On our travels in Yorkshire, Jaime and I got to visit some of Britain's incredible fabric spots! We we were so close to Standfast & Barracks—the fabric printing company that prints for Liberty of London—and we jumped at the chance to go visit them in Lancaster.
We went straight to their factory outlet store, known for its factory seconds. You guys... rolls and rolls of Liberty waited there for us at heavily discounted prices. These were factory seconds of course, but they were beautiful and perfect in our eyes, and we went a bit crazy. We carry a lot of Liberty Tana Lawn at our Denver shop, but this was our chance to get even more of the irresistible prints in our stashes!
The Factory Shop was at the doorstep of the fabric printing factory itself, and Jaime—that brave lass that she is—walked right in to see if we could have a tour. The folks at Standfast & Barracks kindly agreed, dressed us up in a safety wardrobe, and showed us the amazing multitude of processes that fabrics go through to become the vibrant prints and hues that we love.
Fabrics arrive in thousand meter piles and the first thing that happens is they get torched. What!? To prep for printing they quickly send the fabric through a high temperature flame, which burns off any stray fibers or strings that would blur or mess up the printing. From the fire, the fabric gets wrapped onto a giant 1000 meter roll, while being saturated in a liquid that gets the fiber ready for dyes. This process allows the fiber to reflect the dye better so that less dyestuff has to be used.
The facility has three main methods of printing—continuous drum screen printing, flat screen printing, and digital printing.
The drum screen printing process is so fantastic. The screens are several hollow metal drums, one drum for each color that is used in the print. This setup can use up to 24 drums, which means up to 24 colors per fabric. The drums hold the pigment inside and continuously roll to screenprint the fabric as it runs underneath. The circumference of the drum is equal to the repeat on the finished fabric, so for an 18" repeat the drum would be 18" around.
Because many of the fabrics will be reprinted in the future, a lot of the warehouse space is dedicated to storing these specialized screens.
In another part of the factory, typical flat screens were used to print fabrics. Once it gets going this is mostly mechanized, but workers start by setting up an assembly line style row of screens, making sure each print is lined up in succession, and dialing in the placement of each screen by using the dots on the selvedge. As the fabric prints, they also keep an eye on the amount of ink in each screen, adding more pigment as necessary. The fabric being printed stretches the length of the warehouse, moving incrementally under a series of up to 24 large screens. The screens all plop down on the fabric in unison, and print a section at a time until all the layers of artwork have been added. It was amazing to watch!
Finally we visited their digital printing department, which had a clean and modern vibe compared to the rest of the factory. The fabric printing equipment here is exactly like giant inkjet printers, but with way more ink ports than any home printer! The quality of the printed fabrics coming out of these machines has such a crisp and clear look to the imagery.
Standfast & Barracks was such an amazing experience! We are grateful that we got to see into the amazing processes behind fabric printing.
On our last day in England I headed with Jess to York to hit up some city sights, while Jaime immersed herself in nature and hiked three mountains. York was an adorable and bustling old town, so lovely to walk around.
On the way home we stopped at Fabworks in Dewsbury. This fabric mill ends shop is a stunning representation of the region's fashion fabrics, with walls of beautiful shirtings, wools, and lawns. I came home with meters of wool, and so many great plaid shirtings!
Thanks Yorkshire, for the beautiful sights, amazing sheep culture and textile inspiration!