Or Paradise Mill to be more specific, is home to the Macclesfield Silk Museum, and we managed to be moored up on days that it was open so I booked myself onto a guided tour and I consider anything to do with textiles paradise. Lucky me, I was the only one booked in so as soon as I told my guide I was a spinner, I got the royal treatment. That being said I am not (yet) a weaver so although the concept is familiar, I am no expert. But never the less it was a fascinating tour of the weaving shed and the museum.
Locally, the medieval economy was boosted by an abundance of holly trees which were ideal for making buttons. In Tudor times the aristocracy demanded their buttons be covered in silk rather traditional linen or mohair. Louis XIV is said to have spent $600,000 on silk buttons.
It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to realise that the moist climate in Macclesfield was ideal for processing silk so it was cost effective to import raw silk rather than the heavily regulated silk thread. Silk is spun by the larvae of a silkworm moth when it makes its cocoon. The silk is then drawn from the cocoon in one long fine thread, and then “thrown” to add twist which strengthens it. Thrown silk threads are then doubled to correspondingly to make thicker more usable thread. Hence the term a “twist of silk.” The French Huguenots, who were fleeing from religious persecution, were master weavers and progressed the Macclesfield silk industry. And in 1743, local man Charles Roe utilised the river Bollin to build the first water mill powering machinery to throw the silk and wind bobbins and pirns for the weaving shuttles, although as the industry grew most mills were driven by steam engines.
Paradise Mill was one of the few mills to still be weaving into the 1980s until it went into liquidation. But although production was abandoned, a farsighted group realised it’s place in our history and was able to preserve it as a heritage museum. Many of the floor looms are still carrying the fabric and threads which were being worked on when the mill closed.
Although grants have been made available to pay to have some of the looms re-warped so they can continue to be worked on. In its hey day, took a team of two women a week to warp one loom, last year it took the heritage team over 4 weeks. Originally there were 32 floor looms in this shed, however some have been replaced by other contraptions from the lower floors for our benefit.
Weaving looms are usually housed on the top floor of a mill so that sky light could aid the vision of the weavers. Often children were employed as the throwers, women were responsible threading up the looms and the men did the weaving. One of the great advances in the machinery used for weaving was the Jacquard machine that allowed for some automation of colour manipulation used to create the elaborate designs. In very basic terms it incorporates an punched card that allows the correct thread to be utilised, some would say a forerunner to the modern computer.
The silk from Paradise Mill was primarily used to make ties, but the museum also showcased some dresses. The one on the right was made of a woven silk known as the Macclesfield Strip, popular in the 1920s. After WWII fabric remained in short supply but cunning housewives knew they could buy silk “escape maps” without coupons. This “housecoat” came from A pattern printed in women’s weekly and needed 12 maps to complete it.
I would love to be able tp make myself a silk dress, but I can’t imagine it would be practical on a boat, so I contented myself with a Macclesfield button kit
Macclesfield isn’t just a silk town, it also housed the Hovis flour mill right next to the canal. Although nowadays it has been converted into flats.