An eagerly anticipated visit with Lucy, Patricia and Rob, that did not disappoint. Fox Brothers & Co Ltd weave very fine woollen and worsted cloth in Wellington, Somerset and they have been doing so for a very long time; since 1772. They mostly make men’s suiting and coating; flannels, chalk stripes, tweeds, lots of dark colours, with the occasional surprise of bright orange, or a crisp wool and linen shirting. The handle of some of their lambswool cloth could be mistaken for their cashmere but with the advantage of a more structured fabric.
The designer, Rosemarie, was incredibly helpful, giving us a comprehensive and informative tour of the mill and their new venture The Merchant Fox, selling luxury British hand-crafted products. They also have the most fantastic archives; shelves and shelves of weaving sample books with weaving swatches that still look contemporary.
Fox Brothers weave a range of blankets, in checks, stripes and herringbone using different wools from shetland wool to the lambswool, herringbone, tasselled blankets in the image below. My favourite is of course, the most expensive and luxuriously soft; the lambswool herringbone. I have decided to work with the same lambswool yarns to develop a blanket design inspired by the Somerset landscape.
The Merchant Fox is brilliantly styled, you walk into a cross between a British gentleman’s dressing room and his den. It even smells delicious – the scent of flannel from specially commissioned candles.
Cloth swatches in an archive book – they could be contemporary, and recently woven flannel. The piece of fabric below the sample book is unfinished, it is in its ‘loom-state’, feeling rough and stiff, a big contrast to the highly strokeable, soft, finished cloth in the sample book above.
Pages from the oldest, 1773, ‘pattern book’ at Fox Brothers (bound in calves leather). Flannels in some lovely, subtle shades of greens on the left, and the only page of silks on the right, but I could not resist the beautiful soft tones . Everything would have been coloured using natural dyes.
I love all the detailed drawing and fonts in the woven and printed labels, it shows the heritage, subtlely, in comparison to a lot of labels today that are very simple. Also the use of the specific ‘Made in the West of England’ rather than the usual ‘Made in Britain’.
The warp is made in sections, the cones on the frame to the left supply the yarn which is fed onto the barrel to the right at the right density, or spacing, and with all the yarn at the same tension (very important). The yarn that is threaded onto the loom is called the warp. Cloth is made when yarn (the weft) is woven into the warp threads.
The warp from the barrel is wound onto a warp beam, these are large, warps can be 1000’s of metres long. On the right is a warp on a beam, each thread has been threaded onto an individual heddle which is controlled by one of 12 shafts (the set of metal objects above the beam). The order of threading the heddles will determine the weave structures or patterns in the final cloth. With so many threads, it is heavy and so is supported by what looks like a mini fork-lift.
Fox Brothers have two new computerised looms (one on the left) as well as their existing looms that weave from punch cards (on the right). I love the magic of turning thread into cloth. On the loom on the right a broken thread is being repaired, the shafts are in front of us and behind are the ‘droppers’, these drop and stop the loom weaving if a thread in the warp breaks.