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  • Sam Weller takes Sunderland design students behind the scenes with educational Yorkshire tour of weaving, dyeing and textile testing.

    Specialist cotton weaver Sam Weller has given design students an insight into the day-to-day processes of the fashion trade with a whistle-stop tour of Yorkshire. The Holmfirth-based weaver invited Fashion Design & Promotion (BA) students to visit its premises as part of its ongoing collaboration with the University of Sunderland, which began in May 2018.


    Now in its second year, the collaboration has seen Sam Weller donate over 174 metres of fabric to date to the design department. The partnership allows students to create their Year 2 project designs from genuine, locally-sourced British fabric, inspiring the next generation of designers to support British manufacture with their creative vision.


    Last week’s visit provided an additional dimension to the project, giving students a unique insight into the technical processes of fabric production. Sam Weller’s head of weaving Paul Townend welcomed delegates with an interactive workshop, demonstrating the theory behind weaving with a range of simplified pattern diagrams including a plain weave, twill variations and hopsack. The visitors were then given a tour of the mill, where they benefitted from a hands-on demonstration of some of Sam Weller’s 27 looms.


    Local dye specialist DP Dyers was also happy to share its expertise, and gave the students a tour of its nearby premises in Honley, West Yorkshire. Head dyer Adam Pursell demonstrated the basic processes of commission fabric dyeing from colour-matching to finishing, and educated the would-be designers on the potential pitfalls of metamerism when dyeing to order for fashion manufacturers.


    “The textile trade is strong in this part of Yorkshire, and we were happy to welcome these young designers to take a look behind the scenes of fashion design and production,” says Adam Pursell. “Most mills and fashion finishers are only too happy to give graduate designers a chance when it comes to employment, but there is often a massive in their technical knowledge. Any would-be designer can benefit from a basic insight into how fabric is produced and finished, so that they can bear these processes in mind when creating the designs of the future.”


    Sam Weller’s parent company SDC Enterprises also got involved in the educational tour with a brief insight into the basics of textile testing for quality control. Students were invited into the on-site laboratory alongside Sam Weller’s specialist weaving plant, where technical manager Jonathan Foister and technician Ian Auckland demonstrated a tensile testing machine to ascertain the strength of fashion fabrics, a crockmeter test for colour fastness purposes and a Martindale test for fabric abrasion.


    “If these students go on to design for major high street retailers, these are the sort of test results that they will received for the garments they design,” says Jonathan Foister. “Textile testing and quality control is an integral part of the apparel sector and only when design students understand the testing procedures can they design a range of fashion that functions.”


    The tour closed with a presentation of six qualities of fabric, including a unique roll of “Sunderland cord” woven specifically for the students on a bespoke basis. The students will now follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, creating two full outfits from the fabric for a fashion show to be held in spring next year.


    “It really was an incredible day for the students, and an invaluable insight into the real fashion industry within which they will hopefully forge their careers,” says Fashion Design & Promotion’s programme leader Jayne Smith. “We all gained such a lot from the knowledge that the entire SDCE, Sam Weller and DP Dyers team imparted, and we are so very grateful for their continued sponsorship of the Year 2 fashion project.”


    The students’ designs will be unveiled in their entirety at the Sunderland University City Space in June next year.