Sunday, April 6, 2014

There's No Fabric Like Mill Fabric

beach cover up pattern from Scientific Seamstress, fabric by Lotta Jansdotter
Yesterday I made a beach cover-up for HG for her birthday. I bought some completely delicious Lotta Jansdotter fabric for it. I have been coveting her fabric for quite a while. I really, really like her patterns. You can see them here. She sells all kids of fantastic things in addition to fabric. Anyway, I was thrilled to have an excuse to purchase a little bit to make into this coverup (pattern by the awesome Scientific Seamstress). And I think it came out very well. I serged all the internal seams! Even the curvy sleeve attachments! Yay for me!

But, and this is an important but, the fabric itself--the cotton--was simply not as nice as what I am used to from the textile mill near me. Nothing is. I have worked with plenty of fancy designer fabrics (Marimekko, Moda, now Jansdotter) and they just don't hold a candle to the luscious stuff the mill produces.

This made me think that perhaps you'd like a tour of the mill to see where the cotton comes from, their printing process, meet some nice people who work there, etc. etc. Well, me too! So I've asked the mill's manager if I could come and take a tour. Very, very sadly, he said no. There are apparently safety/insurance issues. I am also not permitted to tell you the name or exact location of the mill, because the fabric designers do not like it to be widely known that their fabrics can be purchased directly from there. So I can't send you to their website.

I can, however, repost some of the photos from their website, paraphrase some of the content of their blog and some videos they have, and try to summarize what Jack the manager has told me about the place. Below is the mill's building. The little red add-on building at the bottom is where they have their retail shop.

The mill has been a family company since 1937. It is one of a very, very few handscreening mills in the United States. They work with both established and emerging textile artists. They have low minimum yardage requirements, which means people who are new to textile design can have small amounts printed there and then go off and do whatever they want with their few yards of printed fabric--sell it, sew things themselves, whatever. They silkscreen all the fabrics by hand. They work mostly with cotton, linen, and cotton/linen blends. The linen all comes from Belgium and the cotton comes from a variety of places. Some of it is grown in the USA, but not all. Occasionally they do something in silk or even acrylic. You'd use acrylic for an outdoor application like patio furniture pillows.

They work with the fabric from start to finish. That means that once that extremely high quality, high thread count cotton or linen arrives at the mill they have to prepare it for dyeing--prewashing it, removing natural waxes in the fabric, stuff like that.
The prewashing stage.
Then they do the silkscreening. In the silkscreening process, two people walk 50 yards from one end of the building to the other with a single screen, which is that flat box between the two employees in the photo below (I think they need some new aprons from me, don't you?). Each screen places a different color on the fabric, so each screen is a different section of the whole pattern. I think I learned that they can print up to 30 colors on a single fabric. For each section of the fabric they pull the dye across the screen with a kind of wand-like thing, then lift the screen and do it again. And again! The screens themselves live at the mill, so when the designer wants a new run of the fabric, or wants a different colorway, the screens are all there.

The silkscreening stage.
Here is some Lulu DK fabric going up to the next step in the printing process.
After the dye goes on, there is a finishing stage which will either give the fabric a kind of luster or a matte look, and which will soften the material. This must be the stage that is important to me, because it's the softness and the creaminess of the fabric that makes me so happy. If you go to the regular fabric store, even ones selling the very popular, higher-end designers like the Lotta Jansdotter I bought, you just don't get fabric that feels this good. That feeling is called the "hand" of the fabric, by the way.

The inspection stage, maybe? I am not sure.
When I purchase the fabric from the little red building, it is on rolls a little smaller than the one you see above. We take it off the rack and cut it at the big wooden cutting table they have there. Then I take it home!  Even though they have preshrunk the fabric before printing it, I put it through my washer and dryer as well. I use plant-based detergent. I take it out, iron it, and it's good to go for a project.

I love, love going over there and taking a browse. The people are extremely nice and helpful, the fabrics are usually way too gorgeous to pass up, and even when I'm ironing it I'm happy. Sorry Lotta. Love your patterns, but there's no fabric like mill fabric!!


  1. The mill should hire you as their marketing strategist. I am sold; hook, line and sinker. I do not sew, but I love looking at fabric and touching it. Have you ever considered designing textiles?

    1. Ha ha, I know! I love that place. My biggest problem is that I cannot go there without buying something. And it is very close to me. Too close. :)

      I have thought fleetingly about designing textiles but really, so many people do such a better job than I would. I can't draw or paint or anything. I can construct (i.e. sew), but I don't think textile design is in my future.