AIM Hallmarks grant – The Silk Museum, Macclesfield

Project Inc working with The Silk Museum on digital content


Collections at the Heart of Transforming The Silk Museum 

The Silk Museum is the only dedicated Silk Museum in Northern England, which celebrates the silk heritage of Macclesfield and the surrounding area. This remarkable collection has 80 industrial machines, over 2000 textile samples; 1000 pattern books and 700 costumes from late 18th – mid 20th century, particularly women’s costume 1850-1950. 

Costume is a fantastic and relatable way to tell the silk finishing story in Macclesfield, but the museum struggled to use this collection due to muddled storage, sparse documentation and a lack of collection knowledge.

The project aimed to combat this with a new approach to storage, management and interpretation of the collection, to transform the visitor experience and strengthen financial resilience.

External Conservator Zoe Lanceley led the project and started auditing both the collection and consolidating conservation equipment spread across the museum. With the help of 5 volunteers and 2 staff members, Zoe completed audits for over 270 garments in the collection.

Zoe’s expertise was vital in developing new hanging storage to replace cramped boxing. Her knowledge gave the team confidence to make a radical change – creating a new conservation and storage room. Through reworking our current spaces we completed this in an affordable, but time consuming way due to unexpected but necessary building work.

Covid slowed the project down, limiting the team to remote working only. We developed new ways of working, with volunteers sewing 50 padded hangers and garment bags in their living rooms. We liaised with specialists online; connecting with 6 institutions and gaining insights in best practice and commercialising collections. Those connections led to online talks, reaching international audiences and developing a new income stream.

Digital engagement was prioritised, requiring high res images of mounted costume – which were lacking in the records. Mount training for staff and volunteers was crucial in this process and the development of guides to create bodily forms ensured that the team can continue this task beyond the project.

When lockdown was lifted, we worked with a local group of neurodiverse students from Project Inc to develop social media content. Their creativity developed into regular posts using #TextileThursday, which have doubled our online engagement.

“The project was a game changer; revolutionising how we work and think about the collection and in the process ensured garments are safe guarded for future generations. No longer is this collection hiding in stores, but digital content is raising its profile, reaching wider and diverse audiences,” Curator, Kathryn Warburton.

For the first time in 5 years we are finally in the position to work with textile and fashion students on a large scale, where we are looking forward to a new partnership with MMU in 2022. The results have informed funding applications to continue this work, such as the Madeline Ginsburg Grant. It also fed into the Macclesfield Stripe project – awarded by the Textile Society, becoming our primary focus of programming in 2021. The biggest impact has been the team’s new appreciation of costume, putting it in the forefront of future development plans for the museum.

Kathryn Warburton, Curator, The Silk Museum, Macclesfield

Pictured: Project Inc working with The Silk Museum on digital content