Lyon is Europe’s pre-eminent silk-working city. The industry’s origins in the city go back centuries before the Industrial Revolution, and it is fitting that the displays in the museum take a long view of silk-manufacture. The making and trading of silk in Chinese, Coptic, Persian, Byzantine and Arab cultures is thoroughly explained and illustrated, as is the take-up of the craft in Europe, through Sicily, Spain and southern France. The role of the silk industry in Lyon is fully illustrated with particular stress on such manufacturers as Pillement, Philippe de Lasalle and Dugourc. There are comprehensive displays of manufacturing processes of the 19th century, and the role of silk-making in the French fashion industry is explored. Further displays are concerned with the history of the related trades of lace-making and embroidery.
The museum is descended from the Museum of Art and Industry, established by Lyon’s Chamber of Commerce in 1864, which was visited by some 19th-century textile workers from other European countries who sought experience in France. It has been housed since 1946 in the 18th century mansion of the Villeroy family, which it shares with the city’s museum of decorative arts. In 1985 the museum established the first workshop in France for the restoration of ancient fabrics, and it holds an image bank of more than 32,000 fabric samples.