This month, Thomas Pink explores Britain’s rich history of fabric production and how we continue to champion home-grown manufacturing
Black & Grey Tailored Fit Merino Houndstooth Jacket
It would be the making of a national industry. Two hundred and ninety years ago this year, a Lancashire gentleman by the name of John Kay invented the flying shuttle – a device that allowed the rate of weaving cloth to be greatly accelerated, and over a greater width of cloth, too.
Although, inevitably, the flying shuttle was met with opposition by traditional weavers – who petitioned the king to prevent it from being used – it would mark the beginning of the transformation of piecemeal British weaving into a trade that spanned the world
Many other enhancements to machine-making would come, nearly always out of the north of England, the homeland of weaving thanks to an abundance of soft water and coal, the right climate and the trade routes that came in and out of the great ports: not just James Watt’s revolutionary steam engine, but also Lewis Paul’s carding machine (a process to detangle, clean and mix fibres), James Hargreaves’ spinning jenny (a multi-spindle spinning frame), Richard Arkwright’s water frame (powered by a water wheel), Samuel Crompton’s mule (which allowed for larger-scale spinning) and Edmund Cartwright’s power loom.
These were the Dysons of their day, their engineering making Cheshire, Lancashire and Yorkshire the epicentre of excellence in woollen cloths, especially. And it’s in this tradition that Thomas Pink, while best known for its shirts, selects the cloths it uses for its tailored jackets –from the likes of Abraham Moon & Sons, established in Leeds in 1837, and Alfred Brown, also established in Leeds, in 1915, and still a family firm.
Oatmeal Tailored Fit Wool Silk Woven Unstructured Jacket
Oatmeal & Brown Tailored Fit Merino Houndstooth Pleated Trousers
Consider garments such as Thomas Pink’s unstructured jackets – easy to dress up for more formal occasions, or to throw on over a T-shirt with a pair of khakis – and it’s not just the cut that works. It’s taking it all back to the beginning with the weaving craft that allows also for subtly modern updates of classic cloth styles too. That’s the likes of houndstooth – actually a form of tartan and also known as dogstooth, with the more refined-sounding houndstooth becoming common when it first found fashionability in the 1930s; and herringbone, an even more ancient weave, most commonly appreciated these days in a hardy tweed beloved of those who enjoy more country pursuits.
For those we might look to the then future King Edward VII, who discovered Glen check while hunting in Scotland and embraced the pattern as his own – such that it came to be known as the Prince of Wales check – all somewhat to the dismay of his father. ‘Unfortunately [Edward] takes no interest in anything but clothes,’ he lamented. ‘Even when out shooting he is more occupied with his trousers than with the game.’
Talking of game – well, let’s hope not – it’s really the sheep we can thank for providing the raw source material that allows you to own the kind of jacket that will give a lifetime of service. If it’s not impressive enough to say that wool production started in Britain during the Bronze Age – three to four thousand years ago – by the time the Romans arrived on these islands, its wool cloth was already considered a luxury item. By the 17th century it amounted to well over half the value of all British exports. Wisely, these days we’re more attuned to the idea of keeping it for ourselves.