‘It always rains on August bank holiday,’ said Tim as my raincoat and I rustled down the steep steps at Quarry Bank Mill, Cheshire. It was one of the last working cotton mills to close the doors in 1959. After that we danced our way through the sixties in synthetics and wore cheap cotton imports from China and India.
The factory floor is familiar ground, it’s a huge part of my job as a handbag & leathergoods designer. Approving new designs, overseeing production and developing new leathers. Hot, dusty, noisy and smelly. A less than ideal creative environment for a designer. There’s a magic though, in seeing my sketch transform into a prototype and I hugely admire the factories and teams I work with.
All this, did not prepare me for the thundering din of a mechanised loom in action at Quarry Bank Mill. ‘Tinatus’ doesn’t come close, the sound is maddening. Imagine working a 5.30am – 8.30 pm shift, lip reading to communicate!
As industrial set ups go, there’s a bucolic charm to the Georgian mill, flowing river and dramatic landscaped gardens. But I’m sure it was just as horrifying to Arts and Crafts types at the time, as it would be to us today. Approximately 10,000 litres of water is needed to make a pair of jeans. There still isn’t much that’s pretty about modern cotton manufacturing. Buying something you’ll love and wear for years is a good start though.