Meet the Makers: Halley Stevensons
World-leaders in waxed cotton, Halley Stevensons have been dreaming up new ways to weatherproof fabric since registering their first patent over a hundred years ago. We go behind the scenes at Baltic Works, Dundee, to meet the makers behind our weather-resistant Home Jackets.
Pioneers in weatherproofing, Halley Stevensons (formerly Francis Stevensons) have been manufacturing specialist waxed cotton from their home in Dundee, Scotland, for over a hundred years. Previously a jute mill specialising in upholstery, the company have been at the heart of Dundee’s manufacturing heritage since forming in 1864. After identifying a local demand for weather-proof clothing, Halley Stevensons shifted their focus to water-proofing, receiving their first patent in 1910.
Originally created to serve the fishing industry, early weatherproof treatments were inspired by sail cloths, which were coated with linseed oil and often repurposed by fisherman to guard against the elements. After years of experimenting, it was eventually discovered that densely woven cotton impregnated with paraffin wax was the most effective guard against rough weather, and it’s from here that Halley Stevensons developed their unique range of cotton coatings.
After receiving the loomstate cloth from BCI-approved mills in India and Pakistan, every process, from dyeing to coating and finishing the fabric takes place under one roof at Baltic Works. Approximately 50 members of staff between the office and the factory floor work to process thousands of metres of cloth each year, serving customers around the world with both stock and custom-ordered fabrics.
Initiating the process in the lab, dye specialists create bespoke colours for custom orders and technicians develop innovative recipes for new coatings. Whilst the colour is being mixed and approved, the loomstate cloth, all 100% cotton, is prepped for dyeing by running it through a desizing machine. Here a vat of natural enzymes break down any starch, whilst flames are used to singe away the hairy fibres and any loose cotton seeds.
Once desized, the undyed cloth is sewn together and loaded onto cylinders ready for the jigger (dyeing) machines. The colour recipe developed in the lab is put into scale and poured into industrial dye baths for the cotton to be pulled through, in a process that takes up to a day per batch. Whilst waiting to be dried and finished, the dyed fabric is loaded onto spinning frames which keep the fabric continually moving to avoid any patchy colour as the water evaporates.
Dyed fabrics waiting to be waxed are then evenly dried in one of two large ‘ovens’, which are also used to set any fabrics treated with non-wax coatings – baking the finish in place. Finally, cotton to be given a traditional wax coating is run through one of two industrial wax machines, which drag the fabric from cylinder to cylinder, through a vat of hot wax. Once coated and dry, all finished fabrics are carefully inspected and packaged up, ready for shipping.
Halley Stevensons pride themselves on continuing to innovate. Rather than relying on traditional wax coatings, the team dream-up new water-resistant treatments season after season. Already helping to reduce waste by creating durable, built-to-last cloth for clothing and luggage, Halley Stevenson now concentrate on developing eco-alternatives to chemical coatings, such as high-performing beeswax finishes.
Read more at www.waxedcotton.com