The American Textile History Museum (ATHM) is located in Lowell, Massachusetts, a city whose textile industry put it on the map during the American Industrial Revolution

Sadly, the museum closed its doors in June of 2016. Much of the collection has been sold off to private collectors and to other museums and institutions. I'll miss this place.


The museum is small. Two floors house examples of equipment, materials and fabrics used in textile production from colonial times to the mid-twentieth century. The place is very dimly lit when you first enter, partly to minimize UV exposure to the antique textiles, and partly to set the atmosphere of a colonial kitchen.

The main track of the museum is a slowly winding ramp, which leads the visitor on a chronological textile tour, starting with colonial methods of flax and wool preparation, complete with a rebuilt flax barn and water-wheel inside. The barn's second floor has a fantastic collection of equipment that weaves, fulls and finishes the wool fabric. Heading further along the ramp is the Industrial Revolution exhibit, packed with spinning jennies and industrial looms.

After exhibits on fiber preparation methods, knitting and dye and printing, the walkway opens into a huge studio space filled with knitting machines, looms and other equipment. This space has bleacher seating, as the space is used for demonstrations and lectures, as well as creating video pieces for the rest of the museum. One of the best points of this museum is that they have such an extensive collection of equipment, all of which are carefully maintained and operated by the staff. 

Following this space is a room filled with the low-born synthetics, Polyester, rayon and nylon, and then technical fabrics- space suits and parachutes. Sadly no discussion at all of seeding and spinning monomer soup into long polymeric threads, or even the chemistry of dyeing cloth.

Near the end, the exhibits turned from textile production methods and switched to showing mainly finished fabrics, already sewn into clothing, and displayed on mannequins. The modern cloth production that was shown tended toward the boutique and organic, and to very high tech production methods.  

There is a small theatre with a collection of short films to select from on fiber production, and a gallery for revolving exhibits. Right now, the exhibit is the Color revolution in the 1960s. This exhibit screams "Better living through chemistry," with slightly more discussion of the technology involved in creating the dizzying splashy patterns.  

ATHM is really geared towards kids, teens and educators, and to some extent, history/design majors at the local colleges. But they are also a pillar in the Lowell cultural scene, hosting community events, classes and lectures, and going out into the city to sponsor art events and form joint ventures with the Quilt Museum and the Revolving Museum.

Since a visit to ATHM hardly takes more than 2 hours, part of the day could be spent in one of several other small museums in Lowell, and by walking the canalway down to the Lowell National Historic Park visitors' center and the park's Boott Mills museum.

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