Football, Fine Lace and Supersonic Tea Bags…

Photo courtesy of Margaret Sears

Over the course of this project we have heard a lot about ‘textile production’, but what sort of products was the East Midlands textile industry producing? Interviewees often mentioned garment manufacture such as ladieswear, menswear, childrenswear, socks, hosiery and underwear, and more unusually, hairnets, roofing fabric and car seat covers. Casual references to military body armour and tea bag strings for Concord were perhaps more unexpected…

Sometimes the garments would be destined for stardom! As one interviewee fondly recalled being taken on a visit to the factory where they made the ‘clothes for the women in the Cliff Richard film Summer Holiday’. A lace factory worker explained that their company used the phrase ‘everything from the cradle to the grave’ to describe their products, which included confirmation dresses, wedding gowns, and lacy linings for the insides of coffins.

Many companies were mentioned who made corporate uniforms including corporate blazers, corporate sports team shirts and airline pilot uniforms. At least one of our interviewees worked for Speedo and described it as ‘an exciting time’ to be there. He explained that the American swimmer Mark Spitz had just won several gold medals at the Olympics wearing Speedo-made ‘Stars and Stripes’ themed swimwear. He added that Speedo had two factories in the area at the time. Sportswear was not limited to swimming, however, as we also heard about Penn Nyla’s design and production of technical fabric for the England football shirts worn in the 2002 World Cup and Euro 2004. This was featured in the magazine ‘Technical Textiles Today’ and included photos of the staff modelling the shirts.

We also heard about smaller companies, who tended to specialise in more exclusive items such as designer clubwear. We interviewed a partner in a local ‘co-operative’ company which designed and produced clothes for the club scene during the 1990s. She explained that they took their design inspiration from robots (buying up plastic robotic toys in charity shops) and recalls exhibiting at Clothes Show Live.

Other specialisms included fine gauge knitwear, exquisite lace trimmings, silk underwear, and bridal gowns. Several of our interviewees were involved in the production of bridal gowns, whether design or construction. One interviewee told us how she enjoyed visiting bridal fairs in Harrogate and making up samples of lace on her return. Another worker recalls how she made the dresses on a ‘Wilcox and Gibbs’ industrial sewing machine which came as part of a large table to accommodate the size of the gowns.  We were even told about a Cashmere wedding dress that was made especially for a young designer’s wedding at St Paul’s Cathedral…

Article by Tonya Outtram

Penn Nyla’s staff modelling the England football shirts they helped to produce (as featured in Technical Textiles Today Issue 6)

Club wear for the 1990s – two of the founders of Automaton Ltd with their products (picture courtesy of Sarah Colborne)