Jane Austen, famed author and Hampshire Resident who was born nearly 250 years ago in the village of Steventon is helping to breathe new life into the critically endangered craft of Silk Ribbon Weaving, which is still practised 6 miles from her birthplace here at Whitchurch Silk Mill.
A creative collaboration between Whitchurch Silk Mill and Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire is now underway, with work continuing through until September 2024. Whitchurch Silk Mill has designed and will produce silk ribbons, inspired by Jane Austen’s home and objects from the museum collection.
Jane Austen’s House in the picturesque Hampshire village of Chawton is one of the most important literary sites in the world. It was in this inspiring cottage that Jane Austen’s genius flourished and where she wrote, revised, and had published all six of her globally beloved novels: Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion. Today, Jane Austen’s House is a cherished museum with an unparalleled collection of Austen treasures, including Jane’s personal letters and first editions of her novels, items of jewellery, portraits of her friends and family, and the tiny writing table at which she wrote her much loved novels.
In 2023, Silk Ribbon Weaving was listed as a critically endangered craft and added to the Red List by the Heritage Craft Association. There are only four silk ribbon weavers left in the UK, with Whitchurch Silk Mill employing one of them. In the past ribbons woven at Whitchurch Silk Mill have featured in many well known films and television shows including Sense & Sensibility, Titanic and many more.
Mary Lewis, who led the research of behalf of the Heritage Craft Association said at the time, “ The effect of the energy crisis, inflation, Covid-19 and Brexit has been tough on everyone, not least the craftspeople who possess our most fundamental craft skills. We know heritage craft skills operate like an ecosystem; losing one part can devastate other parts of the system. If we allow endangered crafts to disappear, we seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods and deal with future challenges.”
During 2024, visitors will be have the chance to see the silk ribbons in production at the Mill during the winding, warping and weaving phases. Digital technology will make it possible for visitors to see intricate parts of the production process in more detail. Parts of the project will be online via Jane Austen’s House and Whitchurch Silk Mill’s social media platforms and the Mill’s website.
For further updates about the project follow @janeaustenshouse, @whitchurchsilkmill and @whitchurchsilk
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