Picture this! 18th century Lyon and a race is on to revolutionise the production of elaborately patterned fabrics.

This race, ultimately, was won by Joseph Marie Jacquard (1752 – 1834) whose name is familiar to anyone with even a passing interest in textiles and to many others with no interest at all. In 1801 Jacquard demonstrated his patterning mechanism, which transformed the production of fabrics such as brocade, matelasse and damask.

English Mantua, circa 1708. Bizarre silk in salmon-pink damask with floral and foliate pattern brocaded with polychrome silk and gold metallic file

Prior to this their production had been extremely labour intensive and relied upon  master weavers working in conjunction with a ‘draw boy’ who would stand on a perch above the loom and manually lift warp threads, thereby dictating whether the weft sat above or below the warp and thereby creating a pattern. Jacquard, working off the backs of earlier weaver/inventors, created a loom whose warp threads, via their bolus hooks, were controlled by cards punched with holes. The existence, or not, of a hole dictated whether the bolus hook would raise or lower the warp thread via the loom’s harness, therefore creating a pattern. Each card would correspond to the warp positions for one row (i.e. weft insertion) of the design. For example a loom with a 400 hook head might have four threads connected to each hook, giving 1’600 warp ends and four horizontal repeats. However, the jacquard loom is able to create non-repeating panels that might have 1’000s of warp ends and therefore bolus hooks, for examples this design commemorating Jacquard, produced in 1839 and requiring an extraordinary 24’000 punched cards!

Left: Portrait of Jacquard woven in silk on a loom requiring 24’000 punched cards 1839, Right: A Jacquard loom
Nowadays jacquard looms (or more accurately jacquard heads on dobby looms) are used to create a wide variety of fabrics woven from any fibre. What sets them apart from other textiles is that they are often relatively expensive due to the fact that, although jacquard heads are now digitally programmed, the warping of these looms remains labour intensive. Indeed, looms are often only threaded once, with subsequent warps being tied onto the ends of existing warps.

We recently attended Decorex and were able to view a variety of contemporary jacquards. We were very impressed by the work of the Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company, established in 1903. We had great fun riffling through their archive books. Every fabric they have ever woven has been documented, not only in terms of yarn and design, but also colour, with samples of one-off dyes kept for posterity. (They recently had to match the blue from the end of a Biro for a wealthy client – someone should have pointed out that it’ll look completely different once the lights are turned on!) At the other end of the spectrum we were inspired by the fleece blankets produced by Ian Mankin. These are woven from yarns that are 75% recycled cotton and 25% polyester from reclaimed materials (read plastic bottles!)

The Gainsborough Silk Weaving Company’s ‘Bed of Ware’, festooned in their silk damasks

Ian Mankin’s new range of fleece throws, made from recycled & reclaimed materials and woven on their jacquard looms

So why else might you have heard of Jacquard? Jacquard’s loom, with its punch card programming, is cited as an important step in the history of computing. The series of punch cards were the programme; change the programme and the machine will produce a drastically different result. Furthermore, instead of the process needing to be overseen by a master weaver it could be attended to by an unskilled labourer, highlighting the fact that in the realm of textile production the jacquard loom was key to the industrial revolution. In conclusion the fact that the term ‘jacquard’ is so ubiquitously used to refer to such a variety of not only woven, but also knitted textiles, is testimony to the extent of the revolution that was finally ushered in with Jaccquard’s 1801 demonstration. Styles of fabric that were once the domain of the wealthy became, with time, available to the masses.

1960s Jacquard knitted geometric fairisle dress


Signs of the Times

Hannah Whaler SignwriterWriting signs by hand might be considered anachronistic but Tinsmiths has had a wall waiting for the right writer for ten or so years. Last week, signwriter Hannah Whaler originally from Malvern, brought her brushes and brilliance to Tinsmiths Alley and enlivened the space. Her canvas, long and thin, stretched down the alleyway to Ledbury High Street providing passersby with a harbinger of what they could expect if they followed Hannah’s sign.

Hannah Whaler SignwriterTo see a short video of the finished sign click here. Tinsmiths Way In Sign.

Three days of painting and a creation – part fairground, almost steampunk but more than anything a celebration of type with convincing 3D drop shadows –  was complete and clients absolutely thrilled with it. Before Hannah (23yrs) departed we asked her a few questions about her career to date.

How did you get interested in hand-painting signs?

I first became interested in hand painted signage when I was at university in Falmouth studying Illustration. We were taught how important it was to be able to understand and work with type, often with illustration your images end up responding to or accompanying text, with book covers and posters especially. Once I started looking into vintage lettering styles (all of which are designed and drawn/carved by hand) my obsession began. I moved from drawing letters to painting them, training myself to use a brush and understanding proportion and layouts.

Hand painted letters by Hannah Whaler

What sustains your interest?

I’m really inspired by all the traditional cultures that surround and stem from sign painting – so the circus/fairground, canal boats, gypsy wagons… the folk art side of it really interests me. I do a lot of reading up on these things, looking at how the whole culture and way of life of these people feeds into the craft. As well, just the old examples of sign painting I see around me on the street, there are so many examples still standing as bold as ever tens of years after being painted, hidden away amongst the peeling vinyl! Nowadays there is more new stuff out there than there has been for a very long time, there’s an incredibly talented new generation of painters that are hitting the high street and bringing sign painting alive again. It’s so encouraging to see.

Daily Bread SignWhat’s the best/worst part of it?

The best part is standing back and seeing something come together from what was just a sketch a day ago. I love how the client can watch that happen too, it’s like magic for them, because you kind of know all along what your plan is and how you want it to turn out, but when they see it form before their eyes it’s exciting stuff. I absolutely love working with small independent businesses, meeting people and creating a piece that will benefit them. The worst part is the cold if you’re working outdoors. You sort of paint with your whole body when working on a large scale, so being relaxed and focused is really important, and thats hard when your frozen stiff from 7 hours painting up a ladder! I also have reynolds desease (poor circulation) so in the cold loose my sensitivity in my hands, making it hard to hold a brush.

Hannah Whaler

What do you see yourself doing in the future?

I’ll painting for a long time to come… But short term future I’d like to be in some kind of apprenticeship. I’m self taught, so I know there is SO much left for me to learn. Skills like gold gilding, more knowledge of materials and processes, they are all more strings to my bow and open up more opportunities and avenues for work. Long term future it would be fantastic to travel with my skills – go abroad and paint for people elsewhere in the world.

Who is your best supporter?

It has to be my old manager, James. He owns the bar that I used to work in (for the last year I have been sign painter by day, waitress by night!) at The Gallimaufry. He was the first person in Bristol to give me a proper sign writing job, then by securing me a waitressing place at The Galli I could afford to move over there and start my new life. Since then he has been my guardian angel, hooking me up with other painters and artists, promoting my work and just being a constant source of support and encouragement. He’s passed on not just contacts and work, but a real spirit of generosity that has formed a big part of my ethos now. And of course my mum and dad, because they are the ones ALWAYS at the end of the telephone whenever they need to be there!

Hannah Whaler will be exhibiting at Tinsmiths in July 2016, if you would like an invitation to the show just e-mail your details to press@tinsmiths.co.uk.




We recently received some wonderful Pashmina shawls so light and so soft that everything else that I had ever encountered that described itself as ‘cashmere’ felt rough in comparison. I quizzed our supplier Sadhu about the softness of these Pashminas and it soon became clear what the difference was.

Pashmina is the fabric woven from the pashm, the soft downy undercoat that grows on the nect and belly of the Himalayan mountain goat, Capra Hirracus. It is only the goats living at above 4500 metres that produce the finest wool as they require the extra insulation to live in the harsh terrain and winter temperatures of -30°.pashmina goat 1 DSC02312 - Copy








The very fine pashm used in Sadhu’s pashminas comes from Changtang in Ladakh where nomadic herders tend flocks on the high plains. They collect the fleece by combing the goats in the late spring before they molt. In summer these are brought or bartered by Ladakhi traders and sent to Leh, where the Kashmiri traders make their purchases.

The Kashmiri artisans have perfected the art of hand-shinning the fine pashmina yarn. The pashmina fibre is extremely fine at 14 microns (a human hair is 200 microns) and long staple and whilst this gives it the softness and lustre when woven, it is much more challenging to spin and weave.

The delicate pashm is firstly painstakingly cleaned and then hand-spun. The very fine hand-spun yarn is then carefully woven by hand, weaving a 2m length takes 3 days.

P1050076DSC07735 - CopySadhu is concerned that the cheap imitations of pashmina with machine –spun and woven cashmere mix yarns are undermining the 2000 year old skills and traditions of the Kashmiri Pashmina artisans.


DSCN5948DSCN5945See more of these wonderful Pashminas in our ‘Scraves and Wraps’ section on our website.


I can think of no other textile so quintessentially ‘English’ and ‘country’ as corduroy – think farmer, cord trousers held up with baling twine or the upper classes off for a day’s shooting.  So I was surprised, after a little investigation, to discover that it is a relatively modern derivation of fustian, a cloth woven during Roman times in Egypt and thought to have originated from the city of Fustat. Fustian, like corduroy, is a plain or twill weave with supplementary weft yarns that form ribs running the length of the fabric. It was originally woven with a linen warp and cotton weft, although other unions, for example cotton and wool, have been popular through the ages. This differs from modern, quality corduroy which is generally 100% cotton. The other distinct difference is that with fustian the weft is not cut, leaving a hard cord, whereas with corduroy part of the finishing process is the cutting of the weft to form the ‘pile’ of the soft cord.
Fustian travelled to Europe from the 12th to the 14th century, accompanied by a number of family members, most notably velvet, and was initially favoured by royalty and the aristocracy. It was also a firm favourite with the clergy and at one time Cistercian monks were allowed to weave no other cloth. Unlike velvet, however, corduroy did not keep its place at the top table. Corduroy’s modern name is thought to come from the French, ‘cord du roi’ or ‘King’s cord’, possibly due to the fact that in 17th and 18th century France royal servants were known to wear it as uniform.
By the 18th century it was the modern, practical, ‘sporty’ choice for outdoor clothing due to its qualities of warmth and durability and its ability to dry (relatively) quickly. By the end of the 18th century though, this was all it was seen as – the prestige and association with wealth had gone. During the 19th century although on the one hand it became popular with gentleman farmers, on the other it became the urban working man’s uniform. Where velvet had retained all its associations with money, royalty, glamour and the night, nothing said a day’s work like corduroy – the English denim.

Image result for English Farmers


A velvet clad toff, in stark contrast with the working farmer!

The 20th century saw a marked improvement in corduroy’s prestige due to the fact that it was picked up by the smart set for sporting and leisurewear during the ‘20s and ‘30s. However, the credentials that had always made it so down-right practical meant that it also saw use as soldiers’ uniforms during WW1, upholstery for Henry Ford’s ‘Model T’ and jodhpurs for the Women’s Land Army – giving their sartorial signature.

Women’s Land Army recruits, dressed in cord and ready for the hard graft ahead of them!

During the 1960s soft, warn corduroy was donned as an anti-establishment symbol. It was the ‘70s, however, that saw the biggest explosion in popularity that corduroy has ever known. During this decade people of all ages, classes and colours swathed themselves in cord of every shade then lounged on their corduroy clad sofas!

Image result for 1970s corduroy

There are no words!

Although corduroy originated in the east, by the 16th century fustians were being widely manufactured in Britain. Lancashire was a hot-spot of production and in many parts of Europe corduroy is still called ‘Manchester’ (a bit of a contrast with ‘cord du roi’!) Sadly though, there is no production left in the U.K. Today a myriad of cords, ranging from needle cord (at 14-18 cords or ‘wales’ per inch) through to elephant or ‘constitutional’ cords at as few as 3 wales are still being produced and consumed worldwide. That said, you might be waiting a long time before it becomes super-trendy again (in large part because we’ve all been left feeling a bit queasy from the ‘70s!) It seems to me that in its main application as clothing corduroy is a bit of an unsung hero of the wardrobe; like the potatoes on the plate, over-shadowed by their tastier, more exotic and highly seasoned companions. Yet in the present day this wonder-cloth can boast more kudos when used for upholstery. In this application it seems to have managed to untie the fetters of bumbling country squire and dicey cord flares and instead attained an air of knowing cool!