Handmade: meet the dream weavers at Gainsborough Silks

Words by
Charlotte McManus

3rd January 2017

Blending past and present in heritage fabrics, Gainsborough Silks is one of Britain’s oldest mills, crafting materials for royalty, politicians and celebrities alike

Founded by Reginald Warner in 1903, and a Royal Warrant Holder since 1980, Gainsborough Silks has a rich and varied history studded with such high-profile clients as Buckingham Palace and the White House. What’s the secret behind the brand’s ongoing success? “We’re doing exactly as we did 100 years ago,” explains creative director Russell Sage. “Our mill has complete integrity — it’s changed so little and there’s a real attention to detail.”

It’s changed so little and there’s a real attention to detail

The production process takes place at the company’s Suffolk mill. As many fabrics are combined with other natural materials to create different textures, yarns range from Yorkshire wool and Egyptian cotton to Belgian linen and Chinese silk, before being treated with hand-mixed dyes and prepared for the weaving machines. “In addition to our old looms, we have two new Dornier looms with computer software to control them. But that only accounts for about 10 per cent of what we do,” says Sage.

Traditional weaving techniques

Traditional weaving techniques

The process, encompassing design, dyeing, winding, warping, knotting, weaving and inspection, takes between a week and 10 days, allowing time for the yarns to dry. “Every bit of the process is demanding, but that’s what makes it special,” Sage says with pride. “The mill is most alive when it’s being thrown challenges.”

Silk fabric
Swatches of silk are hand selected
Silk fabric swatch book

Gainsborough Silks is now preparing to enter a new phase. Artist and wallpaper designer Karen Beauchamp (previously of Cole & Son) is developing the brand’s core collection, set for release in September. “The collection will say to people: ‘We’re here, we’re up-to-date and we’re not taking away from you what you’ve always loved’,” Beauchamp explains, “but we’re being selective and focusing on the pieces that are right for now. We’re trying to build a foundation that people can use; rebuilding Gainsborough’s heritage, basically... We want to show off the amazing skills of the people who work at Gainsborough.”