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From Canada to Bradford – a textile industry past, present and future

SDC member Anthea Mallinson from Canada reports on her recent visit to Yorkshire including SDC’s head office in Bradford.

Having returned to Canada, to the numerous small, unexpected, craft-dyer jobs of the film industry costumes dyer, I can reflect with pleasure on the things I saw, the SDC people I met and all that I learned in my brief visit to Bradford, now several weeks ago. The textile industry certainly looms large around Bradford, with a towering architectural history and, to someone who comes from a part of the world where there really is no textile production, a presence that is still alive.

Anthea with SDC's Turkey Red archive

Anthea with SDC’s Turkey Red archive

I work as a craft-dyer for the film industry, and live in Vancouver, Canada, far away from any sizeable textile production, past or present. This makes my recent brief trip to Bradford and the SDC interesting and exotic in a way that Yorkshire residents could have difficulty imagining.

My thanks go out to everyone at the SDC who took the time to meet and talk with me and give me an eye opening local tour. Of course I know something of the magnitude of Britain’s historical textile industry, but to see firsthand its present in the architecture, (innovative and cutting edge in its day), the landscape (beautifully moated, amongst other things) and to glimpse its historical influence – social, economic and technological – in conversation with my knowledgeable SDC hosts, has left a vivid impression and a deeper understanding of the size of the textile industry impact.

Although much of what I saw – Bradford’s former Wool Exchange building, grand Victorian mill houses, the lovely village of Saltaire, the moat systems passing by the former factories – speaks of days gone by and a magnitude of production that isn’t there now, one of my biggest impressions is that the textile industry, contrary to some public opinion, has not died and gone away but is, albeit much smaller than former years, redefining itself and recognising that it does have both an ongoing presence and a future.

Anthea with Richard Ashworth and a roller screen

Anthea with Richard Ashworth and a roller screen

I want to thank Richard Ashworth for the tour of the Colour Experience. It did give me a thrill to see Perkin’s own mauve samples, and the small wooden box he sent to entice potential customers. Other highlights include the Turkey red display, the Sydney Harry abstracts beautifully demonstrating colour relationships, the playful LED bulb with its perfect display of the components of white light, and the first roller screen I have ever seen (!)

As I am a teacher as well as a practitioner, conversations about education with both Matthew Clark, who teaches the online SDC courses, and Richard ensued. Both education and communication are changing rapidly and textiles (and colour) education remain firmly and interestingly grounded in both the localized hands-on and the global, long-distance, online spheres. For me, a hands-on dyer with a practiced eye and only just enough chemistry to be able to grasp the basics, it is a particular pleasure to be able to ask questions of someone with the education, experience and enthusiasm that my SDC hosts demonstrated.

Sincere thanks also to Andrew Filarowski, who proved to be an especially knowledgeable guide to parts of Keighley and Saltaire. I had requested, before I came, that someone at the SDC help me find a dyehouse that I could visit, as I had never had an opportunity to visit one before. (I can only guess how far away from Vancouver the closest one might be – perhaps 4,000 miles?) Andrew made arrangements for us to visit Robert’s Dyers in Keighley, and David Slater from Robert’s Dyers gave the eye opening tour I had asked for. Robert’s Dyers are finishers as well as dyers, and it was interesting to see how much fine finishing, especially of wool, is physical rather than chemical. I enjoyed seeing how much expertise is in the eye and the hand of the experienced people doing the work, who still have to judge when to stop a process, to judge how much is just enough. We conjectured that this field is a possible source for the term ‘rule of thumb’. I also learned that ‘wool likes wood’; this came from a comment from David, reflecting on a wonderful older wool processing machine with wooden rollers.

Dyeing for costumes for the film industry (and theatre, opera and dance as well) we are almost always working on finished garments or finished yardage, grappling with finishes and using hobby dyes where we cannot learn all of the dyes’ characteristics and where we are sometimes striving for results that would perturb a commercial dyer (such as a colour that sits on top, looking for all the world like a thin wash of age and dirt). Nonetheless, there was much at Robert’s Dyers and in conversation with Andrew and David that was both fascinating and familiar.

Thank you once again to the SDC and all the individuals I met. I’m glad to be in touch and hope I can visit again.

With thanks to Anthea for writing this blog and for coming to visit.  We are always pleased to welcome SDC members to Perkin House, so do get in touch if you’re in the area.

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Comments (3)

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    Trevor Larkins


    Well done Perkin House staff for making Anthea’s visit so interesting and memorable.

    Richard is actually pictured holding a Rotary Screen (lightweight, made from nickel/zinc screen and aluminium ends) not an (engraved) heavy roller made from copper and steel! Both are used in textile printing, but with different technologies.


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    Liz Miller


    What a fascinating post! So much of what was said I related to based on my own experiences. Thank you so much.
    Cheers from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada.


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    What a fascinating time you must have had, though it took me a few moments to realise that you meant ‘canals’ when you said ‘moats’!

    And it’s lovely to see my own Bradford and area through someone else’s eyes, particular another dye/textile person.


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