There are many ways of imprinting a pattern onto fabric but probably the most common is the traditional method of screen printing. The screen itself is a fine mesh which is fitted into a wooden frame big enough to contain the whole pattern. If the pattern is a simple repeat pattern the screen might be quite small and the frame can be systematically moved over the fabric to produce the repeat. If the pattern is a non repeat pattern that covers the whole scarf then the screen needs to cover the whole scarf. In the image below the screen is half the length of the scarf and the pattern is repeated in either half.
The mesh of the screens is overlaid with a blocking stencil cut to the required pattern which stops the ink being pushed through to the fabric. If a pattern has several colours then each of these will require a seperate screen. The ink is pushed through the sreen with a long squeegee or blade as can be seen in the image below. Generally there will be one printer either side of the table to ensure the pressure on the squeegee is even.
In the area of India that we use the printing is done in very large rooms on very long tables, usually 20mts or more. The fabric is laid out flat on the table and held in place by a type of wax that is spread on the table where the edges of the fabric are. The table will have been carefully marked so that each scarf is in exactly the right place and each screen will line up exactly with the fabric. This is critical especially in multi coloured designs as if the one of the screens is even a few millimtres out this will produce a noticeable ghosting effect. This truly is a highly skilled and specialised art form.
Screen printing is a very simple and effective way of putting a pattern on fabric and is still the most cost effective. Recently though digital printing has become very popular and I am sure as the cost of machinery comes down it will only get more so. Currently machnes that can print digital images onto fabric of the size we need start at about £50,000 and go up to over £250,000!!!!! Our suppliers are attempting to sort out finance to buy one which is a huge leap of faith.
Sreen printing is only suitable for certain types of patterns. Because of the way the ink is applied through the screen each colour will be separately defined and have a defined edge to the pattern. Digital printing allows you to print a hi resolution digital image directly onto the fabric and allows colours to blend and fade. The other big advantage of digital is that you can have a huge range of colours and tones printed onto the scarf. With screen printing there are set up costs to consider, as each screen costs about £30, so a four colour print will cost £120 before even starting. With digital the file is simply uploaded to the machine, the same as you would upload a file to any other media device. This is why you can get small production runs done with digital printing.
The image below is one of our linen screen printed scarves, YS1014, and this is a three colour print on an undyed fabric. In the last couple of years we have started doing more and more bespoke work, especially in screen printed products. Because of the nature of our supply chain we are able to offer bespoke products in runs of 100 - 200 scarves, which is something the Chinese cannot do. Because of the industrial nature of the Chinese manufacturing it is not viable for them to turn their factories on for less than several thousand. One up for the little guy
I remember when I was growing up and my mum would wrap a scarf round my neck on a cold morning before she sent me off to school. Whatever the weather I'd walk the half mile and meet up with my chums en route and we'd have competitions to see whose foggy breath was the thickest. There was no school run and no worries. A scarf was for winter and it kept me warm. When I was older and started riding motorbikes a scarf was a great way of stopping the freezing cold air from rushing down the front of my scruffy leather jacket, and it kept the bugs and dust out. To me a scarf was a practical means to an end.
Years later I was backpacking around and the myriad uses for a scarf became even more important to my comfort. To be fair it was more of a shawl at this point and used to double as a blanket, pillow, sarong, face mask, towel, sleeping sheet and many other things. Little did I realise how this multi purpose rectangle of fabric would change my life and how my understanding of its history and cultural significance would deepen.
I now know my warp from my weft, my ikat from my jaquard, my satin from my twill and my mixed yarn from my plain yarn. I now know to always carry a cigarette lighter with me when travelling in India and looking at products because it is only by burning a few strands of tassel and studying the smell, the ash colour and the residue that you will know the truth of what you are looking at. I know it's hard to believe but some people will try to cheat you!!!!!!! I have even been blatantly lied to in Govt run emporiums.
So now the little school kid with his warm scarf and foggy breath has grown up, in some ways. A scarf is no longer just that warm thing round my neck. It's a whole way of life. Now we design scarves, we have a custom manufacturing service which is growing rapidly, we have an intimate understanding of how our scarves are made and the community that makes them.We live and breath scarves and over the festive trading period we almost drown in them.
The strange thing about life is the uncertaintity that drives it forward. I certainly never planned to sell scarves. In my life I've been a salesman, waiter, kitchen porter, taxi driver, contract tomato picker, fisherman, yoga teacher, postman, storeman and worked in a motorcycle shop. I have also made rubber riding boots on a kibbutz in the Golan Heights, built greenhouses in Crete and worked behind bars in Oxford. So scarves were never on the horizon, until I got to the horizon. Of course I'm sure that somewhere over the horizon just waiting for me is another of lifes uncertainties and I will get flung off on another obscure tangent. That is the beauty of life.
Right now though, right this minute I am York Scarves and all year long our website is out there. Scarves are no longer simply an aid to keeping warm, they are a way of decorating yourself and expressing your personality. ............The hard part for us is guessing how everyone will want to express themselves but I think we are getting quite good at this. After all we have had plenty of practise. Anyway below are some of our guesses for the coming season.
So there I was madly packing scarves over the Christmas period and then a few weeks later it's almost June, and another Christmas on the horizon......Amazing....I guess when you are busy time does seem to hurry a little. We had a great time in India early in the year and ordered more new lines than we have ever done before. It seems from the feedback that we did a good job as well so here's hoping for another great year.
Rather than stick with our core products of cotton and viscose we have spread our wings and invested in some gorgeous silk and pure wool scarves. There is something about silk which cannot be replicated by man, thankfully. We have joined forces with a small studio in Kolkata which specialises in hand painted and hand printed scarves in pure silk. The painting is all free hand and most of the printed designs from them are block printed. We have used old traditional skills to bring some stunning new designs to market.
Indian weddings are always extravagent affairs with copious amounts of food, guests, noise and colour. Below are a few images I snapped on the night.
The newly weds
Sheela and I posing with the groom
Chicken curry anyone
The next generation
As the wind pushes the tall Poplar tree around in the back garden and the first greeny yellow leaves lay strewn across the lawn I am left in no doubt that the seasons are well and truly on the change. For us as scarf wholesalers Autumn is our prime time as our customers ready themselves for the coolness, and the warmth of the festive season. Soon the clocks will go back and the nights eat ever more greedily into the days until we are left with a 6 or 7 hour window of light to function by. Red noses and misty breath will take the place of sun tans and sweat as the balmy warmth of a wonderful summer slips into history to become a distant memory.
So what have my musings got to do with scarves? Well I guess not a lot really.............It's just that my life is ruled by the seasons and so is my business. I still have to pinch myself sometimes when I think back to how it all started , a backpack full of scarves and a £1.20 bus fare. Now our wholesale scarves come in by the ton and go out in their hundreds. When I started selling scarves at York Market it was Feb 2004. It was hideously cold and the snow and ice stayed around for what seemed like for ever. Since then the scarf business has been good to me, most of the time. At the start I didn't know my warp from my weft, or anything else about textiles. The growth of York Scarves has been one huge learning curve. I now understand about the structure of fabric, how the patterns are woven into the textile, the different techniques of dying yarn before weaving, or dying the product after it is made, the importance of fabric in the development of mankind and it's value as a tradeable commodity. When silk came from the Far East to the West along the ancient silk road it changed the world.
So I have mused my way through the evening. Time, like a never ending thread, spins forth.........and in truth we are lucky beyond belief to be here. In two weeks time we have two tonnes of scarves arriving, hopefully............it all depends on the whims of DHL and HMRC. Not only have I learnt a huge amount about the world of fabric but also about the world of importing. The simple fact is, that nothing is as simple as it seems, and if something can go wrong.........there's a mighty fine chance it will.
We fell into wholesaling through an accidental and organic sequence of events..............there was no plan. But now we are there we want to do the very best we can. Our weavers and workers in North East India have been an absolute gods end and continue to amaze me with their abilities and dedication. If you are looking for something original, unique and fair trade for your Christmas trade then click onto our website and peruse our fantastic collection of wholesale fairtrade fashion scarves.
In simple terms a tartan pattern is a criss cross pattern of vertical and horizontal bands in various colours. The English word, Tartan is derived from a French word, "Tiretain", which is probably derived from the word tirer which refers to woven rather than knitted fabric. Today Tartan is multi coloured patterns but originally it did'nt need to be made of any pattern. As late as 1830 it could be described as without any pattern, totally plain in design. From the gaelic speaking Scottish Highlands traditional patterned cloth was historically called "Breacan", which in old Gaelic means "many colours". As time passed the meanings of the words "Tiretain" and "Breacan" became fused to describe a particular type of multi coloured pattern.
Tartan in essence is a pattern made by weaving alternating coloured bands of threads at right angles. The weft is woven in a basic twill weave i.e. two over , two under the warp progressing one thread with each pass of the shuttle. This style of weaving forms visible diagonal lines and adds depth to the fabric. The blocks of colour repeat horizontally and vertically and the distinctive pattern created is known as a sett.
Our new range of fair trade tartan scarves using traditional techniques is now in full production and available from our UK stocks.
Obviously our fairtrade Tartan scarves are made far from Scotland but we are true to the weaving tradition of these traditional designs. Our weaving co-operative in N India uses only the finest cotton yarn and the patterns we produce come from the Scottish Govt Tartan registry.
York Scarves is always looking to take traditional scarf designs to another level and have many other patterns and designs waiting in the wings. If you have any designs you want brought back to life please give us a call.
Ikat is a process used to produce patterned woven fabrics. Our recently introduced YS856 is made using this traditional technique. The basis of the Ikat style is how the yarn is dyed and arranged on the warping drum in preparation for weaving. In our YS856 pictures below you can see how the warp yarns have been dyed in sections using navy, red and green dye. Each bundle of dyed yarns makes about a one inch width of woven fabric. The bands running across the width, or weft are dyed the same colours but not in the Ikat style. This is known as warp Ikat weaving. You can also get weft Ikat but this requires more time and attention as each weft thread needs placing precisely by the weaver. There are also double Ikat designs employing both warp and weft in the pattern.
At the heart of Ikat is a process known as “Resist dyeing” where bye a number of threads that make up the warp, or length, are tightly bound together over a short distance, anything from a fraction of an inch to a few inches, and then left unbound for the required length. These bound sections resist dyeing and remain uncoloured whereas the unbound sections are exposed to and take up the dye. The binding process is repeated at intervals along the length of the bundle of yarn. The complexity of the designs can vary enormously and can include many colours.
The Ikat style of making patterned fabric is centuries old and seems to have evolved independently in several regions of the world though it is best known in S America, S E Asia and W Asia. The word Ikat is itself from the Indonesian language and can be the nouns: cord, thread or knot as well as the verbs to tie or to bind. There are some examples of very complex Ikat designs from some years hence.
As many of you will know York Scarves came about not through planning but through evolution. From a backpack full of scarves and shawls we grew our business organically at the local market. You can read about how we started here in more detail. Since the inception of our wholesale scarf business we have tried many avenues to try and promote ourselves, not all fruitful, but we are moving forward. I am sure some of you will go to the many trade fairs around the country, and in fact a few years ago we were exhibiting at 5 or 6 shows each year. However the hit and miss nature of these events, along with the astronomical expense, forced us to look for a better return on our investment.
At the time we had a website which was generating some business but was not easy to use, either from the front end or the back end. It was built for nothing by a friend on open source software and as such was always a compromise. Eventually we decided we needed to take the plunge and invest in a nice shiny new website. After shopping around and having several consultations we employed a professional web design company. The birth of the new site which you are now on was a turning point for us. It is so easy for us to manage and from all the great feedback it's obviously a pleasure for our customers to use.
With the growth in trade over the past year or so we have had the confidence to keep pushing things forward. In 2012 we were accepted by BAFTS as a fair trade importer and now about 90% of all we import is from fair trade scarf suppliers in NE India. For us it was important to distance ourselves from the cheap Chinese producers and wholesalers which seem to have flooded the market in recent years and not fall into the trap of trying to compete with them. We have now managed to develop our own unique flavour whcih we are continuing to refine.
Moving on we aim to stay fair trade and unique. We now have a very close relationship with our suppliers and currently have about 200 families relying on the business we bring them as their main source of income. I have to say that I never expected to be in a position where so many people are relying on us.
If you go back a couple of decades hardly anyone in the west had heard of “Pashmina”. These days it has become a generic term for any large scarf, stole or shawl. In reality Pashmina is very fine wool which comes from the underside of the belly and neck of the Capra Hircus goat which is native to high altitudes in the Himalayan range, generally living above 4500 mts. Because the climate is so cold these animals have developed incredibly fine woollen undercoats to help keep them warm. It is usually about 12 – 14 microns thick and almost unbelievably soft to the touch. They are not sheared as a sheep would be but the yarn is either collected naturally as it malts of or is collected by gentle brushing. Each animal can yield 3 – 6 ounces of yarn twice a year. The yarn of fine pashmina is traditionally spun by hand and is used in an un-dyed form with its natural colour being cream through to a grey/brown. Traditionally in Himalayan communities men would were very long stoles and shawls made from the coarser “guard hairs” of the goat. These being the outer hairs that protect the soft fine hairs underneath.
The word “Pashm” stems from Persia and translates into the English word “Wool”. Some say that Pashmina means wool of the kings and was historically only worn by royalty and aristocracy. It was certainly outrageously expensive and not something available to the general populous. The most expensive examples of shawls made from Pashmina yarn are beautifully hand embroidered by highly skilled artists and one piece can take years to finish. Today a very top end “Pashminas” can cost over £5,000 in India. For centuries these fine pieces were, and probably still are, used in the dowries of the wealthiest brides.
Back in the early 1990’s the fashion industry “discovered” Pashmina and it became the must have accessory for the well-to -do lady. This was at a time when the economy was bubbling and high end goods were selling in volume. The regular price for a simple Pashmina stole made from a traditional Himalayan yarn in the UK was several hundred pounds, and there was no shortage of takers. Over the following years and at the height of its popularity people started to cash in on the name “Pashmina” and produce shawls and stoles made from lamb’s wool and silk as “Pashminas”. When I first started selling scarves and stoles in 2004 I used to sell pure hand spun traditional Pashmina shawls which I retailed for between £100 and £150. People would approach me wanting to buy a “Pashmina” and I would ask them did they mean a Pashmina or a stole. This usually drew a blank look so I would explain what Pashmina really was and show them an example. What they of course invariably wanted was a stole or shawl made from something far cheaper than Pashmina yarn. I eventually gave up trying to educate everyone and as the term “Pashmina” became more ingrained the vocabulary I to use the term in the same way. Now people talk of viscose pashminas, silk pashminas and cheap pashminas, none of which are of course really a “Pashmina”.
I do still get asked for pure hand spun pashmina shawls and stoles and can still get them. I can even get them dyed to the colour of your choice. Most of the Pashmina yarn used in the fashion industry today is not from its traditional source high in the Himalayan Mountains but from very large herds on the vast high plains of Mongolia which are carefully managed by large companies very much with business in mind.
When we started to wholesale linen scarves I didn't know a great deal about this particualr textile so I set about doing a little research.
Most natural yarns have been in use for thousands of years and this is true of linen. Fragments of fabric, as well as yarn, seeds and other parts of the Flax plant were discovered in ancient Swiss lake dwellings dating back over 8,000 years. It is highly probable though that linen dates back many more thousands of years. The production of linen is highly labour intensive and this adds to the cost and desirability of products made from it. In ancient Egypt it was at times used as currency and such was its image and symbolism as a product of light, purity and wealth that mummies were routinely wrapped in linen.
linen is made from the fibres of the flax plant and is grown primarily in Europe, Asia and N and S America. It has been prized in hot climates for millenium for its coolness and freshness and was immensley popular and valuable all around the Mediteranean thousand os years ago. The word linen is itself derived from the Latin name for the Flax plant which is "linum", and the even earlier Greek name for it of "linon". The word linen in the English language was also the source of the word "line" as lengths of linen thread were used to determine a staright "line".
The collective term for various houshold items of fabric has long been "linens" as originally this was the traditional yarn used to make such items, namely bath, bed, table and kitchen textiles. Interestingly the it was the use of linen in other garments which gave birth to two other words of English, those being "lingerie" and "lining".
Today linen is produced in relatively small volumes and is a fairly expensive textile. For summer scarves though it has become increasingly popular in recent years. This is our first year of wholesaling linen scarves but they have proven very popular and will no doubt become a summer staple of the York Scarves collection.
A scarf is in essence a piece of fabric that is worn around the neck or head, generally for warmth, or protection from the sun. Historically they were also worn around the waist for warmth. Apart from the practical uses of a scarf they were also worn for fashion and religious reasons.
One of the earliest records of scarves is in ancient Rome where its primary use among men was not for warmth but for wiping away the sweat and keeping "clean" in hot weather. Although worn for practical purposes by men women also started wearing this accessory and since Roman times it became a feminine item of fashion.
Historians believe that in China during the Cheng dynasty, (51 - 7BC), scarves were used in the field of combat to identify officers of the rank of Chinese Warrior.
It has been recorded that during the 17th Century they were worn by all ranks of the Croation forces. However only officers used silk scarves whilst the privates were issued with cotton scarves. These scarves were sometimes refered to as "Crevats", a word derived from the Frecnch for Croat. It is the crevat (Croation scarf), which gave birth to the modern neck tie.
By the mid 20th Century scarves had become one of the most essential fashion accessories and to this day they have a place in the wardrobe of most women. Apart from the obvious benefits of keeping one warm it is the ability of a scarf to completely change the nature of an outfit which has kept them in such demand.
The scarf is of course a small version of the "shawl" but the history of this is a matter for another article.
If you have read the "how we started" section of our website you will know the story. It all started from 50 stoles in a back pack and a £1.20 bus fare to the local market in the winter of 2004. I did'nt know what would happen, it was all an experiment, an adventure. I used to turn up at the market with a suitcase and a backpack and just trust to hope. Evidently my trust was well placed. Over the years things snowballed and now we have about 70,000 scarves in stock at the height of the season, or about 700 suitcases!
All this has been made possible by our partners in India. In fact if it wasn't for them York Scarves probably would not exist. We were lucky. We stumbled across our suppliers almost by accident, though I guess it was really fate. They were looking for a market and we looking for a supplier. What fascinated and amazed me was the respect and openess we were shown by them, and of course this was reciprocated. This is how we entered into the Fair Trade arena.
Fair Trade is about many things. I guess the very phrase "fair trade" conjurs up all sorts of images. At it's core though is the principal that a buyer will treat his supplier fairly. Alongside this is the principal that the supplier should treat their workers and their enviroment well, and operate in a sustainable manner. Fair trade should be fair all down the line.
A sad fact of life, especially where there is money to be made, is that there are many charlatans trying to jump on the fair trade band wagon. If you really want to buy fair trade products try to stick with suppliers who have accreditation with a governing body, like BAFTS.
Weaving is the primary means of making the fabrics we use in all walks of life. In simple terms weaving is a process in which two sets of threads, or yarns are interlaced at ninety degrees to each other to form a fabric or cloth. The long threads which run through the length are known as the warp, and the lattitudinal threads which run across and are interloccked by the warp are called the weft. It is the way in which the warp and weft are interwoven which give the fabric its characteristics. The most common styles of basic weaving are plain, twill and satin weave. There are many variations within each of these styles.
Most textiles are woven on a loom. In simple terms this is a device which holds the warp yarns in place while the weft, or filling threads are interlaced at right angles to them.
There is no doubt that weaving has been around for thousands of years and may even date back to the Paleolithic era. Fabric remnants though have been found in central Egypt and been positively dated back some 5,000 years into the Neolithic period.
Although there are many different styles of weaving they are all based on the same principals. For a simple plain weave every second longitudanal warp thread is pushed downward while the remaining threads are lifted upwards. A weft thread is passed between these raised and lowered warp threads and then the process is reversed. The lowered threads are lifted and the lifted threads lowered thus trapping the weft thread. The weft thread is then passed back across the warp and once again the process is reversed. As the warp threads are repeatedly lifted and lowered the weaver uses a beam to push or nestle the weft threads into position as the length of fabric grows.
Patterns are created within the weave by varying the warp threads which are raised or lowered. For instance the most common variation of a twill weave are plain, diamond or herring bone.
When I first started selling scarves I knew nothing about the structure of fabrics. It has been a steep learning curve but an enjoyable one. Thankfully our weaving co-operative in N India is headed by a Master Weaver whose skill and attention to detail are excellent and it is working with these people that makes our job such a pleasure..
Over the last few years our YS275 Net Scarves have been an outstanding success for all concerned. While all our other scarves are made using traditional weaving looms our Net Scarves are handmade in the truest sense of the word. Each piece is made on a simple wooden frame of about 20 x 70 inches which has nails evenly spaced around the edge.
While a rudimentary loom may only cost a few hundred dollars this cost is too much for many of the poorer families in the community yet they only need four straight pieces of wood, some nails and a couple of days training to make Net Scarves. The success of this product has made a huge difference to many of the most disadvantaged.