I may have mentioned before that the production of fabrics played a very important part in the local economy in days gone by. In Saint-Chinian, fabric production ceased more or less after the devastating flood of 1873, but further north the textile industry continued to flourish until the middle of the 20th century. Labastide Rouairoux celebrates its textile heritage each year on August 15 with the Fete du Fil. At the height of the textile industry, 50% of the town’s 6000 inhabitants were employed in the various mills and associated trades. Today, only one mill is still in operation, and the population of the town has dropped to around 1500 persons.
The town’s textile heritage has been preserved in the local museum, the Musee departemental du Textile, where the history of the town is shown through the manufacturing processes, as well as its association with some of the biggest names in Haute Couture. The museum is appropriately located in a former factory building, and on the occasion of the Fete du Fil the entrance was free! To access the museum one has to cross the all-important river, and on the bridge I was greeted by two very colourful animals – projects from schools in the local area:
The textile industry established itself for a number of reasons in the area, the main being that there was the river (providing water for power, and for processing the the fabrics), and the second that the raw material, i.e. wool, was close at hand in the form of sheep. This was one of the reasons for the school project – many of the schools in the local area had created their interpretation of a sheep – here’s a selection of some more them that I found dotted around the museum:
The ground floor of the museum is taken up with heavy machinery, such as the looms and other machines used to transform the raw materials into fabrics. The loom below is a traditional wooden loom, and to the left of it is a frame for creating the warp. Neither would have been used in recent times for the industrial production of fabrics.
There are numerous exhibits on this floor, all of them fascinating to me – I could have spent hours poring over them all.
A number of volunteers were on hand to demonstrate some of the machines. The carding machine, which prepared the fibers for spinning, was fascinating! Raw wool of two different colours went in at one end, and was turned into “pre-thread” at the other end, ready for the spinning machine.
The disks of “pre-thread” were the put on the spinning machine, where they were turned into yarn, at an incredibly high speed :)!
The same spinning machine was also used to make fancy yarns, by twisting together two or more strands of different threads at different tensions. The variety of what was produced in Labastide at one time, seems endless.
Next to the spinning machine was another machine, which wound the threads onto the standard cardboard cones, which are still used in the textile industry today.
The warping frames progressed from the simple wooden frame you saw next to the loom in the earlier picture, to enormous machines capable of creating the warp for a piece of cloth 600 metres long!
The white threads ended up on a loom which produced a fancy fabric – several different types of yarn are used in both the warp and the weft.
The coloured threads were used to produce a lovely striped fabric, on a loom which had come all the way from the US!
The machine in the picture below was used for quality inspection of the woven fabric – bright lights were used to show up any irregularities in the fabric.
Winding the thread onto the bobbins, so that it could be used on the looms, was also done by an ingenious machine. The drums at the top would hold empty bobbins, which would be automatically dropped down, filled up and ejected!
The room next door showed a variety of finishing processes, such as dyeing, felting, brushing, shearing, and I’m sure there were some I have forgotten.
On the first floor was an exhibition of what all the thread and cloth could be turned into. There were rows upon rows of fabric swatches, produced for the likes of Chanel, Courrege and Dior, at the forefront of Haute Couture.
Some of the yarns were turned into knitwear, by famous designers such as Sonia Rykiel:
And some of the fabrics became uniforms…
The museum also has a shop, where you can buy some of the fabrics woven in the museum. It is a truly wonderful resource for anyone interested in textiles!
The last remaining mill in Labastide Rouairoux is called SARTISS, and today this factory produces woven fabrics from natural fibers for Les Toiles de la Montagne Noire. You can see a little of the manufacturing process in this video (e-mail subscribers, please visit the site to watch the video):
The fabrics are made from cotton or a blend of linen and cotton, and not treated in any way. They appear to be very firm and stiff, but will soften with use and last a very long time. I have my eyes on some of the striped deck chair fabric, to give new life to an ancient deck chair which is lingering in my garden.
The factory also produces woolen blankets, with the wool from the Lacaune sheep, which are raised locally.
The visits to the museum and the factory shop of Les Toiles de la Montagne Noire were only part of the Fete du Fil – there was much more to be seen!! Across the river from the museum was the Puces des Couturieres, the flea market of the seamstresses. I didn’t have any expectations, but had I had any the event would have lived up to them :). There were all kinds of goods on offer – I think you’ll get a good idea from the pictures:
I was very taken by the hand-woven carpets of La Main des Sables. All the wool is dyed using plants and natural dye materials, and the carpets are woven in Morocco in the traditional fashion. The colours are beautiful and the patterns are gorgeous, as you can see.
The village hall of Labastide hosted an exhibition of textile art, as well as several workshops on textile art and jewelery making. There were demonstrations of lace-making, as well as an exhibition of a well-known brand of sewing machines, and there was Cafe Tricot, where you bring your knitting and join fellow knitters for a cup of coffee or tea :)! Among the art on display were some fantastic pieces by Marie-Christine Hourdebaigt, using a variety of techniques to achieve incredible effects.
So, we’ve done the round of the whole of the Fete du Fil, and come to the end of our visit. I do hope you enjoyed your day out! If you are in the area on August 15 next year remember the fete will be on, and the rest of the year you can always visit the museum and take a walk around the town. There is always something to discover!