Wonders of silk

Mum has reached a milestone birthday today- it would be unfair of me to give away her age but I was 33 a few weeks ago so you can guess! We have a lovely evening planned for her but I wanted to take her out for the day and as she’d chosen the silk museum on Macclesfield it meant a pre birthday treat as it isn’t open Saturday’s. (I knew this as I dragged my ex there a long time ago and found it shut on a Sunday, much to his delight).

Macclesfield Silk Museum is a fantastic place to visit particularly as the town is the only place in the UK to have ever produced silk fabric and at the height of its production in the 19th century it made the town incredibly prosperous. Spread over two neighbouring buildings, the museum has a gallery exhibits fabrics and with examples of machinery, and neighbouring Paradise Mill has working looms.

Having visited Cambodia last year and seen a silk farm I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more about the creation of silk by the moths and the process of extracting it from the cocoons (which is interesting but horrible, and something you should really know if you’re going to wear silk. Like knowing where meat comes from if you’re going to eat it).

The museum has a beautiful display of silks created in Macclesfield at the height of town’s boom in silk production. These have been hand stitched with the thinnest of threads – I can’t imagine how long these took to stitch.

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These tiny banners (bookmarks?) measure no more than 15cm long and have been woven on looms, which is mind blowing to think about how they’ve been created.IMG_5943 IMG_5942-0

In Paradise Mill you can see the looms demonstrating the production of silks from raw fibres to finished fabric. I find it fascinating to watch, to see a huge design drawn out on graph paper transformed into a series of punched cards which once attached to the looms works to create the tiniest of patterns. It’s like magic. To watch the thinnest of fibres spun into a thread and then woven into fabric.

Here the thread is created and spun into long lengths for the looms:

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Apparently working in a silk factory was much better than a cotton factory as no dust was created in the production of the fabric due to no stray fibres. Even if it is still a bit cramped.


All the threads hanging down with weights on the bottom, were raised and lowered by the use of cards with punched holes – the Jacquard system – which told the loom which order to lift the threads in, to create the pattern. It might be simple compared to computerised printing now but I still find it amazing.

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Back in the museum there is also an array of old machinery which shows the history of knitting and sewing throughout the last century. Circular knitting machines for stockings – can you imagine how quick socks would knit up in these?! The one with the blue and white thread was actually used to produce knitted ties.

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The first little sewing machine was one of the first ever made in 1845 by Elias Howe, (prior to Mr Singer’s invention). It created a long stitch on both sides, but the Singer machine was more practical as it could sew continuously. I love the second machine as it was made by the Knickerbocker Sewing company (hee hee).

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Look at this machine, made specifically to create tassels!!


And this beast made to create ribbons!

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And the height of decadence, a machine just for making the knots in fringes on scarves! Only 13 of these machines were made in the 1890s.


Look at the intricate design made by this machine:

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And, finally, just because I love maps….


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