Conserving the Silk Jacquard Handlooms at Paradise Mill Macclesfield

Paradise Mill in Macclesfield is home to Europe’s largest collection of Jacquard silk handlooms in their original setting and is designated by Historic England. Work is now  underway to restore two of these nineteenth century machines thanks to £16,000 funding granted by the Association for Industrial Archaeology.  

The mill remains largely unchanged since the last day it operated in 1981 by Cartwright and Sheldon and became a museum in 1984. It now provides a look into what it was like for silk workers in Macclesfield. Macclesfield Museums, who look after Paradise Mill, has received the funding to restore two of the original Jacquard handlooms. The tour guides use these looms to demonstrate the process of weaving, which is the highlight of the museum’s regular tours.

The restoration is a huge job, but also a very important one. The Jacquard looms were a precursor to our digital age today. The Jacquard mechanism, invented by Joseph Marie Jacquard, uses cards punched with holes to automate the process of weaving patterns. They are programmable machines and were thought to have inspired both Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace in early methods of computing. The Jacquard cards each contain a pattern and they can then weave a bespoke design.

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The looms bring to life the process of silk making and recreate the sights and sounds so visitors can get an insight into the working conditions of creating silk.  
 
The restoration is being undertaken by two of the Museum’s guides Daniel Hearn and Trish Halloran. They have both been central to the project and have learnt the process of how to restore these heritage looms. The skills required to restore these heritage machines are now in short supply, but the museum has drawn on the generous support of textile specialist, Rebecca Faragher, who is based at Manchester Metropolitan University but has given her time voluntarily.
 
The work that needs to be carried out is across two looms. The intention is to restore them both to full working order and to maintain them so that they do not fall into disrepair. They can then continue to demonstrate handloom weaving to visitors as well as potentially producing small amounts of cloth.
 
Daniel Hearn, who grew up in one of the weavers’ cottages in Macclesfield, says: “This is a painstaking process and requires a lot of patience and there is really no room for error. Trish and I love the machines and Paradise Mill and it really is a passion project to see them restored and running again.
“We have learnt how to replace broken warp threads and we’ve had some help from a group of volunteers who look after the machines at the museums. However, no one has ever really taken one of these machines apart in recent years. Thankfully they are very logical in their construction, and everything has its correct place and function.”
 
Director of Macclesfield Museums, Emma Anderson, added: “Daniel and Trish are really committed to this important and challenging work. We are very grateful to have received this funding which is allowing us to preserve important heritage skills. We want to share our passion for Paradise Mill and invite visitors to come and see these beautiful machines in action and to learn about the stories behind the machines.
 
“In order to continue this work, we need continued support and by visiting us or making a donation you are contributing to the conservation of this industrial heritage.”
 
David de Haan, Secretary of the Association for Industrial Archaeology, said: “Since we launched our Restoration Grants scheme in 2009, we have given over £1m to projects like this one. The weaving loft is such a wonderfully evocative place, and the AIA is delighted to have been able to provide a grant to restore these historic looms.” 

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