Sunday, February 11, 2007

Something from the Macc Silk Museum collection

Richard de Peyer, director of the Macclesfield Museums Trust, ( gave us a talk last month about silk production and its place in the history of Macclesfield and has sent these pics and commentary for our blog. The weaving is beautiful and the special sheen of the silk is just about visible!

Small batch production of personalised woven squares.

Martin Whitmore living in the Midlands has loaned to the Museum a collection of garret - woven silk squares made in Macclesfield the Houghton family. Some of the squares are personalised with a name woven across the centre. A related collection of documents including newspaper cuttings from the 1930s tell us that they were woven on a specially modified hand loom devised by their father and which had been in the family since 1876. On this loom personalised squares were made to order in very small quantities or even ‘one-offs’. There is correspondence with William Anthony Houghton dating from 1935 relating to an order for a dozen handkerchiefs woven with the name Ian F. Panton via a company of mill furnishers in Hayfield, E. Osbaldeston. As a side issue, their letter heading is interesting because it shows a wooden-framed hand loom. The Houghton ‘pieces-de-resistance’ were squares woven by Arthur Biddulph Houghton for King George V and Queen Mary for their Silver Jubilee, with the words:

King George V May 6th Silver Jubilee 1935 Queen Mary.

The square for the Queen was woven in white and the King’s in red, white and blue.

William Anthony died in Jan 1937 aged 80 and Arthur Biddulph in Nov 1935 aged 75. In Jan 1937 their brother Peter carried on the good work offering personalised handkerchiefs of the ex-King woven with the customer’s name. By great good fortune the museum has one such already in its collection – although not on display until now.

Newspaper clippings loaned with the collection record that the loom was thought to be the only one of its kind. My question is; how did it work? My own theory is that Mr Houghton senior added a second Jacquard-type device that wove in the lettering. This may have been a relatively simple device for which ‘cards’ could be quickly produced and set up on the machine. Possibly it was permanently set up to lift groups of adjacent warp threads together, as called for by the design. My knowledge of the Jacquard system is still rudimentary so the experts might have other ideas. Richard de Peyer



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