BRITISH TEXTILE INDUSTRY – CRABTREE FABRICS

As some of you may know I upload my vintage fabric finds to Flickr every week. Sometimes I’ll write a little something about the textile if it has the manufacturer or designer printed on the selvedge, but in general most of the fabrics have been cut and are unidentifiable. What I LOVE about Flickr is that every now and again someone like Bob Pedley comes along and comments on one of my pictures. Bob identified the fabric below as a Crabtree Fabrics Ltd print.

He was able to tell me what the fabric was made of (cotton bark-weave) and even what machine it was printed on (Aljaba Duplex). Apparently there was so much ink on the early prints that the fabrics could be stood up on their end. The coarseness of this design was considered quite crude – perhaps representing the operators getting used to the changes in printing. Later designs were much more precise.

Bob worked as a Textile Buyer from 1952 when Ben Crabtree set up Crabtree Fabrics Ltd. Crabtree were the main contractor using Heaton Mills near Manchester, England. Along with printing, fabrics were prepared for printing and other processes with bleaching and dyeing of cottons, and later man-made fibres, polyester, nylon.

Crabtree Fabrics were produced for furnishings, principally curtains. I asked if Crabtree collaborated with any art designers like it’s counterparts such as David Whitehead in the 1960’s. Bob said that most the designs were bought from freelance designers or design studios around Manchester or ideas were given to a studio who produced sketches. So no particular designer was collaborated with, although it was mentioned that Ben Crabtree bought from Conrad in the early days. I suspect the reason for this was that the fabrics produced at Crabtree were mass market and cheaper.

Here is another example of the sort of fabrics Crabtree produced. Thunderbirds were produced under licence in the mid 60’s. The irony is that these are worth a fortune now, so they may have well been produced using a famous designer!

Bob continued to work for Crabtree Fabrics as Export Manager and travelled widely in Europe & Scandinavia in the late 50’s and 60’s. When the Transfer Paper side of the Group was introduced he moved to Heaton Mills and ran Transfer Paper Printers Ltd., from 1972 until Heaton Mills closed in 1984.

When the mill closed Bob set up his own printing company acquiring the machines used and in recent years has scrapped perfectly good machinery and about 2000 rollers of the over 3000 they had.

Many Thanks Bob for a very interesting discussion.

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About Vicky Grubb

Once a kitchen table Upholsterer, now a fully fledged tutor, author and hoarder of vintage fabrics. My Upholstery studio is based in Bournemouth, Dorset, where I live with my husband and two tinkers.

2 Responses to “BRITISH TEXTILE INDUSTRY – CRABTREE FABRICS”

  1. gary barton October 21, 2012 8:31 pm #

    i worked at heaton mills as an apprentice engineer working for reg lees and assisted with the instalation of the crabtree transfer machines they were great machines to work on on.after serving my time i went into the food packing industry but after seven years could not resist going back into the printing game. i then began working for the manchester evening news,guardian and daily mail,and they had a crabtree printing press.what a great machine and brougt back great memories.anyway unfortunatly cost was to much to print in manchester so closed down,fortunatly i got another job in printing at oldham unfortunatly working for robert maxwell !!. trinty mirror is still going just about and so am i,thinking of taking eary retirement this year,sorry to go on but its great to revel in the past and present printing history
    gary barton

  2. Vicky October 22, 2012 8:40 am #

    Thanks Gary for your comments. Vicky

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