Poppy’s placement Year at Warner Textile Archive

Archiving a collection of paper designs by Daniel Walters, dating from 1850 to 1875

Coming from a textiles background, I knew I was going to enjoy working at Warner Textile Archive. I am a weaver, and having access to seeing such intricate and old fabrics up close is something not many people have the chance to see. Coming here, I wanted to discover a different side to the textile industry, one that is not focused on practical design work, but rather preserving other people’s work. I am currently at university, and this year is a year in industry. The aim of the year is to gain experience outside of the classroom and discover new aspects to textiles. My course is very design and practical making focused. I do really enjoy this, but during my placement year I wanted to discover other things that you can do in the textiles world that require a different set of skills. Archiving is something that I have never tried before and I have no experience in the field. I came with curiosity and a desire to learn something new!

During my time here, I have been working on archiving a collection of paper designs by Daniel Walters, dating from 1850 to 1875. Daniel Walters & Sons was a silk weaving company based in Braintree that Warner & Sons purchased in 1895. The company was started in 1820. Daniel Walters came from a family in the textile trade and wanted to expand their small operation into a larger scale company. They leased their first mill in 1822 and set up base in Braintree, where there was already a thriving woollen trade that had been going since the 16th century. Eventually, Walters partner Samuel Courtauld III left to start his own firm in Suffolk. Walters stayed and grew the company, going from strength to strength. Although they received some criticism for their ornamental, more old-fashioned designs, Walters received international recognition for his woven silk furniture fabrics; even providing fabrics to Buckingham Palace.

Something that I have found really interesting, looking at these paper designs and point paper drawings, is how little the process of designing a woven fabric has changed in over 150 years. We still map out our designs by hand onto point paper before putting them on the loom. In modern day, there is a digital jacquard weaving system, rather than the cards used when Walters was in business, but the premise of the process has not changed. It is amazing how weaving has changed so little over the years. When I am working on the loom, it makes me feel close to the women 100, 200 years ago who wove fabric in the very same way. Working in a traditional way I feel like there is an authenticity to the designs.

Looking back at historical fabrics, we can learn so much about how design has changed and yet stayed fundamentally the same.