Discover History through Fabric at the American Textile History Museum

American Textile History Museum

American Textile History Museum Lowell

According to the museum's web site, "The American Textile History Museum houses one of the largest collections of its kind in the world. Its collections contain thousands of books, trade catalogs, business records and personal papers, prints and photographs, a growing costume collection, millions of textiles samples, and hundreds of machines used in textile manufacture. The Museum is an unparalleled resource for the study of textile history in the United States. You will find a wealth of information about textile art, factory architecture, textile production, technological invention, labor history, industrial organization and the everyday life of mill towns."

What do sheep and baseballs have in common?  Find out at the American Textile History Museum!  Located in Lowell, MA, a city that played an important role in the early development of the textile industry in the United States, the museum offers visitors a chance to learn about the evolution of textiles, both as an industry and as a science.

Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution and supported by the MA Cultural Council, the museum currently has two main exhibits that families can tour and interact with: Textile Revolution lets visitors spin, weave, and design their way through history; while Aloft is an exhibit of kites from which visitors can learn about not only the textiles used to make kites but their significance within the history of science (think Benjamin Franklin!) and aviation. Future exhibits slated for a stay at the museum include Homefront & Battlefield: The Civil War through Quilts and Context (July 2012-November 2012) and Suited for Space (December 2012-February 2013).

The museum’s permanent collection is one of the largest of its kind, and includes costumes, textile samples, machinery and a library of literature that share the history of the production of textiles in America.

A visit to the museum offers a multidisciplinary educational experience!  Kids can learn about architecture by examining sample factory structures, technological innovations by observing the changes in machinery over time, and labor history by learning about the life of an early mill worker and the evolution of changes in working environments.

If you’re planning on taking the kids for a weekend excursion, check out their Textile Learning Center for a hands-on place kids of all ages can explore and have fun. There are self-guided tours for families, and guided, hands-on activities and tours for larger groups.

For schools, the museum has on-site school programs even offers Traveling Textile outreach programs, which brings the history of textiles straight to your classroom, supplying educators with teacher’s guides. Traveling programs include: The Goat in the Rug, Threaded Together, FUN-damentals of Weaving, A Stitch in Time: Coming to America, Mothers (and Fathers) of Invention, and Estimation Mania.

For homeschooling families/groups, the museum has home school programs too and offer several textile art classes, including Felting, Knitting and Crocheting, Sewing, Spinning, and Weaving.

The museum also has several volunteer opportunities, including volunteer duties suitable for high school students.

The museum is open Wednesday-Sunday from 10am-5pm to visitors, but scheduled tours can take place on Mondays and Tuesdays.   To find out more, visit the museum’s website at

[Photo credit: (ccl) Anne Ruthmann]

One Comment on “Discover History through Fabric at the American Textile History Museum

  1. “Homeschool Days” at the Museum

    If you are not part of a homeschool group that is scheduling a field trip to the Museum, you can still participate in the Museum’s programs by signing up for one of their Homeschool Days. Join other homeschoolers from the area for one of these regularly scheduled Programs. Details of each particular days activities are listed below.

    Where: The American Textile History Museum Lowell, MA
    When: January 13th, February 10th, and March 16th, 2012
    Times: 9:30-11:30
    Cost: $6/student
    Reservations: Call or email to reserve your spot. 978-441-0400 x250

    Please let the Museum know if you will be bringing a bag lunch for afterwards and need space to eat. There is also a café located in the same building!

    January 13, 2012

    “Fleece to Fabric”
    Grades 3 and up
    Role play Colonial New Englanders. Act out a “workers web” to learn about economic specializations and interdependence in producing goods and services in a 1700’s wool producing New England village. Use simple tools to process wool as done in this time period, and create a wool processing poster with your samples.
    2 ½ hours (includes tour)

    “Exploring Textiles”
    Grades 6th and up
    Define and discuss textile terminology and the importance of textiles, identifying characteristics of textile fibers, and learning about how textiles are processed, ecological concerns, and modern career options. This is a FUN program which also includes lots of hands-on activities like trying to weave on a table loom, knitting, and examining fibers with a magnifying glass.
    2 ½ hours

    February 10, 2012

    “Unraveling the Mysteries of Silk”
    Primary/elementary Grades
    Learn how science imitates nature through the process of extrusion. Identify the anatomy of silkworm and spider. Build a spider web. Reenact the legend of the discovery of silk in ancient China and experiment with unraveling a silk cocoon. Tour and silk scavenger hunt through the Museum.
    2 ½ hours (includes tour)

    Grades 6th and up
    This is a hands on program that includes a discussion on inventions and technology of the past and today. Students read biographies of inventors and compare and contrast their interests that led to their invention.
    They examine some patented items and discuss the patent system. They choose an item that they would like to invent or improve on, and make a prototype of the improvement.
    2 ½ hours

    March 16, 2012

    “Colonial Days”
    All age levels
    Experience the activities of a youth in the 1770’s as you try weaving, flax processing, toy-making, games, and dress-up. Interview a colonial spinner and see how colonists turned raw wool into wearable.
    2 ½ hours (includes tour)

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