11th Jan: Visit to “The Museum in The Park” Stroud
The red cloth became famous for its brilliant colour. It is thought this superiority of colour was due to the quality of the water in Stroud which was used in the processes of making the woollen cloth. It was widely used for military uniforms and also exported to America via the fur trade. It became a highly prized commodity with the American Indians who used it for clothing.
Teasels were used for carding until quite recently. At WSP they were used until the 1970’s. It proved very difficult to find something that could replace them. Somerset was well known for teasel growing and supplying them for use in the textile industry.
This shows the woollen cloth being stretched onto a wooden frame with tenter hooks. These frames of stretched, drying fabric could be seen in the fields around Stroud. The saying “on tenter hooks” came from this method of drying cloth.
The second dark level in the diagram is the fullers earth deposit. It was extracted locally to use in the woollen industry for cleaning the wool.
16th Jan: Visit to WSP Textiles, Stroud.
I visited WSP Textiles, my industry partner, accompanied by Jane Ford who is a Stroudwater textile member and supporter of SIT. We were made very welcome by everyone and given a fascinating tour of both sites at Cam and Stroud by Beverley Carter (Business, Technical and Development manager at WSP).
WSP Textiles produces high quality tournament billiard table cloth and championship tennis ball cloth which they export all over the world. They also produce, design and print pool table cloth mostly for export.
The billiard cloth is made from New Zealand wool, selected for the quality of its fibres. It is finished with a fine, close nap visible only by touch.
The tennis ball cloth needs to be tough so the wool is mixed with nylon which makes it hard wearing. This mixture is used to make the weft thread and cotton is used for the warp.
We spent the morning at the Cam site where all the initial manufacturing processes for both cloths including weaving, are carried out. They are then sent to Stroud for finishing.
“A wall of stacked wool bales suggests a violent past. Constricted by metal warp and weft strapping and punctured by bullet like holes, it is a barricade.”
“This has some interesting possibilities. I wonder how finely I could create felt? It might produce some interesting holes?”
“I like the idea of marking a tiny spot with red thread that it needs to be searched for in a sea of white fabric. The indicated spot, usually a knot or broken thread is then mended by hand. This work involves patience, tenacity, and a never ending search in a task that is never complete.”
“A fabric container placed ready to receive carefully sorted waste products is hung from chains within a metal frame. Again this has a suggestion of brutality but also a vulnerability.”
“The cloth is milled so that the fibres knit together and the cloth shrinks to form a thicker material. This is checked and the process stopped when the cloth reaches a precise measurement. The interesting thing is that even though the same materials are used, the time taken for this process varies slightly. I believe this is because of the natural elements involved both in terms of raw materials and human. It is wonderful to think that allowances are made for natural variations in a modern industry.”
“This beautiful silky cloth speaks of luxury. There is no trace or impression left of the harsh processes the fibres have endured, it is order after the chaos.”
“This tough acid yellow cloth screams look at me and therefore fits the brief perfectly.”
23rd Jan: Visiting a quarry in Gloucestershire and on to WSP
Fullers earth was traditionally used to clean the woollen fleeces and in the fulling or milling process, hence the name. Keen to acquire some locally extracted fullers earth, I made enquires at The Museum in the Park, Stroud. Initially it looked unlikely that anyone was still extracting the clay but I eventually discovered a quarry in Naunton, Gloucestershire who still extracted and who were willing to sell me a few small bags. I now have 4 bags and am enjoying a bit of experimentation.
I also arranged with Beverley to pick up some material samples from WSP and to look at the tennis ball finishing processes. We had run out of time on our previous visit and I was pleased to be able to complete the tour.
28th Jan: Visit to Fox Brothers in Wellington
A fascinating and exciting visit with Penny, Patricia and Rob. Fox Brothers produce high end finely woven woollen and worsted cloth mostly for the clothing industry. They have a long established history within the area and a fascinating archive of samples dating back to the late 1700’s. We were welcomed and given a most instructive and interesting tour by Rosemary. British yarn is used wherever possible and all weaving is done on site. The woven cloth is sent away to be finished and comes back to Fox Brothers before being distributed to clients such as Savile Row. I am particularly interested to discover more about the cloth supplied for military use up to the end of the First World War and also any sporting connections.
We were shown several labelled puttees that were sent from the War Office to Fox Brothers during World War One for analysis. The puttees were items of uniform like gaiters and were confiscated from prisoners of war to discover what they were made from. It is believed as resources were running low everywhere that this information might be valuable for our military personnel.