The Museo del Tessuto is the largest cultural centre in Italy dedicated to the promotion of historical and contemporary textile production and art. The Museum represents the historical memory and the cultural interface of the Prato district, which has been identified with textile production since the Middle Ages. Today the district boasts over 7,000 companies operating in this sector.

Prato and the textile tradition

Today, Prato is one of the largest textile and clothing districts in Europe, boasting over 6,000 textile and apparel companies. It is one of the most important manufacturing centres on a global scale for fashion and furnishing textiles, yarns, special-purpose fabrics, knitwear, garments and, lastly, textile machinery.

The city’s textile vocation dates back to the 12th century. The particular hydrogeological characteristics of the plain around the Bisenzio River offered a favoured setting to establish the ‘fulling mills’, factories specialising in woollen cloth fulling. All the other necessary activities to manufacture textiles were organised around this process, including spinning, weaving, dyeing and sales. The merchant Francesco di Marco Datini’s company stands out in this context. His enterprise demonstrated how textile manufacturing, even in pre-industrial times, could be an entrepreneurial activity boasting extremely modern characteristics, with an extensive production and sales network across Europe.

Prato’s vocation only became a veritable industry around the second half of the nineteenth century due to the mechanisation of many processes. Especially after the Second World War, mechanisation exploded with the opening of new markets and the success of processing ‘mechanical wool’. At the beginning of the 1980s, Prato was referred to as a model of an industrial district. At the same time, shifts in market demands forced the district to question its manufacturing organisation and its offer. Carded wool fabrics ceased to be the district’s sole product, and companies were compelled to differentiate their products by introducing new fibres and processes.

Nowadays, businesses are predominantly small-scale and highly specialised: for example, “wool mills” deal with stylistic research, design and sales, while “outside contractors” supply materials and carry out specific processing phases (spinning, weaving, finishing, dyeing, etc.). The recent globalisation of the fashion industry – encompassing the delocalisation of production, emerging markets, new manufacturing hubs and new technologies – has led to numerous changes. There has been an increase in the downstream phases of the supply chain, such as knitwear and garment production, mainly the occupation of newly established companies.

The birth of a museum

The Museum was founded in 1975 within the “Tullio Buzzi” Industrial Technical Textile Institute, as the result of an initial donation of approximately 600 historical textile fragments. These were added to examples which had been gathered over the years by the Institute’s professors for students to consult and study. Since then, the collection has seen a significant increase in size thanks to the contribution of the Buzzi Institute Alumni Association and other important civic institutions, such as the Municipality of Prato, Cariprato and the Pratese Industrial Union.

In 1997, the Museum was temporarily housed in the Palazzo Comunale. During this period, the collection of contemporary fabrics was established, which continues to increase with seasonal fashion trends thanks to the relationship with the PratoTrade Association, a selection of fashion textile manufacturing companies. In 2003, the inauguration of the permanent premises took place in the restored spaces of the former Campolmi factory, a precious jewel of industrial archaeology situated within the old city walls.

Since 2012, the Museum has been granted the status of “museum of regional importance” pursuant to Art. 20 and 21 of Regional Law no. 21 of February 25th, 2010.

The mission of the Museo del Tessuto di Prato

The Museo del Tessuto is a private, permanent and non-profit institution whose mission is to:

  • Enhance the value of the permanent collection through study, cataloguing, restoration, conservation and exhibitions;
  • Acquire further collections, textiles, costumes, textile machinery, equipment, publications and documentation of any kind and anything else inherent to the museum's activities related to fabrics, costume and textile art in general;
  • Promote the acquisition of evidence and documentation of textile art and technologies; Support studies, research and initiatives that relate to textile art techniques;
  • Collaborate with public and private institutions and organisations that operate within the scope of the foundation;

Accompanying these general objectives, the museum aims to:

  • enhance the value of the productive culture of textiles, including through cultural initiatives and programmes centred on historical and contemporary costumes and fashion;
  • collaborate to preserve the memory of textile manufacture in the Prato textile district through restoration, safeguarding and collecting evidence, offering consultancy to companies that operate historical archives, conducting studies and research;
  • conduct cultural integration and mediation activities within cultural and educational programmes;
  • actively participate – within the museum's scope of competence – in initiatives to revive the culture, tourism, economy and representation of the territory and the district.
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