Northern Society of Costume and Textiles
Lister's Silks, AGM and
St Peter's & St Paul's Church Hall, Wakefield

 Saturday, April 8th. 2017

Lister’s Silks, AGM and

Costume-Maker Extraordinaire’



St. Peters & Pauls Church Hall, St. George's Way, Standbridge Lane, Wakefield WF2 7NR



A sunny April day saw the NSCT welcome Dr Mike Bartle, former President of The Society of Dyers & Colourists, who gave members and guests a fascinating insight into the history of silk and its production at Lister’s ‘Manningham Mills’ in Bradford.

 Dr Bartle, who joined Lister’s from a velvet manufacturer, showed a short film made by him in 1986 for the Company, shortly before Lister’s moved their silk production from Manningham Mills to a modern production facility in Bingley. The vast mill, with its iconic chimney was famous for having, at 1.3 million sq. feet, the largest area of usable floor area in Europe until the 1930’s, but by the 1980’s, the 5,000 strong workforce involved in post war production had shrunk to a mere 40 due to technological advances and competition from the modern Chinese producers, making the Mill’s closure inevitable.


The film explained the basic processes of silk production, ‘sericulture’, being developed by the Chinese, who closely guarded the secret for 2000 years. The cocoon is created over a 30 day period by the silk worm and is then carefully unraveled to create one long filament, soaked and dried in a steam chamber to hold the twist in the fibres, before as many as 20 ends are twisted together form the final yarn for weaving into cloth.


The delicate process of unwinding the cocoons caused up to 70% wastage, until, in the mid 19th century, Samuel Cunliffe Lister developed a process which involved chopping up the discarded cocoons, enabling the fibres to be broken down and spun using specialist silk combing devices of his own design. This low cost and highly profitable cloth production, coupled with Lister’s developments in velvet manufacturing, revolutionized the industry and the Company became a world leader, with Manningham Mills at the forefront.


Dr Bartle finished by charting the decline of the British silk industry following the 2nd World War, with the loss of several Lister subsidiaries, such as Macclesfield based ‘Cartwright and Sheldon’, who specialized in high quality hand sewing, weaving and fringing for luxury items such as Designer head squares, Cashmere backed scarves and waistcoats, the labour intensive nature of such work being unsustainable by the 1980’s.


A short question and answer session further explored the loss of such companies, noting that ‘David Evans’ and ‘Vanners’ are among the few U.K. companies continuing to produce luxury block printed head-squares and handkerchiefs, ties and corsets. It was agreed by all present that Dr Bartle’s film is a valuable insight into Bradford’s lost Textile heritage and an historic document well worth preserving.


Following the brief formality of the Society's AGM, members and guests socialized over a buffet lunch.


Our afternoon speaker, Julia Perry Mook, was billed as ‘Costume Maker and Supervisor for all aspects of Costume’ and her witty description of her impressive and extensive 31 year career was illustrated by colourful examples of her Costumes.


Julia, the daughter of Needlework and Art teachers studied Display and Exhibition Design at Leeds College of Art, followed by an HND in Costume Design at Wimbledon College of Art. The hands-on course was tutored by several freelance Costume designers and Julia’s resulting knowledge of the workings of a Costume department earned her immediate employment at Covent Garden’s Royal Opera House and led in turn, to her going freelance after only 9 months, boasting a constantly full calendar ever since.


From her studio in Tadcaster, Julia has single handedly created countless Costumes for such West End shows as Les Miserables, Cats and La Traviata, interpreting the designs of Costume designers, including sumptuous gowns by David and Elizabeth Emanuel for ‘Phantom’s’ Carlotta.


In a similar vein, ‘History Costumes’ produced for Castle Howard, Temple Newsam and Armley Mills to promote children’s learning have to be historically accurate, but are also required to stand up to the endless pulling on and off by a class of 7 year-olds.


A succession of A4 sized illustrations of Costume designs was passed around to illustrate the diversity of each brief, with Julia explaining how, by using certain methods of construction and choice of fabrics, she overcame each new challenge, whether it be ease of movement in Opera and Ballet costumes, with two way stretch fabrics avoiding dancer’s baggy knees, or creating a ‘human’ crash test dummy for the ‘Autoglass’ advertisements.


Careful analysis of each brief and good organisational skills are crucial to ‘building’ a successful show, whether it be a Fish themed pantomime or York Mystery Plays.


The prohibitive cost of wigs and problems fitting modern feet into period shoes all tax Julia’s budget and hours are spent trawling vintage sites to find bargain pieces that can be re-cut to achieve the look required, mounting panels on polyester cotton giving the strength to withstand the rigours of a Theatre run. Inventiveness is the watch word, with Wine Gums standing in for Henry VIII’s jewels and light, but sturdy metal frames creating a well balanced, wearable base upon which to build Reindeer and Tuna Fish Taxi heads. Factoring in that the actor needs to be able to see and breathe, Julia uses wide mesh fabrics and has kept ‘Nana the Dog’ cool by inbuilding ice packs.


Julia’s skills in cutting straight into the final fabrics using only measurements means that she can assess how each Costume reacts to the movements of the actor, but also saves valuable construction time.


A most entertaining and diverse day was rounded off by a short question and answer session, with one Committee member modelling the Tuna Fish Taxi head, its neon sign lit and then sporting a Victorian ladies bonnet, which transformed with a deft one-handed movement into a werewolf, the neat ringleted fringe hiding a latex wolf mask and becoming a hairy chin.


Juila Perry Mook with three of her costume designs