The long-established cloth merchants Dugdale Bros & Co. in Huddersfield, historically at the heart of the textiles industry. Their great support and inspiration to the project strengthened my entry to the Golden Shears; I worked with Dugdale cloth as a powerful tool to portray the message and as a connection to the history and heritage of my hometown, Huddersfield.
During my work experience there I gained an insight into the whole process of cloth manufacture, with visits to local weavers, dyers and finishers. I gained knowledge about the business when dealing with admin, cloth continuity archives and order processing. From this experience my knowledge of cloth properties and behaviours has improved to better inform my design decisions.
For two weeks I was allowed an insight into Dugdale Bros & Co., of 5 Northumberland street, Huddersfield; the heart of Yorkshire’s textile industry. Huddersfield is world renowned for its high quality cloth production; and to this day it still keeps its traditions alive.
At the heart of Huddersfield, cloth merchants Dugdale Bros sits prominently in its original building since the 1920s that carries such character representative of true British heritage. Founded in 1896 and a proud member of the Savile Row Bespoke Association, Dugdale is unique in being an independent family owned business with prestigious clientele from around the world. In 2000 Robert Charnock took over from his father Keith Charnock (or ‘Mr Charnock’ or ‘Mr C’ as he is known), who has been with the firm since the 1960s and still works here today.
The first day I visited I was faced with by a huge heavy wooden door in the porch way, and on ringing the old doorbell it echoed through the building. I learnt that bell could be quite temperamental as later that day I would have some trouble with what it being so old!
The building is just as beautiful inside as out, as a lot of the original features have been left intact, including the original doors, desks, shelves and drawers. It made it such a nice environment to work in. I learnt that this is what clients wanted to see- a part of British heritage, and they even had clients from Asia privately flying over just to come to Dugdale, because of its grand building.
On entrance you are greeted with Mr Charnock’s work from Huddersfield technical college-detailing his textiles studies with beautiful penmanship and design.
I was greeted by Inna, who I would be working with that day and given an introduction to the trimmings department she worked in. It was interesting to see the range of equipment they stocked; from buttons made of animal horn to bees wax for threads and high quality linings, along with all the different types of canvasses, melton and domette. The afternoon consisted of dealing with orders mainly cutting lengths of lining for different customers, which are then passed onto the packing department to be packaged and sent out that day.
Taylor & Lodge
I was taken for a tour around the mills of Huddersfield. By firstly taking a visit to Taylor and Lodge I got a great insight into where the weaving takes place for some of the cloth produced exclusively for Dugdale. Like Dugdale, it is very much a family business and its extensive history precedes them.
I was lucky enough to see the machines in action and Dugdale cloth being woven before my eyes. The factory houses some of the most expensive and state-of-the-art equipment. Ed showed us round the various machines; amongst them was the Karl Meyer; a very expensive machine and one of the newest there, replacing the touch screen alone you were into the thousands. Looking at the new technology was a huge contrast to the oldest machinery they had- some of which has been weaving since around 1920 and is still in use today. And if you ever get a chance to visit All Saints London, there is actually one of their old weaving machines in their shop.
I was told it is ‘never quiet’, and how can it be, the machinery alone generates so much noise it was hard to hear much of what I was being told on the tour!
The menders were busy at work, amongst of which was a lovely lady called Carol who talked me through the process, of examining the fabric and how to deal with a dropping end, which is essentially a loose thread. Her skill was remarkable as her handwork made it disappear as though there was never a flaw in the cloth at all. She told me it is a very time-consuming job that can be quite tedious but rewarding to see the end result when you know that you’ve done a good job. Many of them had been doing it for many years, and with their eyesight not being what it once was they had large magnifying tools that rested on them to look through. They are now training up younger people to be menders.
Next we visited Holmfirth Dyers, where the cloth is then sent to be processed and finished. Holmfirth Dyers is tucked away in the heart of Holmfirth, not far from where I grew up and the home of Last of the Summer Wine. It is one of the most significant factories for fine worsted finishing that still remain and at the moment they are working 24/7 as they are so busy.
I was surprised at just how much had to be done to the cloth after it is woven, and all the preparation of fabric that had to be done before and after dying. For the woven cloth, the finishing is what is used to create the texture we expect, as after it is woven it can be quite rough.
When the cloth is washed, the cloth becomes softer the longer you wash it for. Pressure is another factor; I was shown the before and after results where at the start you could see the weave as it was quite loose, but after the process you could not see the weave. This is a heavier finish.
In the preparation of fabrics for dying the fabric is scoured, where fabrics are thoroughly cleaned to allow for even colouring of fabrics and good colour penetration. What makes it unique is the use of soft Yorkshire water in the process. This is also done if the cloth is not going to be dyed.
As for the dying process, there are different dyes for polyester and wool, and the machines that dye the fabric have to be cleaned weekly before each colour change, which is costly to do but has to be done to prevent colour mixing. There are huge tanks that this is done in and they do try to keep certain shades in certain tanks, for example reds and oranges would be used in the same tank and blacks are kept separate.
It is quite a lengthy process, as the drying machine alone takes 1 hour to set up. Most of the machinery there was new as it had been fitted the past 2 weeks. However there still is some older machinery used for the drying process. The fabric is dry cleaned in a massive machine that towered over me, which ironically was the first thing we were faced with on entering the factory.
The cloth is passed over a flame to burn off the hairy fibres so the cloth is smoother. There was a strong smell of burning wool which weirdly they liked the smell of but I wasn’t so keen on myself. There is also a process to create a nice sheen finish, this is so once the cloth has been made into a suit it can be dry cleaned over and over yet will still keep its shine.
In the lab, they carry out all their dye testing and mixing in the same way done in the factory but on a smaller scale. The spectrophotometer measures colour to inform them of what composition is needed. Also they use a computerised system that passes light through the fibres to see if the colour match is correct, this is a way of checking the colour is continually consistent if reproduced. They gave a demo of this for me and they even had their fingers crossed with that one-it is a big job if it is not a great enough colour match, as the whole dyeing process has to take place again.
The final process consists of continuity checks where the cloth would be colour matched in a light box before being sent out to the client.
The Pattern Room
The pattern room at Dugdale is used to cut patterns of cloth which are requested by customers, this is done using a giant old machine that has a wheel to bring a huge and very sharp, heavy and intimidating blade on it, crimping the cloth to create a neat edge. I was told the horror stories of how someone had lost their hand by reaching for a pen that had rolled under the blade as it went down in Mr Charnock’s previous employment.
There are so many different variations of patterns in the pattern room on racks to be placed with orders. The system has to work and each pattern has a number assigned to it which is important so that the customer receives the right cloth.
A bit of a maze, Dugdale is filled with doors that lead to nowhere, light switches that don’t turn anything on and wires that don’t lead to anything. However you are continually reminded of the history of the business, as so much of the original interiors of the building itself remain. The premises have remained the same since the 1920s. There are the old self-professed ‘fire-proof and burglar proof’ safes that I was told have been left in random places as they are so heavy to move! The wooden cladding on the ceilings has been carved with such craftsmanship, which I was told Robert used to polish in the holidays when he was at university.
Many items of the Dugdale history were found when clearing room for storage in the cellar, such as furniture that was over 100 years old. There are some great finds within the building, photos of customers wearing items created using Dugdale cloth, and even Christmas cards from clients which is just a representation of their truly loyal customer base. Amongst what was found were old paintings of the Dugdale building which shows that the whole building used to be part of Dugdale. After then being converted into a dance studio, most of it now has been turned into student accommodation.
The youngsters that work in Dugdale have told me of their tales of exploring the place; I was taken down to the basement, which was quite eerie-but still fully functioning. Not somewhere you want to be late at night! Cutting of cloth for orders still takes place down there in the chills. One of the cloth cutters said to me you can hear every footstep from above and weird noises as the building is quite old.
It was a novelty going up in the rickety lift as I was warned to bend my knees as it reached the stop. It once had broken down and it was so hard to open even the specialised menders couldn’t open it. It was not in use for a month so all the cloth had to be carried up and down the many sets of stairs as new deliveries arrived. I was told it is often the case that an order requires cloth from different floors so often they are up and down the stairs trying to locate the cloth. And there is so much cloth it must take a while before you get to grips with it all.
The most expensive line, a collaboration with Cerruti, is a beautiful blend with cashmere. Produced in Italy, it definitely has the high quality feel about it.
And yet what was impressive is that no fabric that is cut gets wasted, it is all kept and used for something else, in case customers want a colour match or request a line they no longer produce. There are some old rolls of cloth that have been there for decades, part of the Dugdale history.
I spent the day at Carl Stuart in Ossett which was a fascinating experience because it had such an interesting organisation; they assured me I would never see a set-up quite like it again. One of their high-profile clients is Elton John and the majority of the cloth they use is Dugdale.
They have a working factory floor consisting of mainly women working on what is the majority of bespoke garments for all walks of tailors all over the country and abroad, including Savile Row clients. Their processes were mainly done on the machine, favouring speed and saving costs but still keeping a high standard. The women who worked there were highly skilled, most of them can do lots of different jobs but usually have a specialised area to work in. Some of the ladies had been there for over 30 years, being able to baste by hand at lightning speed, something I could only dream of doing as fast!
I learnt about the home-grown talent produced from Carl Stuart, Lucy Owen who was a finalist in the Golden Shears award representing Carl Stuart back in 2009, where she had said that she learnt more in the 6 months than she was there than in the whole of her textiles education prior to this.
I was baffled to see that they had a machine that did hand stitching! Also having a machine to do pockets saves a lot of time and gives a clean finish. There was even a machine that used basting thread
ready for the first fitting, the advantage of this was that you were able to pull a whole row of stitching out at one end in one go.
When it came to pressing the garments at several stages during construction, specialised press moulds were used that the jacket fit into to create the right shape for the garment, most of which even had a left and right hand side.
Everything is done at a heightened speed, for a faster production and turnaround but still produced to a high standard. A lot of what they do is usually done in abroad, whereas Carl Stuart takes pride in their ‘Made in Britain’ production. This is something that in years to come will be on the increase, as you know exactly where it is coming from and won’t be at an accelerated price.
Upstairs I watched in on the cutters, where there were several manually drafting but also a computerised plotting system. It uses a blade cutter to cut from suit lengths. It was interesting to see how all the details of a draft were reduced to a set of codes. Again this is favouring saving time and fabric wastage using the most efficient lay plan
Carl Stuart is also producing fresh new young talent; a cutter trained 5 years has now started his own new business enterprise. A northern approach to bespoke.
It is great to see the textile trade still alive today right on my doorstep, to remind me of the great textile heritage that surrounds West Yorkshire. So if you are wanting something that is truly British and high quality I can firmly suggest next time you are requiring a suit length, visit Dugdale Bros. For further information visit their website at www.dugdalebros.com.
The article has appeared on:
Savile Row Training Academy blog
DUGDALE BROS & CO.
Scale model of the Dugdale building
The Dugdale building entrance
In the trimmings department
The original wooden shelving
Measuring lengths of linings for orders
Weaving the cloth in progress
Weaving Dugdale cloth
Menders at work
Some of the oldest pattern looms at work
Cutter used to create crimped edges, turning the wheel brings the blade down
Patterns kept on racks
Outside Mr Charnock's Office
An image of a younger Keith Charnock found in the basement
Basement storage of cloth
The old lift
Storage of cloth
A piece of textiles heritage running along the selvedge of the cloth
BACK TO TOP