Worsted mill

Trotted out so often is the decline of the West Yorkshire textile trade that you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a thing to be pitied; something to be nursed back to health, if not forcibly and regularly mouth-to-mouthed.

In some cases, that’s true. There has been a drastic contraction in the number of mills and the volume of wool made in the Heavy Woollen District. But while this corner of Yorkshire is no longer the centre of the woollen world, and the mohair mill’s locale is very much not on-the-up, the makers that remain here are keeping step with the march of progress. Some, indeed, are in rude health — not so much clinging on as getting better with age — and there’s a belief that those left standing are the fittest and best and are here to stay.

Whereas a half century ago the mills here were competitors, now alliances of a type are commonplace. In place of inter-mill rivalry is recognition that cooperation and a pooling of the expertise that remain are in everyone’s best interest. Now, indeed, mills whose outputs are complementary work as a block; together they present a united front of domestic-made hopsacks, worsteds, cashmeres, tweed, mohairs, and so on, at textile tradeshows and the like.

Mohair, then. Sheared from the hide of the mop-headed Angora goat, it’s a tenacious cloth, and comes in many guises: from the fine suiting-suitable qualities to altogether heavier and more steadying stuff. It also lends itself very readily to blends with other types of wool or cashmere, etc. — making for a variety of cloths that outwardly have little in common, but all of which are rooted in mohair’s resilience.

The mill is arguably the world’s finest purveyors of mohair. Its output is of an extremely high order — the stock-in-trade for heritage-hardened tailors and star-spangled couturiers the world over — and the mill is in fact one of only a handful with the capability and accreditation to tackle the finest varieties of mohair yarn.

Every step of the mohair’s transformation into luxury cloth — its dyeing, blending, weaving, and finishing — are undertaken under the one 1800s-built roof. Under that roof, though, things have moved very much with the times. Some aspects of production look much as they would’ve done a century ago, but they sit cheek-by-jowl with computer-controlled contraptions that introduce digital exactitude to the material-knowledge and expertise of the team. Personnel is likewise ever-changing. Some members of the team are approaching a half century on the job; others are newcomers courtesy of local initiatives and apprenticeships; other still clocking back in after much time away: proof again that the maker is in as fine a fettle as it has been for years.