Carrick Community Heritage Trail

Kirkmichael - Weaving a thriving community

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Kirkmichael’s origins date back to the 13th century when John de Gemmelstoun founded a church beside the Dyrock Burn, he dedicated it to St. Michael. For a long time the village was called Kirkmichael of Gemilston, after its founder, but the name was eventually simplified.

The village church building dates back to 1787, a fairly typical T-plan design it was intended to provide a large number of seats within a fairly small space. The churchyard however, surrounded by large old ash trees, reflects its much greater age.

Like many of the villages in Carrick, and throughout Ayrshire, at the beginning of the 18th century, Kirkmichael’s people worked predominately in agriculture. However, as the century progressed, new agricultural practices meant that fewer workers were needed to produce more food.

The government began to encourage farmers to grow the flax, from which linen is made, to try to better Scotland’s economy. Coarse linen cloth was exported from the West of Scotland to America; the ships would often return with a full cargo of tobacco.

It was at this time that the weaving trade became the main source of income for many of the Kirkmichael families. In Carrick, weaving was a family trade with looms set up in villagers homes. Though it was usually just the men who worked the looms, the women and children were always kept busy washing, cairding and spinning the wool for the looms.

Originally, only blankets and rough clothes were produced, but gradually weavers began to prosper from selling their produce to Glasgow merchants, who in turn sold it throughout the country.

Whilst it was predominantly men who were weavers, assisted by their wives and children, women began to develop their own trade. Towards the end of the 18th Century, cotton was being imported in large quantities and the weavers turned their skills to this new fibre.

Fashions had changed and cotton muslin was the new sought after fabric. By 1810, there were 6000 cotton muslin weavers in Ayrshire.

The fabric was important but the fashion of the time asked for decoration. The looms which produced the fabric were unable to perform the complex functions required to include patterns in the weave.

Hand sewing white embroidery onto the white cotton muslin was the only way to realise these decorations and meet the demand. Like many parts of the west of Scotland, a large majority of Kirkmichael’s female population learned the needlework skills brought in from continental Europe. They supplemented the family's income by satisfying the booming demand for white-on-white embroidery.

However, this boom was not to last for Carrick as the weavers and needle workers did not adapt with the times. The weavers mainly worked for themselves in their own home selling their produce to merchants and would not combine with other weavers to set up mills. In addition, Looms began to be introduced which were capable of automatically introducing decoration into the weave. The result of this was a disastrous decline of trade in the area, as large mills in the rest of the country with massive economies of scale began to produce much cheaper cloth undercutting weavers in Kirkmichael and the rest of Carrick.


Top: Ayrshire whitework

Bottom: The village of Kirkmichael, circa 1900