The 2019 Scarf Edit

We launched The Great Northern Cloth with a Kickstarter and hundreds of backers made a huge success of it. Together we showed that a 100% locally manufactured, sustainable product can stand its ground in the market. Although the project was really only the result of a stubborn refusal to accept the status quo on my part, and not initially intended to result in a commercial product, carrying on was an easy decision to take. So we bought the new clip and did it all again.

In 2017, the most loved reward was the Napier Blue scarf and we decided to weave it again this year. Three other colour ways make their debut in this year’s batch and we worked on a mechanical finishing treatment to make the scarf even smoother.

When I went across West Yorkshire to take delivery, it was hardly surprising to run into sheep on my way; they graze the gentle hillsides wherever you look. But what about the former textile powerhouses, the mills, omnipresent in this landscape wherever the open country condenses into small towns? This is where the link is broken. The woollen mills, once the beating heart of the UK textile industry, are no longer operating, with a few notable exceptions. You would be forgiven to ask the obvious: why are they not running, as the raw material for the world renowned, fine West Yorkshire cloth grows on the backs of thousands of sheep, right here.

The answer can be found in the country’s colonial past: although we have more than 30 million sheep in Britain, we are not using their wool to make one of our most iconic products. The reason? For over two hundred years, the Merino breed, producer of the finest wool on Earth and native to Europe, has been farmed at the far end of the globe: in Australia and New Zealand. Vast pastures and mild climes meant it made economic sense to outsource the supply. Sustainability was not a concern when Captain James Cook discovered the Antipodes for British interests. Enhanced further by the groundbreaking inventions in textile machinery that kicked off the Industrial Revolution in the North, the big mills were at full capacity.

Weaving is a skill that can’t easily be transferred to another country; it takes years to acquire and is often passed down from generation to generation. Some of the great woollen mills in the area have survived for that reason and are still going strong today. But the downside for the UK textile industry manifested itself with the dawn of globalisation, when related processes like scouring and carding, spinning and dyeing – skills that are easier to pass on – began to be outsourced to lower labour cost countries.

Carried out ‘on the way’ across the sea, these processes now take place wherever on the globe it is cheapest, also allowing circumventing environmental or labour protections legally. Once these jobs were gone, the mills closed down and skills were lost.

We have shown it made sense to pause and rethink. We now know it makes sense, rather than to ship raw material around the globe, to grow it ourselves instead – and pay everyone involved in the process a fair price. Growing wool for textile production generates a return for the duration of the life cycle of the sheep, up to 10 years. Young farmers are now beginning to look into keeping the sheep for a sustainable income, as a result of this project. We can all be proud of that.

West Yorkshire, Wool Country

Officially Award Winning

I am delighted to have received the Textile Society’s Professional Development Award. The concept of delivering the ABC Level 5 Diploma, an Ofqual regulated programme and highest UK standard in Bespoke Tailoring, as a stand-alone alternative to the traditional apprenticeship is officially award-winning!

The Society states in their announcement: “The selection panel were particularly interested in bringing an ABC qualification of tailoring to the North” and continues: “the application shows initiative and enterprise, specialist knowledge and strong professional experience. The strength of this application is its potential to disseminate knowledge through vocational education”.

As part of ITV’s ‘Tonight’ programme, I recently spoke about the skills shortage in the UK and how, in our sector, emphasis is being laid on increasing the provision of practical skills training in response to that shortage. There is a big offer out there for conceptual programmes but the real shortage is with practical training.

Filming took place at the Tailoring Academy, which I founded in response to what I know is an enormous demand for traditional tailoring skills: young people up and down the country – not just in our field but across all disciplines – want to learn to make things by hand again, a powerful antidote in an era of pretty relentless consumerism.

Filming at the Tailoring Academy

Much of my work focuses on developing skills in those older than school age. Typically, applicants are self-taught, have a segmented background of different roles in the industry or are fashion design graduates with a degree under their belt. These candidates are aware they don’t have the technical skills, pattern and garment construction in particular, they need to progress in their chosen career.

At the Academy, which shares premises with my bespoke tailoring house, students receive the entire bespoke skill set, giving them control over the process from start to finish. Once they have completed the one-year course, they are in a position to deliver the highest quality in garment making, enabling them to set up their own business or seek employment equipped with an acknowledged qualification.

Practical Skills Training for the Next Generation of Bespoke Tailors

The Tailoring Academy

Are you a fashion or textile graduate or perhaps a costume maker? Have you had enough lessons in ‘history of fashion’ and written plenty of essays on the subject? Do you feel you haven’t been given the opportunity to acquire the all-important practical skills in garment making?

Creative people up and down the country are looking for a chance to learn one of the most prestigious crafts, bespoke tailoring. And yet, there seems to be a distinctive lack of skills focussed training available in the market.

The Tailoring Academy ends this shortage by becoming the first UK training centre to deliver the new ABC Awards Level 5 Diploma in Bespoke Tailoring, as a stand-alone qualification. Designed in collaboration with the Savile Row Bespoke Association, the programme is focussed on delivering practical skills, opening up an alternative route to the traditional tailoring apprenticeship.

The curriculum includes:

• Individual (male and female) pattern drafting
• Planning and cutting
• Bespoke trouser, waistcoat and coat making
• Ironing and shaping
• Fittings
• Hand finishing

Students will complete the course with an acknowledged qualification, opening up progression routes to  employment, setting up their own business or applying their expertise in free-lance work.

Based in the foothills of the Peak District and yet only 30min from Manchester and 1h 40min from London, the Academy will deliver the qualification in partnership with Macclesfield College.

The training centre adopts a holistic approach – a working master tailor is at hand at any given time – and will deliver the entire bespoke process (cutter and tailor) to all students in a one year full time course. Places are limited to only six per year.

An equivalent of Level 3 experience in a related field is entry requirement for the Level 5 Diploma. Get in touch to discuss your individual circumstances if your are interested in this exciting opportunity.

Bringing Textile Production Home

A few days after I took delivery of the first bolt of The Great Northern Cloth, I received an invitation to take part in an event, aptly named ‘Made Beautifully Here’; organised by mountain shirt manufacturers McNair at Upper Mills, Slaithwaite, the heartland of the British textile industry, the day was an opportunity to sample locally manufactured products in the setting of the stunningly beautiful historic mill, only 10 miles from where the cloth was woven.

Meeting locals, many of whom had worked in the wool processing industry in the past, and some who still are, I was treated to anecdotes from when the area was abuzz with the racket of spinning frames and weaving looms. There was a sense of expertise, of knowing what they were talking about when they scrutinised the cloth – and nerves at my end. Everyone had to feel the cloth, to appreciate it with their own, knowing hands and there were comments that went down very well with me.

Textile manufacturing, wool processing in particular – scouring, spinning and weaving – was the beating economic heart of the Northern communities. West Yorkshire, the epicentre of the wool industry, has the hills and the water that used to power the thousands of looms housed in numerous mills scattered around the landscape.

The same hills were also home to the sheep that supplied the raw material for the world renowned cloth the mills were producing, and exporting around the globe. But today, most British sheep are kept for their meat only, and their coarse wool only fetches a pittance, sometimes not even enough to cover the cost of the shearing.

What changed? Modern work environments don’t require us to wrap up warm but to look smart, so the trend for the last 30 years has been to ever lighter cloth. The Northern mills are world leading in textile development and have created the most exquisite light weight cloths – but the raw material producers for the super fine wool needed – Merino sheep – were no longer kept on British farms: although a native European breed, they had been taken to graze the vast pastures of Australia and New Zealand 200 years previously.

It all made perfect sense as sustainability wasn’t a concern then. The wool was shipped around the globe, and – crucially – some of the processing started to be carried out ‘on the way’; scouring, dyeing and spinning were no longer carried out in the long established mills of the North, but in low labour cost countries instead – the beginning of globalisation.

Importing wool not only hurts our British farmers, but also wide parts of the textile industry: the last worsted spinner stopped operating in Britain only last year. We are lucky to still have some of best woollen mills in the world – let’s start by shining a light on their amazing work.

Next, let’s think about bringing the raw material producers home.

I am thrilled that the Yorkshire Post has picked up the story of The Great Northern Cloth for this weekend’s magazine.

Kickstarter: Help to launch The Great Northern Cloth

Some of you have followed my wool journey over the last couple of years, or have, indeed been part of it: I hope to bring to the market, for the first time, a Merino cloth with a 100% British production chain, including a new breed of sheep as raw material producers.

Everything is now in place to make this happen, but I need help to fund the next stages of the project: I have launched a Kickstarter campaign, hoping to raise money to create a brand, a dedicated website and to secure the 2017 supply of an extraordinary and very rare wool.

I embarked on the project when I realised it was impossible to source a light weight, soft wool cloth with true British provenance. I didn’t want to reinvent tweed, as my customers are looking for a lighter and softer fabric, with character but not the typical weight and ruggedness of the material. When I was unable to find such a fabric with a 100% British production chain, I took it into my own hands to produce it.

It took me 18 months to build a relationship with five Scottish farmers who keep Merino sheep that were originally bred for research into a more sustainable local wool supply. Their fine wool can easily compete with imported fleece and I was eventually able to purchase their 2016 ‘clip’ (the wool ‘harvest’). Long standing woollen spinners R. Gledhill Ltd in the Yorkshire borders didn’t hesitate when I asked them to process the wool for me but nobody knew exactly how the wool would lend itself in a woven cloth, or how it would take to the dye.

However, the risk paid off: last week I took delivery of the incredibly fine, soft suiting cloth, just under 12 oz weight, in a classic Herringbone pattern, and different colour ways. Project backers will be able to acquire a piece of textile history in the form of a scarf, a length of the cloth, or even the first bespoke garment ever made from the fabric.

Rewards are ready and waiting to be shipped in time for Christmas (with exception of bespoke garments, which take more time)

For more on the story and a chance to pledge your support, please go to

Thanks for your support, it means a lot to me!

The Great Northern Cloth

The Great Northern Cloth

Pictured above is Scottish grown Merino wool, the only one of its kind. It is incredibly soft, not what you would expect from a sheep that spends most of its live outdoors, in the hills of the Borders region. This week, it will be used to weave, for the first time, a fine cloth with a 100% British pedigree – The Great Northern Cloth.

Over the last 18 or so months, I worked with a group of highly knowledgeable people, all experts in the Northern world of wool manufacturing: Scottish sheep farmers, designers and graders, the British Wool Marketing Board and England’s long established woollen yarn spinners and weavers, they all played their part in bringing this remarkable wool onto a loom.

A family run business, R. Gledhill was founded in 1936 by Ronald Gledhill. Their Pingle Mill is situated in the village of Delph on the Yorkshire border, where textile manufacturing has been carried out since 1777. Peter Gledhill didn’t hesitate when I first showed him a single lock of the fleece, to assure me that this wool would make an extraordinary yarn, fit for a fine suiting cloth, the only one of its kind with a 100% British production chain.

As I had found out earlier, hardly any wool from British sheep is being used in British woven suiting cloth. The one notable exception is tweed, of course, which is, however, a whole different category of cloth – designed to keep us warm and dry when in the great outdoors.

The Great Northern cloth is a contemporary take on tweed, it will have all the character of a true British cloth but will be a lot less bulky, perfect to wear at the office, whilst travelling or even to a formal occasion. The best thing? It will be incredibly soft to the touch and flatter with a wonderful, supple drape.

Starting today, you can follow the story of the wool, the people who look after these special sheep and the journey to find the producers with the skills to make this remarkable, fine cloth, 100% in Britain.

At the time of writing, the cloth is still in loom and I can’t wait to see the first piece being finished soon. I had a sneak preview to how it will look like when I asked for hand samples to help me decide on patterns and colours for the new cloth. Pictured below is one of the samples, made using lambswool, as it comes closest to the new yarn in terms of fineness and soft hand.

Making Tails for Pavarotti

What do you do when one of the greatest tenors of all time walks through your door? It was the mid 1990s, I had qualified at the workshop of bespoke tailor Tom Reimer in Hamburg a few years earlier, but I was far from being prepared for the late, great Luciano Pavarotti to casually walk in, asking to be measured for a suit. Awestruck, I was hoping and not hoping in equal measures I would be the one making whatever outfit he had in mind.

As it turned out, and without having had a say myself, it was decided I would make a tailcoat -in white silk, no less- for the great man (which he was in more than one sense). I was terrified – what if anything went wrong?

A few days into the daunting task, a fitting was scheduled and our famous client came back to try his new suit for the first time. I didn’t expect to be involved as this was a job for the most senior master tailor only: direct contact with the client was his domain. The tailor working on the piece would be briefed when the client had left and apply the changes to the garment based on these instructions.

But, alas, not this time. Perhaps not ultimately surprising, considering he was the son of a baker and a factory worker, the great performer asked to be introduced to the people who actually made his suit. He came downstairs to the workshop and familiarised himself with materials, tools and techniques. Conversation was via a mix of spoken and sign language, but there was not an awkward moment. It was clear that the man was genuinely interested in the craft – and in the people who delivered it.

Not acting on his name but showing true appreciation for work that, in effect, was just as intricate and reliant on years of practice as his own, he had brought on a disarming sense of down-to-earthness, allowing us to refer to each other as equals in craft. When he had finally left I was compelled to make this the best suit the man had ever worn. What spurred me on was not his fame or his testimonial’s importance for the business, but to know that he would scrutinise the work done for him as a fellow craftsman, the fiercest possible critic out there.

Tailoring Academy

The Tailoring Academy

As a Master Tailor and Textile Engineer with 30 years experience, I am delighted to launch The Tailoring Academy as the first UK training centre to offer a new, exciting opportunity to learn the all important skills in a modern way – the new ABC Level 5 Diploma in Bespoke Tailoring. Combining the heritage of tailoring training with key production skills and cutting practices, this specialist qualification will give learners the opportunity to develop industry-relevant knowledge and demonstrate high levels of speed, accuracy, precision and consistency.

Fortunate to have received my training at Tom Reimer, Germany’s answer to the world-famous Savile Row tailors, I had opportunity to work for some of the most knowledgable and discerning customers. This was ultimately key to honing my own skills to the highest level. Read here about how making tails for the great, late Luciano Pavarotti, a truly terrifying challenge at first, turned out to be one of the most rewarding encounters of my learning years.

Today, providing years of meticulous training is often not a realistic option for small businesses who need to keep their cost in check. Common practice is therefore to train apprentices to be specialists in one area only – trouser makers, cutters or finishers – and become part of what is, essentially, a small production chain. This is beneficial for the employer, of course, but does not enable the younger generation of tailors to be entrepreneurs themselves. The wider issue is that skills are lost as a consequence.  The Tailoring Academy is here to change this.

The time has come for a training facility that addresses the shortage of dedicated practical training for a new generation of aspiring tailors. The Tailoring Academy provides a complete tailoring training schedule and fully a acknowledged qualification. I believe that young people with a passion for the craft deserve a modern approach to their training. Anyone willing to invest time and dedication to learn a skill that knows no shortcuts should receive a full education that empowers them to be masters of the craft.

In addition to the full-time diploma course, The Tailoring Academy also has short courses for individual and small groups on offer.

The Tailoring Academy


Image @fionabaileyphotography

Tailoring for Women

Men traditionally make up the vast majority of customers in bespoke tailoring, ordering a classic business suit or coat for the winter months from their trusted craftsman of choice. In sharp contrast, and despite a growing number of women in powerful, well remunerated positions, only around 10% of the UK bespoke market is accounted for by females. Why is that?

I enjoy tailoring for women, finding it tremendously satisfying to plan and then create a spectacular outfit together, with a mutual understanding of how it will ultimately look and feel. But after close to 30 years in the field, I can see two major hurdles when approaching a female bespoke commission: there is a distinctive technical and a restrictive societal challenge.

The Technical Challenge: Cutting for the Female Shape and Psyche

Women have different sartorial requirements than men due to their more shapely figures but also because they take a less utilitarian approach to their wardrobe. It takes solid technical skill and insight into the female psyche to respond to the challenge of cutting for a female client.

The modern interpretation of a female suit is calling for a precise yet flattering cut close to the body, sometimes incorporating a masculine edge to make it look its sharpest. It needs to work when worn casually but equally when buttoned up, requiring a structure that is both firm, to hold the shape, but also soft and lithe, to go with the flow of the movement.

The other stipulation is less tangible but not less demanding. A woman’s suit must work in more than one circumstance, a proviso that a man’s outfit rarely faces: dressing up or down, to suit formal settings as well as more casual circumstances, women like to play with their wardrobe, they need it to allow them to go with the occasion and mood of the day. Men, for the most part, want to feel comfortable in their skin, their most important demand is a perfect fit. A woman has many other demands, not all of which are immediately clear at the time of order and can lead to complication.

To put it bluntly, not many bespoke tailors are prepared or equipped to take on that challenge and I know of cases where female prospective clients were turned away, or, in the worst possible case, left profoundly disappointed with the result of their commission.

The Societal Challenge: Style vs Fashion

Women tend to replace their wardrobe more frequently than men, being more likely to follow the latest fashion trends, arguably because they still feel under more pressure to conform than men do. But following is not leading and the endless parade of ‘must-haves’ that fashion brands conjure up with relentless regularity means that women often don’t have the confidence to develop their own style.

Few women feel self-assured enough to truly invest in themselves, in goods they love because they underline their very own personality. When it comes to clothing, we adhere to what is generally accepted as the latest dress code but not with an understanding of building a wardrobe which affords us lasting enjoyment and value.

Being Ourselves

The truth is that nobody ‘must have’ clothing just because it has been declared the latest and most desirable by the marketing hype of the fashion world. On the contrary, I think most of us discover, sooner or later, that the most liberating thing is to be our own person, to stop trying to fit in and please the world around us.

Only when a customer knows pretty well what she is looking for in terms of style should she challenge a tailor who deserves the label ‘bespoke’ with her commission. Tailored exactly to her specification and figure, her bespoke coat or suit will give her that exhilarating certainty of being at home in her own skin. She should use that to her advantage: there is hardly a look more sexy than that of confidence.