It’s no secret that the Woolrich Mill boasts an extraordinary history as the longest continually running mill in the United States. Since 1830, our mill has served as the cornerstone of a deep and long-lasting commitment to producing premium American fabrics. Bales or raw wool still come in one end of the mill, and after a good deal of work, exit as superior fabric.
However, lesser known than the mill itself are the generations of talented and wonderful individuals who have worked with us over the years to produce the quality goods that you have come to know and enjoy. In our newest blog series, The People of Woolrich, we aim to provide a window into the lives of these amazing people.
Woolen fabric design is much more an art than a science. Working with a natural fiber to create a beautiful pattern is a complicated process that takes years of experience to learn and perfect. At the Woolrich Mill, Rob Stuart is the person responsible for designing and making sure that the wool coming off our looms is world class quality. Rob recently took a few minutes out of his busy day to talk to us about his role at Woolrich. Read the interview below.
How long have you been working with Woolrich, and how did you get your start with the company?
I was approached for the position, and have enjoyed it for more than 18 years.
What are your main responsibilities at the mill?
Arranging and coordinating all aspects of fabric design for both samples and production. Also, to access and maintain quality of fabric production from start to finish.
Would you talk us through a typical day at the mill?
A typical day would start by checking emails, reviewing priorities for the day, and coordinating and prioritizing ongoing projects, as well as new ones as the day progresses.
Some days, a lot of the time is spent visiting departments in the mill, and answering questions pertaining to production: yarn manufacturing (blends color, strengths, weights); weaving and loom set ups (includes checking the looms twice a day as fabric is woven); finishing (fulling, napping, shearing, decating); final inspection and requirements; and testing and requirements for both the Woolrich lab and outside testing.
Other days we are following up on inquiries, calling customers, or working with them in the mill to establish their requirements and meet their needs. This, in turn, provides opportunities to create new fabric designs.
What’s your favorite part about working at Woolrich?
Meeting customers, and taking on new projects. Hosting clients at the Woolrich Lodge and having them in the mill is an opportunity to get to know more about what they do and how they do it. This helps with working through their vision, and designing fabrics to their satisfaction. We help make up the recipe in the beginning, and, once designed, it’s monitored through all aspects of manufacturing. We have a diverse customer base, and it is gratifying to know that Woolrich fabric is being used in many products all over the world.
Woolrich is the longest continuously operating mill in the country. Do you feel a sense of pride in knowing that you’re a part of that?
Yes, of course. To be part of the heritage and history of Woolrich, and to have the knowledge and experience of the entire team working together to produce a quality product is a great thing.
The Woolrich mill is a vertical mill, which is special in that production starts with the wool fiber and ends with the finished fabric. My textile design education was a good preparation for all the aspects of fabric production. Designing is initiated either with a team within Woolrich, or with the customer, and then passed onto the production team. This team of sixty-five, most of whom have spent their lives making fabric, are the ones that get the job done.
Are there any exciting projects you’re working on that you’d like to share with us?
All projects have their excitement in that they are varied and end up in many different products. This includes apparel lines, or having fabrics as part of a designer’s collection, as well as fabric for blankets, shoes, upholstery, and reenactments to name a few.
Outside of designing wool for Woolrich, what are your other hobbies and interests?
My other hobbies include photography, art, and painting…at one time on canvas, and now on furniture.
Photo Credit: Josh Everitt