Rope-dyed indigo, pt. 2

The start of January finds the one-man-mill picking up where he left off: indigo warp newly wound and on the loom, weft ready for weaving.

As first introduced the other side of Christmas, the warp and weft being woven this time are both cotton. The warp, all 90 metres of it, is rope-dyed indigo — approximately halfway along the indigo-saturation chart — and there are two wefts. First of these is several dozen perns of ecru cotton, and once they’ve been used up, it’s on to the same number of dark indigo. This will result in two colours of woven-in-London rope-dyed indigo cotton-twill — one of them indigo-ecru (show here) and the other indigo-indigo.

The one-man-mill’s meticulously restored Hattersley loom, it’s safe to say, was not built for this job. The Hattersley Domestic Loom, to give it its full title, is geared up for thick Outer Hebridean tweeds; when George Hattersley & Sons Ltd. of Keighley began making the Domestic in 1919, the Isles of Harris and Lewis were the textile trade’s front-runners.

But here, today, is perhaps the only functioning Hattersley in London, some 520 miles due south-east of the Outer Hebrides — making cloth that didn’t even exist when the loom was in its heyday. Suffice to say, then, that the loom had to be set up largely from scratch. Cotton has a higher end-count that wool — this one has 1,300 ends, with 36 per inch — but this is not a task unfamiliar to the one-man-mill; it comes with the job of weaving things never before woven. There was some trial and error over the New Year, which is to be expected, but the first successful few metres are now coming off the loom.

The key difference, working alongside a mill to design cloth from scratch, as opposed to buying cloth straight off the books, is the inherent uncertainty of whether it will actually work — and, if it does work, what sort of garment it will be best used for. Now, with the cotton’s weaving in full flight, it is apparent that its weight and openness will make for excellent heavy shirting. Ideal overshirt material perhaps. But its characteristics will likely change again — not the weight, but the handle — when the cloth departs the one-man-mill for the finishers, where it will be washed, brushed, and treated. That will happen next month, once both indigo-ecru and indigo-indigo cotton-twills are complete.