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12 March, 2013

Tools of the Trade - March

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March; and Elvet Woollen Mill take their place as our calendar pin-ups. And from them we have an oil can and a cone of red yarn, both of which are used to make our Welsh Tapestry Blankets.

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Elvet Woollen Mill is one of the last remaining working woollen mills in West Wales, and has a history dating back over 120 years. For the past 30 years it has been run by Mike Tolputt and his family. And Mike is the best man to tell us about his tools:

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“The oil can has been in constant use for the past 32 years to my knowledge. It is probably fifty years old but still functions perfectly well, keeping all the machinery well oiled and running smoothly.”
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When he took over the mill, Mike inherited two 120" Dobcross looms, a super cop winder, holt cone winder and a new warping creel, which allows the mill to produce the iconic Welsh ‘Tapestry’ bedcovers.

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We have sold these beautiful blankets for years at Labour and Wait. We source vintage and antique blankets from all over Wales, and we never fail to be astounded by the brightness and variety of the colours. However, as their popularity has increased, so has their price, and it becomes harder to find the spotless - and the mothless  - examples we are looking to sell. So we were very pleased to find Mike and his mill producing high quality modern versions.

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At the moment we sell the blanket in the red, white and black colourway, but there are rumours of new colours being prepared just for Labour and Wait…

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“The cone of red yarn is a sample of dyed yarn used to make our Welsh Tapestry Bedspreads. It is a blend of 100% pure new English Wools spun specially for us by a long established firm in Huddersfield. It is then sent onto Bradford where it is dip-dyed using well established traditional methods.”

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“The natural yarns used in our Tapestries are from Wales and are, of course, the natural colour of the fleece with no dyeing involved.”

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So how much work is involved in weaving a blanket? 
“Setting up the creel and warping takes the best part of a week. When I have the warp in the loom, I must tie each of the 2,552 threads to the corresponding previous warp threads. I spent all day yesterday winding cops for the shuttles. Each king size tapestry takes three hours to weave, double takes two and a half hours and a single about two hours.”
“And just to keep me on my toes, I had a critical component on the loom break last week. Spares are not available so with the assistance of the local blacksmith I had to make and fit a replacement.”

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“Did you know that 7 miles of yarn is required to make 1 Double Size Bedspread, and in doing so the threads will cross over each other 5.3 million times. WOW.”

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WOW indeed, Mike. It sounds like a lot of work, but at least we have something wonderful to show for it. 

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Our thanks go to Mike and Alison at Elvet for showing us their mill, and for revealing the intricacies of the Welsh Tapestry Blanket.

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