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Wales Part One: Pembrokeshire weavers

Last Thursday evening saw us west bound on the M4 motorway, to the end, then further still, the beginning of our long overdue South Wales trip. We were deliberately ignoring the old business and pleasure adage and were embarking a few days liberally mixing both.

Part One, Business. A long but hugely inspiring day immersed in the heritage of the Pembrokeshire woollen industry. Cherchbi is now involved with two specialist weaving mills in the area, Melin Teifi and Melin Tregwynt. Melin, it may interest you to learn, means mill in Welsh. There were once many Melin’s in this part of Wales, now there are fewer than ten. Those that remain do so because they’re good at what they do; the business of weaving.

Wales has a deep and well documented tradition of wool and weaving. As the 19th century turned, the national woollen industry was centred not in one of the larger cities, but, rather bizarrely, in one remote rural village. Dre-fach Felindre, home of Melin Teifi and now the National Wool Museum, was then known as the Huddersfield of Wales. Over 25 large mills were situated here, all producing a coarser, less expensive cloth than their Yorkshire counterparts. Their blankets, cloth and garments found a ready market among the miners and associated industrial workers of South Wales. Advancing technology had assisted the transition from home spinning and weaving to upscaled production within the expanding mills. Growth continued through the first world war as local weavers thrived on Government contracts for blankets, flannel and cloth such as ‘angola’ – a blend of wool and cotton used for military shirting. The boom lasted just under four decades. Post-war depression started the decline and as trends shifted to finer fabrics, demand for Welsh cloth dwindled further.

Both Teifi and Tregwynt have deep roots in the Welsh weaving tradition. The skills employed at each have been handed down, in Tregwynt’s case through three generations over exactly one century (they celebrated this with a pop-up shop in Heal’s during the 2012 London Design Festival). Both mills are respectful of their heritage whilst understanding the cultural, creative and social value their output offers to a contemporary audience. This simultaneous absorption of the past to inspire the future resonates with us. A deepening relationship with both mills is an exciting prospect for Cherchbi.

Our first photographs show Melin Teifi and their 1950’s Dobcross looms. Complex patterns are generated by the ‘pattern chains’, visible in some of our photographs, essentially these are analog design programs. We will begin trialling new Cherchbi cloth here in early 2013. Melin Tregwynt’s run slightly newer rapier looms. In the past they helped develop our Herdwyck No.10, on this visit we discussed a selection of their speciality double cloths, the beginnings of a new project.