WOOLMARK MILLS FACTORY VISIT
WE VISIT ABRAHAM MOON & SONS AND CLISSOLDS IN YORKSHIRE
Wool is having a moment of well deserved appreciation, this ubiquitous textile is in the fashion spotlight across the globe as Woolmark hits its 50th anniversary year and teams with Paul Smith in a global collaboration to get wool, and its new technological advances the recognition it deserves.
I recently visited a couple of the Woolmark liscenced mills in Yorkshire, Clissolds and Abraham Moons, both have been Working together with Woolmark for 30 years and together are leading the way in combining the latest technology alongside tradition in the woollen textile industry.
Woollen cloth has been manufactured in the region for centuries as the soft Yorkshire water is perfect for finishing the fabrics. Although there are still some mills in operation, the four legged providers of the raw product are no longer local but almost entirely Antipodean, with the majority of the merino wool used coming from Australia and New Zealand.
Clissolds was established in 1910 and now has its mill in Bradford. Purchased by the American Holland & Sherry Group five years ago, this transatlantic partnership along with the support from Woolmark has helped the company to take on the latest technological advances in wool, whilst maintaining its heart in tradition.
Wool is one of the oldest fibres used by man, but owing to scientific input, this material is now far from archaic. Notable developments such as "Cool Wool", a plain weave fabric under 300g, incredibly fine and lightweight for coolness and natural breathability.
"Aquarette" is another advancement, a new finishing with the properties of Teflon, specifically for wool but without any stiffness. It is undetectable on the finished article yet provides protection from stains and splashes.
The development of "Natural Stretch", is a new pioneering weaving technique, that gives stretch to the fabric without the degenerative problems associated with blending wool with Lycra which has been another significant leap forward.
These new modern wool fabrics, made by Clissolds are very popular in the high end markets with a huge export demand in Asia and the Middle East; in particular for the new "Cool Wool", for use in tailoring and traditional style garments which is being pioneered by Paul Smith who is using exclusively Clissolds fabrics for his SS14 collection in a global collaboration with Woolmark.
This has seen the rise in "nattier" weave designs, and a vibrant colour spectrum that Clissolds are renowned for.
A tour around the factory showed a huge dedication to craftsmanship. Each bolt of fabric is individually woven to the clients requirements before being finished and hand mended.
A team of ladies, several of whom had been doing this highly skilled job since the age of 15, a career spanning 45 years so far, scrupulously hand-mend any imperfections, covering up to 525 meters of cloth each per day. Proving that when it comes to quality there really is no substitute for human skill.
Abraham Moon & Sons, based at Netherfield Mills in Guisely is a "vertical mill" which differs from Clissolds in that they take the raw wool tops and process through to the finished product.
One of only a small handful of mills left in the UK that are still able to do this. Their manufacture is split roughly 40/60 between apparel and furnishing fabrics but the processing is largely the same.
They have been in production for 175 years and have built an international reputation on tradition and quality. Recently providing fabric for the Whitehouse as well as supplying many other couture houses and retail chains including Burberry, Marks & Spencers and Jack Wills.
Processing wool from its natural form into quality textiles is a long, complex and highly engineered process that also involves a lot of manual skill.
It takes about two weeks to complete the transition from raw tops to finished product. The raw wool is washed and scoured to remove any remaining oils and dirt before being dyed.
The different colours of stock dyed wool are then hand selected for creating the desired shade and sent to the blending rooms, where they are blown about and mixed with pitch forks in a sort of giant tumble dryer until the desired colour mix is achieved and the wool is sent down through shoots in the floor and on to the next stage.