Monday 15 May 2017

The Story of Silk: A Study Day at the Silk Museum, Macclesfield.

The fifth Textile Stories Study Day took place on 1st April 2017 at the Silk Museum, Macclesfield. The day focused on exploring the history, manufacture and uses of silk.


The event started off with a lecture by Dr Katherine Wilson, Senior Lecturer in History at the University of Chester and an expert in European luxury fabrics of the late medieval period. In a fascinating talk, titled Europe's Rich Fabric: The Growth of Luxury Textiles, Dr Wilson discussed the development of the silk trade in Italy, the Netherlands and France, and how it contributed to a consumer boom in luxury goods. Focusing on Dijon in France, she explained that an examination of the wills and inventories of shopkeepers and merchants showed that silk goods, and other luxury textiles, were widely owned and bequeathed after death. Her talk was wonderfully illustrated with images of beautifully decorated silken items, from cloaks to altar cloths.

Following Katherine’s talk, participants were able to enjoy a guided tour of the silk museum’s facilities, which included viewing items from the collection which were not normally on display and seeing the looms in action. It was possible to get a sense of how the workers at the silk mill must have felt as they worked the machinery in rather cramped and noisy conditions.

A practical session was offered in the form of a creative workshop, Crafting Silk Stories. This was organised by Emily Wilkinson, an artist and poet who takes her inspiration from the natural world and textiles. Emily encouraged participants to create books based on their personal responses to and ideas about silk. Using text, images and scraps of fabric, people created some fascinating small books to take home and keep.

The final talk of the day, Taming the Wild': Thomas Wardle's transformation of the wild silks of India was given by Dr Brenda King, Chair of the Textile Society. She spoke about Thomas Wardle, a local silk manufacturer whose experiments with natural dyes and Indian tussar silks prompted William Morris to travel to Leek to study with him. Dr King explained how problematic the dyeing of raw silk had been until Wardle found ways to use plants to produce silks in wonderful colours. She also discussed the work of Wardle’s wife, Elizabeth, who taught embroidery and was responsible for many of the exquisite church textiles which were created as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement.


Participants also brought beautiful examples of silk items with them, which were a joy to see, meanwhile the till was busy ringing as people bought books, scarves, ties, handkerchiefs and postcards in the Museum’s gift shop.

Deborah Wynne, Professor of English at the University of Chester and Sue Hughes, Director of the Silk Museum, collaborated on the organisation of this event. They would like to thank Jan Gibson for taking the photographs and Brenda Rewhorn for helping with the workshop.
Our next study day will focus on textiles and working people and will take place in April 2018 in Shrewsbury. More details will follow in the near future.

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