For the autumn season of 2014 we have further developed our core concept of tweeds for town. For modern urban tweed sportswear we have looked at the colours of cityscapes and woven them in wool. Shadow checks of pavement grey juxtapose rectilinear yellow yarns portraying London’s road markings. Fine strands of reflective yarn add a technical and functional elements to some of the designs. For the evening we have woven fine black Merino wools with a herringbone of dark navy silk, an original fabric for nocturnal mingling. No brown in town may well be an advisable adage but for the weekend visit to Kensington and the royal parks our British wool and silk fabrics in a new triangular weave structure will make into a splendid coat whilst on the quest to find a conker.
A vast range of skills and many lifetimes of experience are required to create tweed. From the shepherd’s tending their flocks through to shearers, carders, dyers, spinners, designers, weavers and finishers, many talented artisans are involved. This season we are exploring the later, the often unsung skills of wool finishers.
Wool is woven in a ‘greasy’ state and then any imperfections are hand darned before the final washing of the cloth. Many mills used to finish the cloth themselves in the rivers by which they are often situated and indeed where the power to drive the looms used to come from via mill wheels. Nowadays as the number of mills have declined and specialisation is the key to creating a luxury fabric, finishers have become separate establishments full of highly skilled workers and remarkable machines. We toured the best finishers in Britain including Schofields Dyers and Finishers on the Gala river, Galashiels, a tributary of the river Tweed in order to learn more of the mysterious art of finishing and what hidden techniques we could utilise.
The first process that all cloth goes through is a scouring, washing and rubbing over wooden rollers in the water of the Gala. The time this is performed for effects the density of the cloth and how much felting of the wool fibres occurs. We have experimented with a longer more milled finish on our Navy Urban Shadow 4 design and it’s interesting how the cloth becomes, heavier more ‘woolly’ and with a greater blending of the yarn colours.
On our tour of Schofields we inquired as to the use of a splendid looking piece of equipment consisting of electric wires connected to plates and an absolutely huge press which I imagined Dr Frankenstein would use for his collection of pressed Triffids. It was in fact a heat press, which gives a fabulous flat finish to cloth lapped over the heated plates and given several tons of pressure. It seemed a perfect way to give a lustre and smoothness to our wool and silk designs. The finer black Merino wool and silk we are using on our smoking jacket now shimmers wonderfully and the tougher British wool and silk designs have a desirable range of textures after the heat press finish.
We are always keen to give heritage techniques a new airing; one of our exciting ideas this season is to wax wool and create a totally waterproof woollen cloth. Waxing is the oldest way to waterproof woven cloth, the inventive Chinese were making waxed silk umbrellas at the time King Cnut was battling against the waves over here. One of the world leaders in waxing is Halley Stevensons, situated in Dundee and with over 150 years of experience. They were delighted to wax our indigo and plum peak designs in Merino wool. We chose a desert waxed finish which doesn’t feel too oily and gives the wool a soft drape. We have used our indigo waxed peak design to make a wonderful quilted outdoor jacket as a ready to wear special this autumn.
Finally one can never really have enough luxury so we have indulged in creating a double faced Cashmere cloth with the expert weavers Joshua Ellis who specialise in such extravagances. They have been weaving cashmere for well over a hundred years and possess double beam looms which interweave two designs simultaneously thus creating a cloth with two faces. We chose sumptuous navy cashmere for one side and a lambswool in our seasons urban shadow check for the other. We are using this in our duffle coat and the cloth is for sale as well, you can decide which is the face for you.