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Can This Small Company Revive A National Irish Treasure?

From the western shores of Ireland, FRANCIS M. sets out to put Irish linen, a noble and luxurious fabric, into discerning homes worldwide by going back to its unparalleled basics.

A 100 years ago, Ireland was the undisputed centre of linen production worldwide. A position unchallenged in terms of sheer output, but also the superior quality of linen fabric produced. In an average year, enough linen was woven in Ireland to wrap a nine-foot wide belt of cloth around the earth’s equator.

During World Wars I and II, many famous airplanes including Spitfires, Lancaster Bombers and Wellingtons were covered in lightweight, unbleached Irish linen because of its exceptional strength. On her maiden, and only, voyage in 1912, the Titanic held 40,000 white damask Irish linen dinner napkins, thousands of linen tablecloths, bed sheets, pillow cases, and towels providing the utmost quality and lavishness for her passengers.

Because the island of Ireland is such a small landmass, its ability to produce a product of such repute and volume is quite extraordinary.

Fast forward to today, the Irish linen industry is a mere shadow of its former self.  The majority of weaving houses have closed, a few remain, and the output is defined by prim handkerchiefs, wedding ring cushions and christening gowns all adorned with lace, shamrocks and Celtic flourishes. The market is also littered with products imported into Ireland and touted under the guise of Irish linen.

In the same way Champagne must be made within a certain region in France to be able to use the name, the enviable reputation of Irish linen is promoted and protected by The Irish Linen Guild which was founded in 1928. The descriptor "Irish Linen" can only ever be used if the fabric is woven in Ireland. Fabric which is woven outside Ireland cannot be described and sold as Irish linen.

 

Enter FRANCIS M., a young Irish challenger brand who recently launched, is determined to put this luxurious fabric back on its rightful pedestal and in a way that is starkly different from its competition.

 “Yes, I do believe we can put this remarkable fabric into well-heeled homes worldwide. It will involve working with the few remaining weaving sheds, going back to basics and doing the important things well. There is always a market for utmost quality that lasts…” says founder, Sean Moran.

The FRANCIS M. work ethos is key: the simpler the design, the more exacting the craft. They eschew unnecessary swirls and flourishes in favour of a restrained simplicity that is elegant, appropriately traditional, timeless and loved by the truly discerning.

Although linen is manufactured in other parts of the world, there are several special attributes that make the Irish fabric far superior.

  • The fineness of the woven cloth that is still achievable by Irish weavers and spinners today. These skills have been handed down from generation to generation and learned over many hundreds of years.
  • The softness of the water in Irish streams, which is harnessed for finishing, results in cloth of enviable handle (feel) and appearance.
  • The finely and evenly woven linen bedding is tensile strong and durable. It increases in strength when wet, allowing it to stand up to repeated laundering even at boil temperatures.

 

While luxury cotton bedding usually lasts about three years before looking tired, showing signs of wear and needing to be replaced at expense, Irish linen is only starting to blossom. It gets softer with each laundering, becomes gossamer silky smooth to the touch and can be passed on to the younger generations as an heirloom. A wise and genteel investment.

The lovely thing about linen is that once you know what to look for, it’s easy to determine the quality by sight and feel.  A characteristic most often associated with linen cloth is the presence of "slubs" or small knots that occur randomly along the weave. These are in fact defects associated with low quality. The finest linen cloth has a very consistent yarn diameter with minimal slub.

“We offer our clients two seasonal linen weights – Summer and Winter – so that bedding can be changed by season or depending on where the client is living at the time. Our clients often have homes in several climates so they will choose their bedding accordingly”, says Sean Moran.

FRANCIS M. also offers bespoke services. If you have an extra long or wide dining table, they can create a custom tablecloth in plain linen, or a damask/double damask cloth/set of napkins with any design woven into the cloth so the pattern is in the fabric. All products can be simply embroidered with a monogram or crest. Also available are custom-size bed linens especially for the super yacht world.

When told that Irish linen petticoats for Follies dancers were far more expensive than plain cotton, Florenz Ziegfeld replied: "I know, but Irish linen does something to their walk…and remember, they are Ziegfeld Girls!"

FRANCIS M. is sold exclusively through its website www.francis-m.com and ships globally.    


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