All journeys have a beginning, and within three minutes of my 307.8 mile journey to Carlisle, the morning after a heavy wedding knee’s up, mine included four hitchhiking Romanian students on their way to Northampton. Five and a bit hours later and four Romanians lighter, I arrived at my intended for destination. The Stead McAlpin print works. Founded in 1835, they moved into the current property (originally a cotton mill) in 1875. I was glad to see it for numerous reasons. Firstly, I really needed to use the toilet. Secondly, without the aid of a TomTom I had performed a small but impressive miracle just by finding the factory. Lastly, its very presence and survival was a gladness in of itself to me. Here was UK manufacturing, its heart still beating, hopefully providing me with the blood I needed (in print form) for my fledgling business to be born.
After a brief but productive meeting regarding my options for print and cotton choice, I was given a tour of the factory, and all its working parts by Bill Bulman, the technical font of all things print.
I will now present you with a brief and incomplete tour of the site, with poor quality photos that I shot, but will hopefully give you a generalized but informative perspective on what goes into printing textiles.
Step 1: Burning away straggly bits from the loom state cloth
Step 2: Washing the loom state cotton. This a light washing done with a type of soap.
Step 3: Bleaching the cloth. Its difficult to see here, but basically the the bleach is applied, then the rolls are wrapped very tightly in a kind of cling film and spun consistently to ensure the bleach works on the whole cloth. The cloth is then dried in the machine you see here.
Step 4: Stentering. Basically, after the bleaching and drying, the cloth is a bit lumpy and not properly straight. This machine smooths out the lumps and makes the cloth straight.
The cloth in is now essentially ready for printing on. After an exact colour match has been made (via these pots)
The cloth is run through a print bed
Then Roberts your Dads brother…finished article
On my way home, I stopped into the nicest service station I’ve ever been to, which had its own Farm Shop. Amongst other items I bought putty which makes farting noises, some foam toy airplanes and some quality Achiltibuie Kippers for family members. My trip up North was coming to an end, but I had found a great company, with the same values as me, and most importantly, a company that made the effort to go that extra distance to make me feel they cared.
It was the lack of that sentiment, the feeling that almost universally mens underwear was an afterthought, not a priority to the people that were providing me with their product, that made me want to make boxer shorts in the first place. I hope that when you put on my pants, you’ll feel that I care about my product, the same way that you care about your crown jewels!!!