European Fashion Heritage Association

Journal Designers

Object Voices: One fabric, many wonders

coutureEuropean fashionobject voicestextile history

Sybil Connolly and her woven love: pleated linen

“Irish fabrics are enough to bring the fashion world to our doorstep, but he world will come all the faster if the fabrics are shown to the best advantage” 

Sybil Connolly

If there was one fabric that tells the story of Sybil Connolly international success, it would be handkerchief pleated linen. Linen was already produced in Northern Ireland, but Sybil reimagined the everyday fabric by requesting that it be tightly pleated and then used the finished fabric for her couture gowns.

The fabric was lightweight but luxurious, containing thousands of pleats made up of 9 yards of linen for 1 yard of finished fabric. The finished gowns were also uncrushable and nearly crease free and thus travelled well. Pleated-linen was her enduring signature fabric, her initial success in the American market was in part down to her use of pleated linen in couture gowns. Two gowns in particular garnered much attention from the press in her 1958 collection: First Love a white pleated linen dress held in place with hand-pleated ribbon and Heiress, a full length, strapless dress of white pleated linen. The linen is set in horizontal sections between bands of crochet through which blue ribbon is threaded.

Sybil Connolly continued to use pleated linen throughout her career and continued to champion other vernacular Irish fabrics too such as lace and crochet, all,nearly entirely, created by small cottage industry workers. Crochet from women employed in their homes and lace from the nuns at Carrickmacross. Nonetheless, Sybil will be forever associated with pleated linen, from her studio and home at Merrion Square she covered her walls with her beloved fabric and referred to her home as the “house that linen built”.