Miat Gent

In the beginning of December, as a kind of preparation of the Re/Touches workshop the following weekend, we visited the Gent museum of textile and industry. It’s a place which evokes quite a few contradictory feelings. On the one hand there are quite a lot of treasures and special machines, on the other hand this institution is modernizing, streamlining the visits and creating narratives, trying to get the visitor more involved. The latter did not work for me.

It was especially nice to see the weaving machines up close, each machine had an example of the kind of textile it produced. The first machine is a handloom:


Machine by machine the industrialisation process becomes more apparent. The looms get bigger, automatized, powered by steam, faster.

There were several looms that work with punch cards. Here is a wooden Jacquard Loom. I got totally fascinated on trying to find out how to thread this “programmable” loom.

This loom has a reading head on the top, where the punch cards were read.

The looms start being made out of metal, even now still smelling like oil and grease. The precision factor rises. The human contribution in this process diminishes, they do maintenance, debug, rewire, re-thread. (There was a lot of child labour and the social situation of the workers was not very good).

These machines are all on the upper floor of the museum. Other items of that period were added to the set-up, such as books and household items. This book (click to zoom) lists all woven production from a certain time. Another object is a lamp running on a very early battery.

It’s a very scattered, fragmented collection of items which are quite special, but cramped in their set-up.

Another Jacquard Loom, with two reading heads.

This machine creates the punch cards. Notice that it has black and white keys, like a piano, to punch the hole at a specific place.

On seeing this industrial heritage, I notice that it is still present in language, words which are frozen in common expressions come, for example from weaving – in Dutch “Schering en inslag”, means that something is very common. “Schering” means woof and “inslag” means weft, the two basic threads of your loom.

“Afhaspelen” is another word from weaving terminology, it means: “to finish a job quickly”. This machine is meant to quickly wind your thread on a reel.

We leave the top floor and we go to the “modern” part of the museum. There is so much information and objects on top of each other, that you tend to detach. I did however spot this:

It is a job application test for future employees in the weaving factory. They had to thread this as fast as possible.

This miniature of a semaphore telegraph can make up to 200 signals, just by pulling cord and using pulleys, for long distance visual communication.

Scattered in between this loud (sound & vision) floor are contemporary examples of smart textiles and designs. They drown…

The last floor we saw also starts in a modernized setting, which creates a narrow passage/discovery closet with doors and drawers to open. Hmm.

To finish with the last part we saw: the whole processed life of cotton. It seems that a whole textile factory donated their machines for making cotton to the Miat. This is a great collection. The machines seem to be ready to start working anytime. Again, there is not a huge amount of space in between, but here the process is clear.
I’ll finish this post with books. The factories kept diaries of what they made. They are splendid!

(if you want to zoom in, go here and click on the images twice)

It seems that we totally missed the temporary exhibition of the museum on the topic of holidays :-)!

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