Comines is a French-speaking enclave of the Belgian province of Hainaut, bordered by Flemish-speaking West Flanders and the French department of Nord. Linen weaving became established in the area in the twelfth century, and by the seventeenth century local weavers specialised in the production of ribbons. The industry developed rapidly from the 1680s with the introduction of bar looms, with encouragement from Philippe Houyn, a merchant from Ypres. From the 1860s production was mechanised and concentrated in factories.
The area was devastated during the First World War, but the ribbon industry revived in the 1920s. New technology was introduced in the 1960s and manufacturing continues in spite of successive economic crises.
The museum dates from 1985 and displays a range of looms including one from circa 1700 that can still be demonstrated. A highlight is a working bar loom, rebuilt in 1993 following drawings in Diderot’s Encyclopedia. Visitors to the museum can learn not just about the technology of ribbon manufacture but about the social lives of the local weavers, traditionally known as les bleus vintes.