On Tuesday I was lucky to attend an open evening at Bristol Textile House. Since the summer of 2014 this venue, tucked-away behind Bristol’s main station, has been a hub for textile-related start-up businesses. It is home to Antiform, Bristol Textile Quarter, Dash and Miller and the Bristol Weaving Mill. In a twist of fate they are located just where Bristol’s long-gone textile industry once was and for the first time in over 100 years, cloth is being woven in Bristol.
A disclaimer, before I start – I made some brief notes during the evening, but I was supplied with a few Gin Garden cocktails and I hope I have everything down accurately! The food and drink was a nice touch to the evening and certainly helped with the networking!
Before the talks, we were invited to spend some time looking around the venue. There was a small exhibition about the history of textile in Bristol.
The Great Western Cotton Works was opened in 1838 and was situated by the Feeder Canal near the train station. It employed as many as 1,500 workers making calico and cotton textiles. The cotton works survived until 1925 when it was hit by recession.
Most of the ground floor of the building is renting out by Bristol Weaving Quarter to various textile creatives. There are unholsterers, costumiers and designers. I chatted to Hannah from Tamay and Me. Hannah spent three months in 2008, learning Red Dzao embroidery in North Vietnam near the Chinese border. It is an intricate counted thread embroidery. She sells the beautiful handcrafted embroidered and indigo jackets pictured below:
I talked a little with a couple of people I had already met, namely Emma Hague, founder of Bristol Textile Quarter and Babs Behan from Botanical Inks. I had a very interesting conversation about how much dyeing with dock leaves smells. Babs recommended doing a Eucalyptus dye bath at the same time to combat the stench. I had decided after last dock leaf dyeing experience time that I wasn’t going to do dock leaves again because of the smell. But the leaves are so plentiful, if I can cope with the smell it is an easy dye bath to do.
The first talk was by Lizzie Harrison of Antiform. Antiforn is a fashion label with sustainability at its heart. They source all their materials from reclaimed textiles from the fashion industry in England. Read about their sourcing process here. Their clothing collections are then produced in the Bristol studio or as locally to the studio in Bristol as possible.
We were then shown around the Bristol Weaving Mill. This is a micro-mill specializing in higher end production for catwalk fabrics. They have one enormous industrial Dornier Dobby loom and hand-weaving looms. The Dornier loom was imported second-hand from Holland and works on a punch-card system.
Punch cards are created using a strange machine akin to a type-writer and then these are fed into the loom to determine the weaving pattern.
After the necessary safety advice, they even started the loom up for us so that we could see it in action. It made quite a racket!
Laylah Cook, Design and Production Director, said that the key to their success was their flexibility to do small runs (as little as 10 metres) and their willingness to weave with anything, accepting yarn from the designer and not rigidly using known yarns. On the loom during the visit was some plastic-like tape that they were experimenting with.
There was also an exhibition on The Bristol Cloth. Last year a competition was run with Bristol as Europe’s Green Capital in 2015 to design a local textile. Since then, the winning design has been chosen and a crowd-funding is going to take place to raise the necessary capital to do a production run. I’m really looking forward to being able to use this cloth. It will use wool from Fernhill Farm, the yarn will be dyed with natural dyes from Botanical Inks and it will be woven at the Bristol Weaving Mill. All within walking distance of my house – how more local can I get!
I also met a couple of sewing enthusiasts, Marie from Sewn Bristol and Lydia from Made My Wardrobe. We talked all things sewing. They have both started sewing all their own clothes (it’s clearly catching) and it was so good to meet others on this journey. I even felt like an old pro, since it is nearly three years that I haven’t bought any clothing. Lydia is a costumier and her clothes are so creative and original. Marie is opening a fabric shop in Bristol soon (can’t wait!)