Company Profile: Axminster Carpets 1: Carpets to Dye for

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    In the 1980’s I went to Kidderminster to visit a well known carpet manufacturer. The factory had a stream or river running through it, and the operation took sheep’s fleeces in one end and carpet came out the other. At the time the design studio was adding Mac II’s to their desktops and a large room was occupied by the computer (looked after by two geeks) that controlled the dye mixes for the wool. With the company concerned broken by a combination of poor decision making and the banking crisis, I thought the days of ‘vertical integration’ in this industry were over.

    Vertical integration is of course ‘business speak’ for production methods that go back in time. It presupposes local production with the raw materials gathered locally coming in and finished products going out the other end. Ecologically sound ‘green’ manufacturing. What is ‘green’ about there being no market for English sheep fleeces because we get our carpets made abroad? What is green about carpets that have enough air miles to get a free flight to Florence by the time they are down on the hotel floor in the UK?
    Fortunately vertical integration still exists, and I had the pleasure of a trip to beautifully sunny Devon to see the fleece to flooring operation of Axminster Carpets in the eponymous town. No coincidence that the town is eponymous, as it gave its name to the particular kind of weaving called Axminster. The carpet company has existed here, in rich sheep and cattle farming country, since 1755 – before some colonies achieved their independence.

    In this first article of three, I will show you the making of the carpet yarns. Almost as much goes into the making of yarn as goes into the weaving of the carpet itself, and the process is closest to those images of gambolling sheep in green fields that are so characteristic of images of countryside. Wool produces staples of differing lengths depending on the breed it is from and most carpet today uses a mixture of British wool and New Zealand wool, a mixing of longer softer staples with shorter tougher ones. Wool arrives in the factory in large bales and I wish this was ‘smellyvision’ as bales are not just a sight to behold but also a smell that is quite an olfactory experience!

    The different wools are thoroughly washed and spun dry ready for breaking down into the slubbing that is the beginning of making yarns. Slubbing? Don’t worry all shall be revealed if you read on

    Continued on page two

    Daniel Fountain / 02.02.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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