How Jane Austen is Breathing New Life into Silk Ribbon Weaving

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a weaver with good fortune must be in want of silk ribbons.

Handwoven Editors May 21, 2024 - 4 min read

How Jane Austen is Breathing New Life into Silk Ribbon Weaving Primary Image

A silk ribbon warp being wound at Whitchurch Silk Mill. Photos courtesy Whitchurch Silk Mill

Letter from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra: “Eliza[beth] has given me a hat, and it is not only a pretty hat, but a pretty style of hat too—It is something like Eliza‘s, only, instead of being all straw, half of it is narrow purple ribbon.” — Sunday, June 2, 1799

Jane Austen, the famed author who was born nearly 250 years ago in the Hampshire village of Steventon, is helping to breathe new life into silk ribbon weaving. While there are only four silk ribbon weavers left in the UK, one of them is at Whitchurch Silk Mill, a living history museum located six miles from Austen‘s birthplace.

Whitchurch Silk Museum, located near Jane Austen‘s birthplace, is a living history museum that is weaving off a warp of silk ribbons this summer.

In a creative collaboration with Jane Austen’s House in Chawton, Hampshire, the museum has designed and is weaving silk ribbons inspired both by Jane Austen’s home and by objects from its own collection. The project will continue through September 2024.

Visitors are able to see the silk ribbons in production during the winding, warping, and weaving phases. Parts of the project are also viewable online via Jane Austen’s House and Whitchurch Silk Mill’s social media platforms and the Mill’s website (see Resources below).


Coming up, the mill’s next ribbon project, now in development, was inspired by the Netflix Bridgerton series.

A historic creel holds bobbins of silk thread waiting to be wound in a ribbon warp.

Whitchurch Silk Mill, built in 1815, is located on the picturesque banks of the River Test in Hampshire, UK. Still operating in the original Georgian building with a functioning waterwheel, it now houses a small team of skilled weavers who use traditional silk weaving skills to create cloth using Victorian and early twentieth-century machinery. The mill‘s creel, which looks like an upturned boat hull, is thought to be the only surviving example of its type still in use today.

Exhibits and events at the museum focus on a range of textiles. Through late June, an exhibit explores the colorful textiles of Thailand‘s hill tribes; and Weftival, on the first weekend in July, will gather textile and weaving professionals for talks, demonstrations, production tours, weaving exhibitions, and workshops.

Ribbons woven at the mill have been featured in films and television shows including Sense & Sensibility, Titanic, and many others.

Planning a visit? Please refer to the museums‘ websites (listed below) for exhibits, open hours, and admission information.


• Learn more about the Whitchurch Silk Mill museum and this project at their website and on Instagram.

• Learn more about where Jane Austen wrote, revised, and had published Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion at the Jane Austen House website and on Instagram.

• Tempted by the beautiful ribbons? Learn how to use them in silk ribbon embroidery.