Museums are like icebergs, what you see is only a fraction of what is really there. Quarry Bank is no exception and in the unassuming rooms at the back of the Mill, which house the collection and archive, are many intriguing items.
The Drawn Out of Love exhibition has taught me a lot about artistic printing so when Ally our Collections and Archive Officer told me about our collection of over 1,500 textile printing blocks, I couldn’t wait to have a look.
Beautifully designed, our collection of wooden printing blocks were used for a very different purpose to those in the exhibition. These textile printing blocks were used to print patterns onto cotton fabric, which was then exported around the world.
Most of the blocks in the collection date to the late 19th century and the influence of trade, particularly throughout what was then the British Empire, can be seen.
As you can see the blocks are designed in reverse so when dye is added and the block pressed onto the fabric, the design will appear the right way round.
The Greg family used them to identify cloth which came from Quarry Bank. This block, probably 20th century, reads R.G (for Greg) & co. Quarry Bank Mills and has the Greg family crest in the centre.
Some have elaborate designs.
Others are more practical, giving the type of cloth.
Others are carved with patterns, each block coming together with the others to build up a design.
One particularly complicated pattern is made up of 70 individual blocks, each of which states the colour to be used when printing.
While we therefore know what colour the overall pattern would have been, unfortunately they are not numbered, so we don’t know what order they should go in!
Trying to piece them together would be like doing a jigsaw puzzle where the pieces look very similar and without any idea of what the final picture should look like.
I can only imagine how painstaking this kind of pattern would have been to hand print. They certainly must have had steady hands.
Blocks like this would have been used to print textiles for upholstery and the finished results may have looked something like this.
Most of the blocks were produced locally and are an important part of the textile history of the North West.
Caring for objects like these, part of our extensive archive and collection, is a very important aspect of the work the National Trust do here at Quarry Bank. I very much look forward to bringing you more behind the scenes stories.
If you feel inspired to have a go at printing why not try our printing workshop for adult beginners with artist Lily Cheetham, this Sunday 2-4pm