Textile Printing Blocks at Armley Mills Industrial Museum

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Last week I visited the Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills, which is a Leeds City Council museum. Located on the Leeds and Liverpool canal, you can walk there in about 30 minutes via the canal towpath from central Leeds, which is a lovely walk on a sunny day.

The museum is located within Armley Mills, which was once the largest woollen mill in the world. The museum focuses on telling the story of Leeds’ rich industrial heritage through its collections, exhibitions and galleries, featuring predominantly textile production, tailoring and printing. You can read more about the history of Armley Mills on their website.

In the entrance galleries you can view functioning examples of textile manufacturing equipment, which offer demonstrations at selected periods during the day.

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Downstairs galleries include exhibitions on tailoring, focusing on the story of the prolific Burton’s manufacturing in Leeds, who created ready to wear clothing and uniforms. There are also currently exhibitions on show that explore how the city responded to the 2015 Leeds Floods , as well as Woman Work and War, an exhibition explaining the important role that women played in the WWI, how this began to alter the workplace.

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Display of Hepworth ready to wear ties, Armley Mills Industrial Museum

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The above photograph is of Hudson Road Mills, Leeds, which was one of Burton’s clothing factories, which at the height of its production, was the largest clothing mill in the world. This photograph shows the both impressive and overwhelming scale of production in the manufacturing industry, one cannot imagine the noise and experience of working daily in such an environment.

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Tailoring gallery, Armley Mills Industrial Museum
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Printing presses for newspaper, pamphlets, posters etc.

I visited the museum in particular to view textile printing blocks located in the museum’s archive from wallpaper and textile printing in North England. The museum has a very extensive collection of several hundred blocks, with the majority being attributed to Stead and McAlpin, who are still very successfully in production in Carlisle. This company is historically well known for specialising in hand block printing, as well as expanding into roller printing, screen printing and more recently digital printing.

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With the very kind and generous assistance of the Armley Mills curator, John McGoldrick and their Community Curator Chris Sharp, I accessed a small collection of the textile printing blocks collection.

The blocks are all constructed through several layers of hardwood, which have been nailed together, or joined by dowel rods, with a wooden or calico textile handle. Due to age, parts of the blocks have been affected by woodworm, mainly the handles, rather than surface of the print. The majority of the blocks were attributed to Stead and McAlpin, from either 1917 or 1878.

The blocks predominantly feature floral designs, usually constituting of four blocks of different designs to make up one pattern. As you can see from the photographs below, each detailed area cut is raised by about 2cm above the main print. The ink would have been rollered on, or the block pressed into rollered ink, before printing onto the fabric or paper.

 

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Textile printing block, Stead and McAlpin, 1917

 

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Textile printing block, Stead and McAlpin, 1917

The blocks vary in size depending on the pattern. All are irregular, some are long and thin, some more oblong, depending on the needs of the print. In many blocks, particularly those featured lower down on the post, you can still see the hand carving marks.

Some of the blocks, also have felt glued into the pads of the print, presumably to hold more ink, some of which have been dyed by the ink to green or red.

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Textile printing block, Stead and McAlpin, 1917
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Textile printing block, Stead and McAlpin, 1917

Many of the block collections for printing have at least one of the blocks featuring metal shards instead or wooden relief, either for more detailed print, or potentially to create texture if the block was used for wallpaper.

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Textile printing block, Stead and McAlpin, 1917
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Stead and McAlpin Textile Printing Block, 1878
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Stead and McAlpin Textile Printing Block, 1878

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Community Curator, Chris Sharp also showed me the collection of ornate printing blocks for a Paisley style pattern above, which combine varied levels of detail in both metal and wood engraving. It would be wonderful if the pattern could be recreated again by reprinting it. Chris also showed me a small selection of their large collection of printing blocks for commercial paper printing, such as newspapers, posters, advertisements and books.

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Textile/ Wallpaper printing block, 1878
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Textile/ Wallpaper Printing Block, 1878
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Textile/ Wallpaper Printing Block, Date Unknown

Below are images of four printing blocks from Stead and McAlpin from 1878, used to create one pattern. Two blocks are very sparse with metals relief areas, and two with larger floral shapes with felt pads.

It was fascinating, and really inspiring to view a small selection of their extensive collection of printing blocks. Special thanks to John Mc Goldrick and Chris Sharp for their help and guidance on this area.

 

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Textile Printing Block, Stead and McAlpin, 1878
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Textile Printing Block, Stead and McAlpin, 1878
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Textile Printing Block, Stead and McAlpin, 1878
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Textile Printing Block, Stead and McAlpin, 1878
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