Unwrapping the material wealth of St Gallen

May 21, 2021, 2 Comments

Once upon a time over half the world’s embroidery came from St Gallen, and the industry was Switzerland’s largest export. Then came world wars, the Depression and cheap foreign competition, turning boom to bust. But the textile industry survives (just) in St Gallen, notably for high-end fabrics and specialist laces.

The best place for a good overview of this local industry is the small but interesting Textile Museum in city centre. It traces the story from the 15th-century origins through mechanisation in the 19th century to the final years of the golden age. This industry once employed two-thirds of the local population, now that’s down to a few hundred.

I loved the examples of embroidery, lace and fabrics on display, showing how delicately intricate the work is. The museum’s been here since 1886 so has an unrivalled collection of sample books and swatches, plus complete dresses from bygone eras. One dress not here is that worn by Michelle Obama at her husband’s inauguration – it was made from St Gallen lace.

For more of this local textile history, I’d recommend taking the Textile Trail, a self-guided walk that needs around two hours to cover the 5km route. It’s an unusual way to explore the centre of St Gallen and I found it fascinating. A free app guides you round the Trail, telling you the history of each building and its role in St Gallen’s textile boom.

Lastly, don’t miss popping into the St Gallen tourism office, which houses an amazing structure made from 1,042 individual sections of hard polyester ‘lace’. A local firm of architects created them with a 3D printer using an original historic design of St Gallen lace. The past made into the present, and a fitting place to end the textile tour of the city.

This was the last in my series of articles on St Gallen. The others were about the Abbey, shopping tips, Hotel Walhalla and the oriel windows of the old town.

2 Comments on "Unwrapping the material wealth of St Gallen"

  1. Marianne Cee Saturday May 22nd, 2021 at 04:53 AM · Reply

    This is fascinating, thank you! I had no idea embroidery and the textile industry played such an important role here. Will have to explore this on our next visit. Always enjoy your posts and always learning something new about CH. You’re quite the ambassador. Mach weiter!

    -Marianne in Vancouver

    • Diccon Bewes Thursday May 27th, 2021 at 08:00 AM · Reply

      Thanks Marianne. I enjoyed discovering all about it when I was in St Gallen.

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