A few weeks ago, I was given the great privilege to tour one of the two remaining gold and metallic thread factories in the UK. Natalie, from Sew by Hand, (you may remember her from the owl I stitched up recently) was visiting the UK, and had arranged a visit of the factory. Very graciously, she invited me along. I jumped at the chance! Not only was I probably not going to see this opportunity present itself again, but it also gave me a chance to meet Natalie in person.
About Benton and Johnson
The factory we visited is the factory for Benton and Johnson, located in Coventry. It was originally located in London, but in the 1990’s, when it was purchased by the Toye company, the factory was moved to join Toye’s existing weaving factory in Coventry. Both businesses focus on quality and craftsmanship. And once you have seen how these gold and metallic threads are made, you will certainly appreciate them a lot more!
The team behind Benton and Johnson is small. There are just two employees making all those lovely threads, plus Neil who manages the whole business. He is a busy man, dealing with orders, management, marketing, and to top it off, will get in and help if needed! The sad part here is that one of their employees came to retirement age a few years ago, and one is due to retire in a couple of years. And with no one interested in taking on these roles, there is a rather large question of who will be available to continue with this craft. It obviously isn’t just gold thread manufacturing in this position. There are many other crafts on the ‘endangered’ list – however it certainly does give us reason to consider what will happen in the not too distant future, and where our threads will be manufactured.
All the machinery used to create these beautiful threads have been in use for a long time. There is something to be said for building quality products! Neil remembers being sent down to London to learn the craft, and transporting these machines up to Coventry when Toye first bought Benton and Johnson. That certainly would have been an intense few months!
Not much has changed in the way our gold threads are made over the past few decades. Carefully, and lovingly, these threads are put through their paces in these lovely old machines. There is no technology involved here – and if something goes wrong, it can at times take a few days to get the machine back up and running.
Lets have a peak!
First up, the factory floor.
This machine here is wrapping fibres which can then be used in wrapped threads such as passing thread.
The metal thread is being wrapped around the core of silk or nylon.
It is a skill that uses a lot of know-how and skill.
Adjustments are made not by using a computer, but by using weights to change the tension, or the thickness of the metal.
Metals are put to work with this machine – they are guided through here and flattened. The amount they are flattened is again changeable by weights.
Spinning large bullions is done by hand. Great consistency is required to ensure all the bullion of the order are the same!
Next up – making long strands of pearl purl and red check purl.
The red check purl is guided into long lengths in the pipe.
The pearl purl winds round and round the basins at the bottom.
The process of stretching copper pearl purl is a long one, and requires a lot of patience – winding and stretching onto the large bobbin, then taking it off to another bobbin (by hand), to then be stretched again onto the large bobbin!
And to finish – bobbins!
The first picture shows some threads being wound onto the bobbin.
And the second – just some of the many bobbins ready to be used!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little look into the making of gold threads.
For me, it was certainly an eye opener as to just how labour intensive these threads we use are to produce.
And a big thank you to Neil, Dot and Dave. Natalie and I spent a couple of hours touring their workshop, and they were more than willing to give us their time and knowledge on this craft. Let us hope that someone will want to learn this craft from them, so the manufacturing of our metallic threads can remain in the UK.