More recently a bespoke range of Archival Linen and Archival Cotton has been developed, which includes a Repair and Aero linen fabric, designed to meet the needs of Archive Conservators.