There’s nothing I like better than a tour of a factory. Well, hardly anything.
My Mum and Dad met when they both worked in a factory – Alfred Herbert Ltd – in wartime Coventry, flirting at snap time while they swapped sandwiches. It must have been quite some attraction because Dad’s were, so the family legend has it, always spread with margarine and Bovril, whereas Mum was more likely to have butter and meat paste, so she lost out on the deal.
This is an advertisement for Alfred Herbert from 1943, which is about the year they met.
Maybe that’s why I love to see how things are made. My favourite part of my first grown-up job, as a purchasing officer for soft furnishings in the public sector, was touring textile factories; just before that, I’d made a study of the footwear industry that involved watching shoes take shape. You can take a girl out of the Midlands…
So when, at a University reunion, I discovered that my old friend Jon Allen was now Managing Director of Pike Textile Display in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, I jumped at his offer of a factory tour. Pike make display books for most of the big guns in the British textile industry, including Liberty, whose fabrics I use for Dandy & Rose shirts.
I was astonished to see how much detailed planning goes into making a pattern book, and how many people work on each product, dextrously and precisely lining up fabrics, sticking on labels and overlocking edges. I specially enjoyed my time with Christine and Sue, who let me watch as they assembled a hanging display for Liberty’s 2016 Spring/Summer range. Here they are, starting off the process by getting the fabrics in the right order and trimming them to a manageable size:
Once the fabrics are cut to their final size and the edges are finished, there’s another careful laying out. The ladies work with all the Liberty fabrics, not just the notoriously light and floaty tana lawn that I have to gain mastery of for my western shirts, but the impossibly fluid and slippery silk crepe de chine and ethereal voile that I scarcely dare touch. They have to lay and cut each one perfectly straight and perfectly square.
Many thanks to Christine and Sue for being so welcoming and taking the time to show me what they do, and to Jon for the invitation and tour of the factory. I had a great day out and psssst… I got a sneak preview of the fabrics I’ll be making western shirts from in a year’s time!