When you think about a “vacation in the UK”, what comes to mind is a weekend in London, full of shopping and sightseeing. My time in the UK this summer, however, was decidedly different and I caught a glimpse of London from above while we were landing.
During this trip, we discovered lots of small gems hidden in this region and one in particular made an impression on me. Few things send the heart of someone from Prato aflutter like the sound of a loom. So imagine my surprise when we discovered that in the heart of Wales, there exists a small and historic local factory that has been turned into a museum - just like our Museo del Tessuto - and which continues to produce fabric still today using local traditional wools.
Dre-Fach Felindre is a very small town in the county of Carmarthenshire, surrounded by fertile and bountiful countryside where wool has always been in the DNA of the land: just think that even today, each family has a small (or large!) herd of sheep in their garden. This picturesque village and the surrounding area underwent an economic boom beginning in the XVIII century thanks to the local wool production and in the early 1900’s, one of its many artisanal laboratories became a real factory, Cambrian Mills. This factory housed all of the manufacturing processes from start to finish, from the freshly sheared wool to the finished garment, using the energy from the water mill.
Today, the mill and its brook are still there, but the Cambrian Mills have become the National Wool Museum (founded in 1976), a small museum curated with extreme detail, which allows visitors to retrace and relive first hand the entire production industry of the time, in the same setting and with the same machines that until a only few decades ago were supplying the area with warm woolen shirts, blankets, linens and everything else necessary to survive the frigid Welsh winters. On special occasions, the machines still run and one section of the museum is dedicated to the conservation of the testimonies of local citizens, to show the tight bond between the industry and the region, something that those of us from Prato know very well.
The most exciting experience, however, was to go into the textile laboratory, where artisanal experts from the museum keep the Cambrian Mills’ traditions alive, working on vintage looms to create gorgeous wool blankets, one of the typical products of the area, to sell in the museum’s gift shop. You access the room by walking through an elevated corridor which allows you to observe the laboratory and its activities from above. For those of us from Prato, all you need to do is close your eyes and listen to forget for a minute that you are over 1600km from home.
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