Article by Lesley Fidler
It is a weavers’ maxim that ‘weaving is what comes off the loom, cloth is weaving that has been finished’. In this context ‘finished’ doesn’t mean fastened-off, but refers to treating the fibres so they hold together. I like to weave with commercially spun and dyed Shetland wool that I buy from Fairfield Yarns, Co-operative Buildings, 131 Rochdale Road, Heywood. (The shop only opens on Fridays, but it makes a grand day out combined with coffee in Hebden Bridge followed by a trip to Bury Market for lunch).
For smaller pieces, I can put my weaving in the washing machine to get a nicely fluffy, fulled fabric. But when I decided to make 6 yards of 31” wide double-weave fabric for curtains, I realised that even if I could stuff it all into our washing machine, I couldn’t dry such a big piece without twisting – that was if I could find somewhere to hang it. Plus I didn’t feel like explaining a flooded floor and clogged lint filter to my husband.
I remembered reading an article in The Journal about a rug for a vintage car that had been commercially finished and I tracked down W T Johnson & Sons in Huddersfield. They were exceptionally helpful and friendly on the phone. When I went, Alan Dolley the company’s technical manager saw me personally and set up a customer account for me. So, I handed over a bundle that represented hours of work and knew that whatever happened to it, it would be better than I could do at home. Alan agreed. My ‘It’s for dress-making’ (the curtains idea had been abandoned and that piece had now been joined by a couple of other lengths as well) was translated into ‘For apparel: Light scouring’. A couple of weeks later, I collected my drapey, smooth cloth from the friendly receptionist who had taken the trouble to phone me to say it was ready.
My work has lost nothing at all in width, but although I carefully sewed a firm fabric border to the ends of one piece because it is touch-and-go whether I can get my long coat out of it, this had been chopped off to give a straight edge. However, there is no obvious shrinkage in length – apart from the trimming (and I am so pleased I did not see this happen!): my pattern squares are still square. It is far smoother and finer in feel than the pieces that have been through the washing machine (and which did reduce in size) and when held up to the light there are no gaps. So I really do have cloth.
And the cost? Well, Johnsons work by weight and length. My 14-15 yards weighed 3.8kg (the double cloth is, obviously, double the weight) and I was invoiced the bargain price of £1.50/metre for 13.6 metres which came to £20.40 plus VAT = £24.48 (in March 2019). Even more remarkable, as an account holder my invoice only arrived after I had collected my cloth and it gave me a full month’s credit terms.
The bonus from my visit was my chat with Mr Dolley in which he showed me some of the company’s luxury output. I saw what was apparently ordinary men’s suiting but in which platinum thread had been used for the pinstripe, I handled other fabric costing several hundred pounds per metre and made my first hands-on acquaintance with quiviut. For all sorts of reasons, I can thoroughly recommend an encounter with this friendly, specialist business that is just on the southern edge of Huddersfield town centre.
The finished cloth:
In this photo, the piece with smaller squares went through the washing machine. The larger squares in that photo were the ones that were professionally finished.