art · saltaire · salts mill · textiles · weaving

Cloth and memory: a moving artwork exhibition in a disused mill

Usually my posts are related to books or writing in some way, but today I thought it would be fun to focus on something different.  Last week I went to a fabulous exhibition which made such an impression I thought I’d share it here for anyone who loves art, textiles and history.

I’ve written before about how I live on the edge of Saltaire village.  Saltaire is a preserved nineteenth century mill village, and up until fairly recently Salts Mill was totally given over to woollen weaving, employing thousands of local people. Since the weaving industry died out in England, the looms have gone from the mill and the building has been converted to shops and restaurants.

This month is Saltaire Festival, and as part of the festival the whole of the top floor of Salts Mill has been given over to an exhibition called Cloth and Memory.  When the mill was first built in the early nineteenth century the top floor was billed as the biggest room in the world, and  the largest unsupported roof space in Europe.  The top floor has been closed for decades, ever since the last weavers left the mill, and was reopened especially for this exhibition.  As you can imagine, I was dying to see it.

Besides the exhibition, the room alone is stunning. It’s an incredibly peaceful space now, but as you walk around, with the autumn sun filtering through the glass roof, you can feel the history in the stones, and imagine the space alive with the clatter of machinery and people.  This is the Spinning Room where the raw alpaca was woven into yarn.  Today, the Spinning Room is quiet.  The yarn spinners have gone, and in their place is some wonderful artwork specifically designed for this space, with the theme of Cloth and Memory.

I’ve put together a gallery of photos of my own impressions of this beautiful room and the exhibition.  These are only about half the artworks, and I’ve chosen some of the ones I liked personally.  If you’d like to see more, you can also visit the Cloth and Memory website.

In order to view the gallery and comments, click on the first photo and then scroll through.

I hope you managed to get a feel for some of the artwork at the exhibition.  Did you enjoy the gallery?  Was there one particular piece you liked more than the others?  Is there are dying trade in your area?  I’d love to hear your comments!

18 thoughts on “Cloth and memory: a moving artwork exhibition in a disused mill

  1. Oh my goodness, Helena. This is an amazing post. Love the history. How fortunate you are to live so close. Well, I too, loved the blue sea, (it is truly my color), but my favorite is the apron with the different lengths of sash representing the differences between men and women’s opportunities. The poem is horrendous, and every woman should have to read it to be reminded of how far we’ve come. I also really liked the spools with the workers names and their children’s names on ribbon hanging below. Thanks for sharing this. I’ll be FBing and Tweeting.


  2. What an amazing place, Helena. Thanks for sharing it with us. Very soul stirring. I think blogs and social media are a fantastic way to share the treasures in our various parts of the world with one another.


    1. Hi Gemma, yes, you’re right about the social media. One thing I’ve loved since getting published is making friends with authors all around the world, and getting to find out about their different histories. It’s opened up a whole new world. Thanks for taking the time to comment!


  3. What a glorious space and exhibition, Helena. I love this use of historical buildings in the UK. The kimonos and ‘sea’ of fabric are stunning, and the apron quote is fascinating.


    1. Hi Ros, thanks for your comment. It’s a shame the exhibition can’t reach a wider audience. The curator saw the space two years ago, and had a vision of what could be achieved. The exhibition is free. I think encouraging the arts is one thing we can be proud of here in the UK – although I expect we don’t often appreciate what we have! Thanks very much for dropping in


  4. Amazing. That’s the word that kept running through my head as I viewed your beautiful photographs. First the expanse of the room and second the creative art works displayed there. I was impressed by the tribute to the mill workers and their families. Hats off to those who have the vision to preserve the old buildings for the now generations and to incorporate these artistic installations which celebrate historical moments. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Hi JQ, thanks for your brilliant comment. The mill very nearly fell into disrepair, but was saved by an entrepreneur and a local artist, David Hockney. You’re right, they had a vision, and the drive to make it happen. I admire the curator also, for bringing all these fabulous artworks together. Thanks for coming!


  5. Hi Helena, I would have loved to see this too. I’m an American and have visited England and Scotland many times. This story is slightly off topic from yours, but we were in the Cathedral in Chester. A group of young people started singing a hymn. It was all I could do to not burst into tears. In fact, I just got out my photo albums, and I have some gorgeous shots of Chester – and other places in your country.


    1. Hi Jane, that’s a really great memory. The combination of music or art and these historic buildings can really be moving. Chester is a beautiful city, too, and not so far from me. I’m so glad you have good memories of your time in England. I’m just reading your novel set in Bath (Ancient Ties), by the way! Thanks for taking the time to call in!


  6. That’s lovely and very interesting, Helena! I’ve been reading about the cotton mills in Lancashire and how many people it employed. This exhibit is a wonderful tribute to those who toiled in the woolen industry. Thanks for sharing!


    1. Thanks so much for your comment, Brenna. My husband’s family were employed in the mills all their lives, and it would be a shame to forget the effect the weaving industry had on thousands of families. Thanks for taking the time to come by and comment


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