Life as a Yarn Spinner – adapting to a changing world

23 August 2017

In the second instalment of a three-part series, Colin Lawton, grandson of the founder of Fred Lawton & Son, explains the business adapted to developments in the UK textile industry.

In the 1950s, we were producing woollen yarn for a wide variety of outlets including yarns for machine-knitted outerwear, knitted scarves, knitted jersey fabrics and a wide range of yarns for hand knitting.

We also spun weft yarns for weaving with worsted warp yarns for dress fabrics and blazer cloths and yarns for tapestries and furnishing fabrics. We also had a small but growing outlet for wool carpet yarns used in Wilton and Axminster carpets. We even made yarns for stuffing axle boxes on railway rolling stock as well as yarns for filling draught excluders. In other words, our facility was spinning yarns for a multitude of different textile industries using Merino and crossbred wool from all over the world, together with a large variety of reclaimed fibres, cotton and synthetics.

The wool textile industry in the UK entered a steep decline in the 1960’s due to the increasing use of synthetic fibres and competition from overseas companies with cheaper labour forces, we focused our efforts on the carpet industry which was enjoying a period of growth in the booming housing market.

The expansion into this growing market coincided with the technical revolution which was taking place in the spinning industry in the 1960’s.

Up to this time we had been spinning our yarns with self-acting mules with tiny spindles which produced small cops of only 250gms weight at a production speed of six metres a minute. Carding machines which were around one and a half metres wide were preparing yarn for slubbing at a typical speed of 20/25kgs per hour.

In order to ramp up production, continuous ring spinning was gradually being introduced but although it produced yarn faster, it had very low drafting capability and therefore a tendency to produce yarns with poor evenness.

Alongside the changes being introduced in woollen spinning technology came the introduction of machine tufting for carpet production. Unlike Wilton and Axminster weaving, a modern tufting machine needed yarn that was knot-free, effectively continuous in length and up to 1, 500 needles in its width. Carpet manufacturers needed yarn supplied in large packages (cones) of yarn with the same length on each cone which meant we needed faster, and more accurate production methods.