Exhibition

Print: A Passion for Pattern – 200 years of Langley Printworks opening on July 2nd.

The Silk Museums have a unique and vast collection of textiles, pattern books and items associated with creating print for fabrics, especially silk. The exhibition is presenting many of these items together for the first time to show how textiles were designed and explore the historic processes including the method of block printing.

Most importantly it will shine a light on the people who worked at Langley Printworks, which became one of the largest, silk printing dyeing and finishing businesses in the world. 

Langley Printworks was established by William Smith in 1820s in Langley, a hamlet in Macclesfield. The family run business used printing blocks to print fabric as well as introducing later methods such as screen printing.


Block Printing

Block Printing

Block printing is a traditional method of printing fabric including silk, using blocks made up of several layers of wood with the grain running in alternate directions to prevent warping. The pattern is made by cutting away areas of wood or adding metal pins to produce the design in relief. It was common to use five or more blocks to create one design.

Curator Bryony Renshaw says: “The exhibition has been inspired by our extensive collections. We wanted to exhibit them in a way to help people understand what life would have been like in a printworks, creating these iconic fabrics. Macclesfield was at the heart of the silk industry for many years, and it played a huge part in people ‘s lives from the town, but it also had a global impact with textiles being produced for fashion houses like Liberty and Jacqmar of London.

Continuing the printmaking tradition with new patterns

Continuing the printmaking tradition with new patterns

The Museums are also working with Pinc College, a specialist college for neurodivergent young people aged 16-25 who are based in Macclesfield. The students have learnt all about block printing and have been inspired by some of the iconic designs from the pattern books in the collections at the Museums.

By taking motifs such as paisley as a starting point and looking at Macclesfield architecture the students have created a design, carved the printing blocks and then printed it on to silk. Their incredible work will form part of the exhibition.

See how fabric was printed

See how fabric was printed

The exhibition will look at designs from the 1940s and 1950s with examples of the blocks, the printing tables and the tools used to create the patterns.

Visitors will be able to see how the workers would create the patterned silk and the processes used to print the fabric.

Bryony added: “We will also be revealing information about the workers and their jobs as well as the social clubs that they would have been part of. Historic photographs will be on display to give a sense of the people who created the textiles.”