FE McWilliam Gallery - Museums Association

FE McWilliam Gallery

In October 2019, Linen Lab opened at the FE McWilliam Gallery in Banbridge. An exhibition, which showed new work by a group of visual artists and designers based in Northern Ireland and Belgium, was the result of a yearlong creative engagement programme that saw eight artists and designers collaborate with more than 400 young people from 13 local schools.

The Linen Lab exhibition documented the creative interactions between the artists and the young participants and presented new work developed during the project. Each artist’s distinct thematic and aesthetic concerns emerged and developed, producing an exhibition that revealed the versatility of linen as a material, and highlighted its significance in our families, homes and industrial past.

Linen Lab has been so helpful in getting the students to think forward, allowing time for experimentation.


The story of linen and Banbridge are intertwined: at the height of the linen industry, there were some 20 linen mills dotted along the Bann Valley. The Linen Lab programme raised awareness of this important story but also encouraged the young participants to see linen as more than just a textile of the past. 

The experimental nature of the workshops highlighted some of the exciting possibilities of linen and flax for the future and helped the young people to engage with local industrial history in an innovative and creative way.

Teachers involved in the programme said that working with artists gave the students a unique insight into creativity and innovation and the importance of design in the workplace.

One teacher said: “Everything is instant these days, so there is a tendency to leave things to the last minute. Linen Lab has been so helpful in getting the students to think forward, allowing time for experimentation.”