In search of information about the history of Yorkshire buttons, on Saturday Marie and I visited Macclesfield Silk Museum. We knew from the internet that there was a button exhibition here a few years ago, and it had inspried some Halifax embroiderers to spend some time making Yorkshire buttons. Surely this meant Yorkshire buttons featured in the exhibition, and that therefore Macclesfield, despite being in Cheshire, is the site of my holy grail, an explanation of why Yorkshire buttons are so called?

We were not very hopeful of success in this endeavour, but reasoned that the journey would be worthwhile even without it, as there would be textile delights to enjoy. I love textile history, and would I thought learn more about England’s textile past through this visit.

The museum is in two neighbouring buildings. One of these is Paradise Mill, a silk weaving mill, in which there is a floor where the looms an other rooms related to its operation have been preserved. We were shown around by a tour guide whose father had been a silk weaver. He was a lovely man, and very patiently answered my many  questions. I therefore came away with a far more complete understanding of how jacquard looms work than I previously had.

The loom room at Paradise Mill

The jacquard loom system was developed in the 18th century as a way of mechanising the production of complex weaves. Punched cards determine which warp threads are lifted before each pass of the weft thread. Pins that are attached to the warp threads are pressed to the punch cards, and the warps attched to the pins that don’t go through the card, ie where there is no hole punched in the card, are not lifted. We saw the system in operation, and were also shown how patterns are transferred to the cards.


The jacquard loom set-up

Card punching equipment.

Alas, there was no information about Yorkshire buttons to be found, but I did come away with a booklet about the Macclesfield silk button industry, and a book about covered buttons in general. So, the search continues!


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