Silk manufacture came to the Ardèche in France in the seventeenth century. The spinning of fibres from silkworms to make yarn began in China and was refined in Italy. In the 1740s Jacques de Vaucanson was appointed by the French government to develop the French silk industry and examined the potential for factories in the Ardèche. By the mid-nineteenth century the region had more than 400 silk factories. The industry continued strongly into the twentieth century but many mills closed from the 1980s onwards.
The village of Chirols is in the beautiful valley of the river Fontolière. The ecomuseum occupies a large silk factory that was powered by the river. It was opened as a museum in 1988 and refurbished in 2006. It has models, machines and interpretative films and panels so that visitors can trace the process of silk making from the silkworm to spinning yarn and weaving finished textiles. Social history displays highlight the importance of work by women and children.