For a number of years, much of the mill machinery at Armley Mills had become static and, as a result of de-skilling, the Museum was finding it hard to find people who had the right skills and knowledge to maintain and repair the machinery. In 2010, the Museum went into partnership with local firm, Hainsworth, who are based up the road from the Museum in Leeds. Hainsworth is a specialist textile company and textile innovation centre that has been in existence for over 225 years in Leeds. They have obtained a number of awards including the Royal Warrant and specialise in ceremonial cloth, protective and interior fabrics and snooker and pool cloth that is regarded as the best in the world.
As part of this partnership, Armley Mills benefits from the knowledge and expertise of the staff at Hainsworth who have repaired one of the Mules at Armley, bringing it to life it once a day. They are helping to teach our museum staff about the mule and ensure that future generations learn about the history of woollen spinning in Leeds. In addition to this, the exhibition 'Behind the Seams' at Armley Mills, celebrates Yorkshire’s contribution to the global fashion and textile industry. The project was led by Leeds Fashion Works, in collaboration with Hainsworth Textile Mill, Armley Mills Industrial Museum and the Sunnybank Woven Textile Archive.
Did you know that the cloth for the military uniform Prince William wore for his wedding in 2011 was made by Hainsworth?
Paul Smith, the Yarn Operations Technician at Hainsworth has worked at the firm for over twenty years and has been instrumental in bringing this partnership with us about. Paul has added his own words below about being involved in the project.
'The museum had, for a long time, been the owner of a pair of spinning mules - which are in fact a very old type of machinery used for processing woollen yarn. The particular one we have ‘brought back to life ‘ is over 100 years old!
I started in February 1990 as a mule apprentice at Hainsworth, learning everything from yarn qualities to how to sweep the floor correctly – yes quite true ! At this time the majority of spinning was done by mule. As it became necessary to process yarn more quickly and efficiently, the business needed to invest in modern Ring Spinning Machinery – Hainsworth invested in modern spinning equipment but this meant the slow removal of mule spinning machines.
So... the two mules at the museum - one had been running until a few months previously, the other which is in fact the oldest exhibit of a mule in the country, is in such disrepair it may never run (sad but true). A lot of investment may prove the way forward but in a way we can still see the technology of the time in what is effectively a static display. So after many months of hard work and investment we built the mule up from the Mill Floor, we had headaches, cut fingers and lots of stress but all in a good cause.
The time came when it was ready to spin a yarn, a billiard yarn type of which Hainsworth pride themselves on the quality, albeit 100 year old machinery it spun like a dream, very slow but almost expected from such old machinery. The yarn spinning at the moment is yarn to make scarf cloth – we take the yarn back to our mill in Stanningley where we weave and finish the cloth.
We are working on future exciting projects so keep coming back and checking the website !
So here we are in 2012 with a large part of history of woollen spinning in a runnable condition and we are working with the museum in a partnership utilising museum staff, in training and explaining to visitors what we are doing with the mule and for future generations to learn about the history of woollen spinning in Leeds.
If you would like to see this fascinating piece of history running, please get in touch. We aim to run it at some point almost every day. If I am at the museum, I would be delighted to show you and answer any questions or feel free to email me.
Paul has a blog about the project on the Hainsworth website along with a video of the mule at Armley Mills in action.