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Leon Burman

Silk Weaving is Critically Endangered

By admin 25.05.2023

The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA), the national charity for traditional heritage crafts, has declared silk ribbon weaving a critically endangered craft. Research has revealed that 17 heritage crafts are now critically endangered and at risk of dying out in the next generation.

Silk Ribbon weaving, practised at Whitchurch Silk Mill, is one of those crafts at serious risk of no longer being practised in the UK. There are five silk ribbon weavers in the UK, with two of these employed at Whitchurch Silk Mill. Other critically endangered crafts are arrow smithing, chain and straw hat making.
Heritage Crafts define critically endangered crafts as: “Those with very few practitioners, few (if any) trainees and a lack of viable training routes by which the skills can be passed on. Often they serve very niche markets, and craftspeople cannot afford to step away from production to train their successors for fear those markets will disappear.”

Silk Weaving Critically Endangered by the Heritage Crafts Association

The Red List of Endangered Crafts was created by the Heritage Crafts Association in 2017 to raise awareness about disappearing traditional skills in the UK. This is the first time they’ve updated the list since 2021. Since the publication of the 2021 edition, one craft (mouth-blown flat glass making) is known to have become extinct in the UK.

“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,” says Mary Lewis, who led the research on behalf of Heritage Crafts.

“We know heritage craft skills operate like an ecosystem and 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.”

Also, new for 2023, silk weaving has been classified as ‘endangered’, which means there are currently enough craftspeople to transmit the craft skills to the next generation. There are serious concerns about their ongoing viability. There are now just three silk-weaving companies, including Gainsborough, Stephen Walters and Whitchurch Silk Mill.

Heritage Crafts Co-Chair Jay Blades MBE (best known for the TV series The Repair Shop), says: “When craft skills are in danger of dying out, it’s important that we know exactly where to focus our efforts.
“Over recent years, the Red List of Endangered Crafts has made us realise exactly what we are at risk of losing and has given our team at Heritage Crafts the information we need to direct our support most effectively.”

Our vision

In the last few years, our recently retired Senior Weaver passed on her skills to two trainee Weaver Tacklers. Shannon Bye and Olivia Goldsmith are now employed here full-time. However, the heritage skills that ensure the continuation of the Mill are still critically endangered. Our vision is to create a ‘company of weavers’ where heritage weaving skills are embedded in every part of this working museum. The Mill plays a huge part in helping to safeguard the future of silk weaving skills, teaching future generations this important heritage craft.

Visiting

Whitchurch Silk Mill is now a working museum. Visitors to the Mill can see highly skilled craftspeople at work, winding, warping and weaving silk as generations before them have done. Open Tuesday to Sunday throughout the year.

image shows two whitchurch silk mill weavers leaning over the loom. Silk Weaving has been listed as critically endangered

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