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]

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