Thursday, 28 April 2011

A Visit to the National Museum of Decorative Arts, Dublin

On 16th April a few team members got together for an inspiration-seeking visit to Collins Barracks. Home of the National Museum of Decorative Arts, the Barracks holds an impressive collection of decorative silverware, ceramics, furniture, fashions and other historical artefacts.
Mo, Heli, Chiara, Anne-Marie

Those who were able to make it on the day were Mo of Huggle Knits, Heli of Heli Designs, Chiara of Makissima and myself, Anne-Marie of Handmade by Amo’r.

This blog post is intended only to give you a taste of the collection as it is really well worth going along and seeing for yourselves. Apologies for the poor quality of some of the pictures procured from...erm...various unidentified sources.

Like any clothes-mad and crafty girls, we made a bee-line for the permanent exhibition, ‘The Way We Wore’. This is an interesting display following 250 years of Irish fashions and textiles from the late 18th to 20th centuries.

The outfits on display would have been worn by those who were relatively well off and who wore the latest styles.

The detail on this child's coat is simply amazing.

The ankle boots may be couple of centuries old but I wore a fairly similar pair as a kid in the 1980s!

The exhibit hightlights the importance of the fashion and textile industries to the economy. By the turn of the 19th century, Irish textiles such as lace and crochet were already well known and sought after internationally.
The middle and upper classes kept well up with the changing fashions seen across Europe.

The jewellery exhibit revealed a few surprises, especially the pieces from the 18oos. Though there was some use of semi precious stones such as agate and amethyst, 19th century jewellery artisans utilised some unusual materials. This could include bone, human or horse hair and bog oak.
In the early 1800s, black bog oak jewellery and accessories were made to target the tourism industry. I didn’t even know there was an Irish tourism industry as such back then!

The oak, blackened naturally by the acids in the peat bog, is lightweight and perfect for carving delicate and intricate designs. The jewellery usually featured Irishy motifs and symbols like harps and shamrocks.

Sorry vegans, but look away please. These delicately woven, 19th century pieces were made in Youghal, from horse hair dyed red.

I don't think I will be exploring this raw material myself. However, My imagination has been sparked. I for one, will be recycling and upcycling further beyond the beach glass I currently include in my own collections.

The strap on this amber bangle is made from tightly woven human hair! In the 1800s, mourning jewellery was commonly worn by the bereaved. It sometimes featured the hair of a deceased loved one to keep them near. Fascinating, though a little creeeeepy methinks.

This Victorian necklace, was made from 18th and 19th century watch cocks. And I thought the use of cogs, keys etc in Steam Punk jewellery was a modern phenomenon!

We also popped into the temporary exhibit on the work of Neilli Mulcahy. An Irish haute couture designer who ran her own Dublin salon from 1951 to 1969. We were particulalry enamoured by the bags on display.

I'm pretty sure my Mum once had a bag not unlike this one. It ended up in our dressing up box and I loved it.
Can I have this one please????

Neilli was renowned for her use of Irish tweed. She worked with local handweavers to produce lightweight fabrics in vibrant colours.

After a quick stroll through the Irish Country Furniture, Asian art and Out of Storage displays we had a good natter over coffee. There was so much more we didn't have time to see and may go back ourselves for a further look. We certainly got the inspiration we sought. I personally came away with a renewed determination to include more indiginous and recycled materials in my own work.

Watch this private thread for details of future, cultural, arty or craft-related team outings. If you decide to organise one for Crafty Ireland Team members in your own county or city, please take pics and share it with us!

Museum Opening hours: Tues – Sat 10am to 5pm. Sunday 2pm to 5pm.


  1. What a treasure trove... and I never even knew it existed. As an addict to all things amber, I'm not sure how I feel about a human hair bangle....

  2. Great reading Anne-Marie! And thanks again so much for organising the first outing, that Sat afternoon was great fun and Museum very inspiring! :)

  3. I went to the exhibition two years' ago, and loved it. There was this amazing crochet dress and lovely lace work! Your wonderful article brings it all back.

    Gorgeous items, but I think I won't be knitting anything in horse or human hair - mind you, my bed in a student house (all those years ago...) had a horse hair matress which was very comfortable...

  4. Another great article Anne-Marie.
    It was a great outing with loads of inspiration and chat. Am looking forward to the next one. Thanks again for organising.Cheers Mo

  5. thanks to the girls for collaborating on the article.

    Purls that's really funny.

    Miss Educator, yes I find the mourning jewellery with human hair intriguing but macabre.