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Quarry Bank Mill, Styal, Cheshire - :
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Quarry Bank Mill – Textile Process

| September 13, 2012 | Comments

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Quarry Bank Mill: How the cloth was made

Also includes a Brief History of the Victorian Era

Published by Helen Rowlands, 13th September 2012

Quarry bank Mill and Styal, is one of the most important industrial heritage sites in the world, this article is for people who are interested in textiles and how the Industrial revolution began in Manchester the North of England. (8)


Making Cloth – The Warp

To make the warp – the lengthwise yarn in a fabric – the yarn has to be made into a beam, a roll of yarn threads.  The first stage is to transfer the spun yarn onto bobbin to fit the beaming creel.

Bobbin Winding

The yarn from several cops or bobbins is wound onto a larger wooden bobbin.  During the winding thick places (slubs and piecing) and weak places are removed from the yarn.  This reduces the number of faults in the woven cloth.

Making Cloth – The Warp


This is the first stage of making the warp – the lengthways yarn in a woven fabric.

As many as 500 bobbins of cotton are arranged in the creel.  Each holds up twelve miles, 1600m of yarn.

Once the beam is full it is lifted out and sent to be sized (coated in a mix of an adhesive, usually starch, and a lubricant, usually tallow).

Sizing gives the yarn additional strength so that it can be put through the weaving process.

Making Cloth – Weaving

Weaving is the interlacing of the lengthwise warp yarn with the weft yarn in the shuttle.

The wooden – picking stick knock the shuttle from side to side, backwards and forwards across the loom.

Each time the shuttle goes to and fro it passes through a gap made between the warp yarns.  The gap is made by lifting alternate sets of warp yarn.

Each time the shuttle reaches the side of the loom the comb-like reed pushes home the yarn to keep the cloth even.

After Weaving, Finishing

After the cloth has been woven it is finished.  The finishing process depend on what the cloth will be used for.

The cloth woven at Quarry Bank Mill is usually sent to be: Washed, Bleached, Dyed and Printed.

Making Cloth – The Weft

Pirn Winding, cotton spun on cops by the people in the factory has to be rewound onto pirns to go in the shuttle used on the loom.  This will be the weft (widthways) yarn in the cloth.

Cops, Cheeses and Pirns

At each stage of the yarn making process the cotton is wound or wrapped onto a “package” designed to be used on different machines.  Other packages are shown on the left.


“Finished” cloth is not just used to make clothes.  It is used to make most of the textiles you see everyday.

Until the 18th Century this “finished” cloth was printed abroad in countries such as India.  Foreign prints became all the rage in Britain, which threatened the production of traditional British cloth.  A ban was imposed in 1720 on importing and wearing this printed cotton.

As printed cotton grew harder to get hold of, it became all the rage in Britain, which threatened the production of traditional British cloth.  A ban was imposed in 1720 on importing and wearing this printed cotton.

Between 1774 the import ban was lifted, allowing British textile printing to grow rapidly.  However, printed good were still expensive, particularly fabrics with elaborate patterns.

Printed calico could be used for:

Clothes:  Dresses, shirts, jackets and shoes


Home Furnishings:   Curtains, cushion covers and window blinds

Medical Supplies:        Bandages

Outdoor Pursuits:       Tents, windbreaks and garden awnings

The name “calico” comes from the city of Calcutta in India.  The first cotton cloth was imported from Calcutta in the 18th Century.  Mark Sparks was an Apprentice at quarry Bank Mill.  In 1823 she spent all of her overtime savings on a new gown, which cost her 4 shillings and 6 pence.

From Plain Cloth to Colour and Pattern

The cloth that comes off the looms at Quarry Bank Mill is not ready to use, because it is not yet “finished”.

Quarry Bank Mill made a coarse grey cloth called calico.  When the calico left here it was not suitable for use as it was rough to the touch and would shrink when washed.  From here it was sent to other mills to be put through a number of processes to “finish” it.

Finishing removes natural and man-made impurities from cloth and adds colour and pattern, improving the appearance, texture and quality of the final cloth.

The basic finishing processes are washing bleaching, dyeing and printing.  The number of processes the cloth goes through will depend on what it is going to be used for.

A Piece of Calico coming off the looms could go through a number of different processes.

First the calico was washed in a chemical bath to remove impurities such as natural wax, dirt and seed fragments.

Washing did not get rid of its natural yellow colour.  To do this, calico had to be bleached in tubs, sometimes on a grass lawn or at a Beach Works.  The calico was then ready to be dyed with colour.

In the early days natural dyes were used, which were often extracted from plants and insects.  Urine, roots and salts were used to help bind the dye to the cloth.

While experimenting at home in 1856, William Perkins created the first chemical dye, “mauveine”, a much desired purple colour, others soon followed.  Copper sulphate, tannic acid and aluminium had to be used to fix chemical dyes to calico.

Caution – Don’t Try this at Home

These new chemicals brought new health risks for the printer:

Highly Dangerous:  Explosions were always a risk when using chemicals.  Long term exposure to these chemicals could also cause cancer.

Moderate Danger

The chemicals used often caused skin and eye irritation, which could result in blindness.  Breathing problems and burns also common in these processes.

Mild Danger

Inky hands were sometimes washed with bleaching agents creating mild skin irritations and blistering.

Female cochineal beetles were crushed to make the bright red dye which takes their name “Cochineal”.

Creating Patterns

Roller engraving

Before the machine printer could print a piece of cloth, the rollers needed to be engraved with a pattern.

Patterns were engraved into copper rollers to create a raised pattern, using the tolls in the display case below.  This could be done by hand or machine.

The machine to your left is a Pentagraph Engraver.  This copper roller was varnished and then engraved with a design.  The roller was then placed into an acid bath, similar to the one in the picture below.

The roller was rotated by hand in this bath, allowing the acid to react with the exposed metal.  This gave the pattern on the roller more width and depth.  The roller was then washed and ready for printing.

Multiple rollers were made to build up layers of one design, each adding a different colour and part to the pattern.

Full Steam Ahead

The Industrial Revolution brought quicker and cheaper ways to print cloth.

By the mid 19th Century machines powered by the water and steam had been invented to carry out every part of the printing process.  Hand block printers were replaced by “roller printers”.  These were faster to use and required less skill and fewer people, making printed cloth cheaper to produce.

Each roller is engraved with part of the design and covered with a different colour dye, applied by the rollers continuously, printing all sections of the pattern within one machine.  Machines could produce larger quantities of printed cloth than block printing, making it more affordable.

After the cloth was printed it would be stretched, starched and ironed.  Now it was finally ready to be sold.

Elaborate Patterns have always been Popular way of Decorating Cloth

Hand – block printing has been used since ancient times to add pattern to cloth.  It is a very consuming and highly – skilled job; the more complex the pattern, the longer it takes to produce and the more expensive the cloth is to buy.

Precision was key to the printers’ craft, as they had to align each block with the pattern sequence.

The printer dipped the printing block in the tub, which contained the ink.  He would not stamp the block onto the cloth, instead he rolled it on with the heel of his hand.

The printer would have worked long hours.  This process had to be repeated along the whole length of the cloth to add each detail and colour in the pattern and he would have to leave time for dye to dry before adding the next detail and colour.

Hand Block printing was not completely replaced by roller printing.

Where roller printing was limited by width, style and colour of patterns, hand block printing had limitless possibilities in creating wider and more varied patterns.  Requests for the rare designs of this craft continued, despite its slow production.

A machine printer can print a mile of cloth in an hour which would take a hand block printer several days.

Please note the article about Quarry Bank Mill is split over several posts.

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Category: Art Reviews