The vintage silk trail starts at Macclesfield Silk Museum
PUBLISHED: 00:17 17 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:27 20 February 2013
How a museum in Macclesfield is linked to the latest design trends WORDS BY RACHAEL HOGG PHOTOGRAPHY BY JOHN COCKS
Macclesfield was once the worlds biggest producer of finished silk.
During the uprising of 1745, the mayor of Macclesfield was forced to officially welcome Charles Stuart and his army as they marched through the town on their way to London. This event is commemorated on one of the towns famous silk tapestries.
Paradise Mill is still in working condition and now demonstrates the art of silk weaving to the public.
The design and production of silk neckwear has been one of Macclesfields most abiding industries.
Silk was still popular during the Second World War and was used to create parachutes, maps and powder bags.
The Silk Museums vast archive includes working power looms, a huge collection of pattern books dating back to the 1800s, machine embroidery, silk fabrics, plain and intricately decorated and embroidered couture clothing and everyday fashion.
The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of Cheshire Life
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While casually flicking through a recent issue of Cheshire Life, Annabel Wills, curator of the Silk Museum in Macclesfield, was stopped in her tracks. She spotted a dress in a feature about new collections in local boutiques that bore a design which looked quite familiar. The summer dress was a painterly floral by the designer, Suzannah. Annabel realised the pattern was based on an original silk design from the 1940s, designed by Edith Buxton, and housed in the Silk Museum.
Annabel said: I managed to get hold of the original dress at a vintage textiles sale at the Armitage Centre in Bollington. Most of our collection here at the Silk Museum has come from kind donations, but sometimes we can stumble across great and important finds.
Annabel has been working at the Silk Museum since 1985 when she joined as a conservator and she clearly loves the mix of local history and textiles.
Edith Buxton was originally an embroidery designer, but she trained at the School of Art which had opened in Macclesfield in 1877 and there she won many prizes. As Edith worked in the mill during the day she had to study in the evening.
Annabel says: It was from the 1920s onwards that female designers played a significant role in Macclesfield. Edith worked at Barracks, where she designed and screen-printed silk. Fortunately, unlike many other companies, Barracks production did not suffer during the Second World War.
The 2011 dress - incidentally one of which was worn by BBC presenter Alex Jones when she covered the royal wedding in April - is designed by Suzannah, a label inspired by vintage and print designs.
The original print does date from the 1940s. There is photographic evidence of it and one report speaks of the design and of a female designer: After light silks and rayons came.... the tulip, the auricula and such old-fashioned flowers were used for these lovely fabrics. In a 1956 article, the same fabric is shown being printed at Barracks, but Edith is not mentioned specifically.
As floral designs are popular now with the resurgence of all things vintage, the Edith Buxton design was also very popular in its time and ran for many years.
Therefore, many scarves and dresses would certainly be in existence. It is also likely that many pattern books originating in Macclesfield, now reside in Italy. The original silk design was screen-printed, a technique that uses an ink-blocking stencil supported by a woven mesh. Each colour has to be printed separately, and up to 20 colours could be used on one fabric.
The collection at the Silk Museum stretches far beyond the displays: numerous pattern books dating back to the 1800s mostly in storage are fascinating. Annabel said: Obviously we could never put the entire collection on show, but the Silk Museum is a wonderful and vastly underused resource for aspiring designers and artists.
The Silk Museum has recently joined the United Nations World Tourist Organisation. This will enable Macclesfield to appear at the end of the silk trail, traceable all the way from China. Many visitors to the Silk Museum are from overseas rather than locals, as people almost seem to take for granted that they live in and around such an important historical town