Juliet Bailey, founder of the Bristol Textile Mill

SCP Textiles

In Conversation with Juliet Bailey

We talk to one of the founder's of the Bristol Textile Mill, the modern design and development facility, who make SCP's textile come to life.

SCP recently launched a new textile design called Static, by long-time collaborator Donna Wilson. SCP has been producing a collection of textiles since Donna’s debut design “Nos Da”, back in 2009. Originally spun, dyed and woven by a traditional Welsh textile mill, the first design tapped into the rich thread of British textile history by utilising a time-honoured double cloth weaving technique.

The popularity and demand for a range of colourful textiles has not waned since, which reflects a broader change in interior spaces; with patterned and characterful surface finishes becoming something of a standard. Continuing to work with Donna Wilson, SCP has produced a new textile collection every few years, with different designs and colourways regularly coming on stream. For this purpose, in 2017 SCP partnered with the Bristol Weaving Mill, a thoroughly modern textile design and development facility right in the centre of the city, founded by Juliet Bailey and Franki Brewer.

In an effort to understand more about how SCP textiles are conceived and made, SCP’s Editor Duncan Riches interviewed Juliet, and found out more about a small but important renaissance within the British textile industry.

Static throw by Donna Wilson for SCP, in blue pearl colourway.

We begin by discussing the origins of Bristol Weaving Mill, over a decade ago.

“We started in 2009 by launching Dash & Miller, which is the sister company to the Bristol Weaving Mill, that specialises in design concepts and development. We began with just two hand looms and made a selection of designs and took them directly on a plane to Italy, going to see various textile mills over there, to basically sell them concepts. This was around the time of the financial crash, but I suppose we were young enough to take a risk in starting something, and I always think that if you start during a period of difficulty, the only way you can go is up.”

"We began around the time of the financial crash, but I always think that if you start during a period of difficulty, the only way you can go is up."

Juliet Bailey

The risk paid off, and Dash & Miller began to steadily grow a client base in the UK, Italy, and also in the US and Japan. The market was showing an increased appetite for, what Juliet calls, ‘visually rich and technically complicated designs’, especially for use in interior spaces. However, after three or four years of organic growth, Juliet and Franki realised that they needed to step back and assess their offering, and most importantly respond to what was becoming a regular client request.

“We started to get a lot of requests for us to handle manufacturing, because people would be unsure if their current suppliers would be able to do something. So, that got us thinking, that this was the next logical step for us. So we started to look at how we could become a manufacturer in some way, whether that was partnering with people, or actually doing some of it ourselves.”

At this point, Juliet and Franki had both moved to Bristol from London, and were finding it an ideal location to set up a creative business, particularly one focused on textiles.

“Bristol seemed to have the right creative energy for us. From a design studio perspective, rent is so much cheaper, you can get the space to have loads of machines. It’s also got really good connectivity. We’ve got access to suppliers all over the country, we are just next to the Welsh weavers, there is yarn spinning and textiles down in the South-West, and also up in Yorkshire. It’s just a really good location for accessing loads of different things.”

In search of some answers about manufacturing possibilities, Juliet and Franki undertook a self-led journey around the UK, visiting as many weavers, mills and suppliers as possible. They were supported in this journey by Qest, The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, which is the Royal Warrant Holders charity, who specifically support crafts people.

“The Royal Warrant Holders network is amazing, there are a lot of manufacturers in the UK who were in that umbrella, and a lot of end suppliers too. It’s quite a strong supportive network.”

"Bristol seemed to have the right creative energy for us. It's just a really good location for accessing loads of different things.”

Juliet Bailey

What they learned on their journey, was that if they wanted to manufacture in the UK, it would be better if they continued to do the sampling and development stage in-house. They found that as a rule, the bigger manufacturers found it difficult to develop new designs, set up as they are for large quantity orders. Design and development, as SCP knows only too well, takes a lot of time and resources. Juliet explains:

“Manufacturers and commissioned weavers make the money on picks woven, the development stuff is not really in their interest, that is where they struggle, and actually for us that is the bit we want to do. So it made logical sense for us to do the industrial sampling in-house, and also by having that facility we can choose to do special projects, and we can choose to have things woven here if we need to for the integrity of the product for example. Essentially we can use our CAD system, our hand looms and industrial machines to prototype orders and do sampling, and then ship out the industrial manufacturing to the experts, that is what they want to do. They do it day in, day out, and we have already done the troubleshooting for them.”

Their fact finding mission also emboldened them to invest in their first industrial machine.

“The trip around the UK was an eye opener for us, we are a bunch of textile designers, it hadn’t occurred to us that we could operate industrial machinery, so this opened up our eyes to what those manufacturing environments were like. We saw that it would be totally possible, with the right training, for us to work with industrial machinery and to deal with it ourselves. So that was really encouraging as well.”

So with some more investment into both machinery and the building they occupy, Bristol Weaving Mill became a viable business, and Juliet and Franki found themselves at the centre of an emerging textile scene.

“When we moved here, there was no textile industry, well there was one print studio. Now there is quite a healthy, vibrant community of textile designers and weavers, and small companies setting up, dying and so on. There is a whole South West fibre scene.”

Beautiful machines at the Bristol Weaving Mill.

Soon after they had founded the Bristol Weaving Mill, SCP’s product development team happened to be looking to transition from the previous traditional Welsh textile mill they had been using, and they were introduced.

“Actually, we will forever be loyal and indebted to SCP, because they placed our first large substantial order. In a way that helped build the foundations for our growth.”

What does Juliet think is behind the increase in demand for intelligent textiles for interiors?

“I think it stems right back to the customer being much more well informed, through social media and other channels. Everybody has a much more elevated sense of design and visual communication, I think that is in-built into society now, and we have to build on that. It’s exciting for us, as we do more interesting projects.”

In the case of Donna Wilson’s new Static textile for SCP, can you explain a little more about how that came to life?

“I love it when Donna comes to me with a new idea, and we can just go and run with it. Our weaving partner for the project also embraces creating more extraordinary things. They are so engaged. We have a couple of mills we work with, and a couple of finishing companies, one in Yorkshire, one up in Scotland, and they are amazing. We have built a relationship with them that is based on the fact that our designs are a bit more unusual. It requires a bit more communication, and a bit more understanding of the overall product, which they have.”

“I love it when Donna comes to me with a new idea, and we can just go and run with it. Our weaving partner for the project also embraces creating more extraordinary things."

Juliet Bailey

In fact, the process of developing a new design like Static, is far more complicated than one might think.

“We start with Donna’s design and we interpret her ideas into weaving. It actually happens in CAD weaving software first. We will do textile simulations, before it goes any further. In this case, we actually didn’t do any hand-looms, as we had an existing quality fabric, but we had a new pattern for it. At this point in development Tim and Sheridan (from SCP) have input in the colour ways, and as we had a certain amount of yarn to work with, it becomes a mathematical problem as well. With x number of kilos of this, and x number of that. So we had to work out what we could do with all of that together. We basically send the recipe up to the Mill in Yorkshire, who double check everything, and then things go straight to loom. After weaving, there is a whole process that I don’t think people know about. At this stage, the textile is not perfect, and it has to go through a mending quality control process. So you get dedicated people in textile mills who are darners, so if there is a broken thread or something, they will darn it back in, so at the end of it you have a perfect fabric. Then it goes to finishing, where it gets washed to remove any industrial oils that might be in there because of spinning, and then also it gets a decatising finish, because it is for upholstery, it gets pre-shrunk. Then there is a lot of testing. If we were doing blankets or cushions, there would be a whole cut and sew process, but SCP do that for themselves.”

Working tools at the Bristol Weaving Mill
Hand work at the Bristol Weaving Mill

As a maturing business, what are your plans now? More growth, or are you happy with the ecosystem as it is?

“We are in a gentle expansion phase, we have just bought new machinery in-house. We can’t have all of the facilities in-house, but we can make it as vertical as possible. The more self-sufficient we can be in the development stage, the better for us. We are also slowly developing new avenues, and will start exporting at a small scale soon. We are very lucky in this country, in the fact that the textile support network is very good. People are very generous and supportive, and we are trying to be that way too.”

A big thank you to Juliet Bailey for taking the time for this interview and giving us an insight into the life of SCP textiles.

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