Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Designing a sartorial vacation: "Wool is our hope"

Inhabit, for a moment, the mind of a sartorial enthusiast or nerd and imagine you had a week or two where you could visit anyone, any place and any step in the supply chain of men's apparel. What would you do and where would you go?

Clearly, this would require several vacation trips given the different locations around the world we could choose from. But for starters, I would spend a week or two exploring the world of cloth and textiles: an itinerary dedicated to the fundamentals in textiles (fibers and yarn), shearing, weaving, dyeing and finishing in Huddersfield and Yorkshire, England.

Day 1-2: Introduction to wool and textile production

- Attend a lecture on “Wool, Past, Present and Future” presented by Elizabeth Peacock, Master of The Worshipful Company of Woolmen. Originating as a medieval craft guild dating back at least to the 1180s, TWCW used to regulate wool practices and standards but is now principally operating as a charity. The company's motto is, appropriately, Lana spes nostra, or "Wool is our hope."

- Tour W.T. Johnson, specialist textile finishers based in Huddersfield. An essential part of this tour is understanding the microclimate and soft Pennine water of West Yorkshire and their role in the finishing (washing and scouring) of wool. Remarkably, so important is the role of the Huddersfield water that the company secured its own private deep-ground water source.

Huddersfield - Rivers Colne, Holme & Fenay Beck

- Attend the Royal Bath and West Show at Shepton Mallet (in Somerset) to view the annual sheep shearing competition, as well as spinning and weaving demonstrations


Day 3: History of English textiles

- Attend a private viewing of the Sunny Bank Mills Textile Archive, reputedly one of the most complete textile archives in Yorkshire going back 150 years.

- Visit the Bradford Textile Archive to view old pattern books and cards

- Visit a private-led tour of the former sites of Salt's Mill or Dalton's Mill, both of which were once the largest textile mills in the area

Day 4-5: A tour of Yorkshire Textiles member companies

- Attend 3-4 textile mills in Yorkshire. The Yorkshire Textiles consists of about a dozen mills including: Alfred Brown, Arthur Harrison, Bower Roebuck, Edwin Woodhouse, Hainsworth (oldest of the bunch), John Cavendish, John Foster, Joseph H Clissold, Abraham Moon, Savile Clifford and Taylor & Lodge. They are the go-to mills for the likes of Aquascutum, Burberry, Gucci and Prada, as well as bespoke tailors around the world.

I would suggest a visit to Alfred Brown, which produces very traditional British fabrics of the "fuller and more rounded" variety. Note they do not play the Super 150s, 160s, etc game. Their "Luxury" cloth is Super 100 and 110s.

- Attend a special joint textile symposium organized by the Bradford Textile Society and the Huddersfield Textile Society

Day 6: Looking ahead at the future of textiles

- Tour the Huddersfield Textile Centre of Excellence, a research and training facility, to understand the workforce and skills requirements of a 21st century textile industry. In 1960, Yorkshire mills employed roughly 140,000 workers. Now that number is down to just 2,000.

Of course, this is just the tip of iceberg. A London vacation is certainly in order - how about attending as a honorary guest of the Master Tailors' Benevolent Association (MTBA) annual Festival Dinner and the Merchant Taylor's Golden Shears contest? And why not a tour of Biella, Italy for its superb silk production?

Additional links
- Yorkshire Post article on Alfred Brown
- Yorkshire Post article on textile industry

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