Who made my blanket: meet the Seljak Brand makers


Five years ago in Bangladesh, the Rana Plaza factory collapsed killing 1,138 people. It shook the fashion world, and it it ignited the world’s biggest fashion activism movement for a fairer, safer, more transparent fashion industry – Fashion Revolution. Fashion Revolution encourages people to ask #whomademyclothes. We believe in ethical manufacturing that doesn’t harm people or the planet. To mark Fashion Revolution Week (22 - 29th April) we share how our blankets are made and who by. 

yarn spun and ready to be woven

Recycled yarn ready for weaving.

Working with a mill that’s almost 150 years old offers a treasure trove of stories. When we visit we’re always delighted by the bits and bobs of wisdom, tragedy and triumph we hear from the spinners, weavers and other technicians that work on our blankets.

Karina paints a picture of mill life after a visit to Tasmania late last year by speaking with some of the technicians.

Ricky from the mill

Ricky in front of the carding machine.

Ricky: carding and spinning

Ricky is 40 years old and has been working at the mill for 20 of them. He owns the beginning of the blanket making process.

Ricky gives me his time and attention to explain enthusiastically what he does, starting from the very beginning. He knows the machines inside out – some of them have manuals that have never been found. The carding machine aligns all fibres to prepare for spinning. 

Right now he’s working on only half of the spinning machine, which makes the yarn used for weaving. He hand-strings all 288 bobbins, his hands a blur with speed. If the frame was full he’d race back and forth along a 50 metre wall to do his work.

“I’m not afraid of physical work. Head down, bum up, know what I mean. And the people – it makes the job a hell of a lot more enjoyable when you like the people you work with. When you’ve got a good crew it makes life easier.”

Ricky
Terry sewing blankets together to mill.

Terry: dyeing, milling and drying

Terry receives the woven fabric after it’s been through the looms. At this stage he says it’s like sugar bags. Stiff and rather rough, and if you hold the woven fabric up to the light you can almost see through it. His job is to felt and size the fabric – tighten the weave by washing and ensure consistency in width in the process (as it shrinks with washing). He also does the colouring and the drying.

Terry is a natural teacher. He wants you to really understand what’s going on and draws diagrams on the whiteboard behind him to explain how the microscopic scales of wool fibres grab at each other and with milling lock closer and closer together. I hang out with him for ages, watching the fabric wind round and round through the water, and Terry measuring the width every 10 minutes or so.

“Very little we do here is precise because we can’t work that way with natural fibres. We have to keep checking. There’s a lot of waiting but you can’t do anything else. Wait for the drying, wait for the hanks dyeing, waiting to get the right dimensions on the milling. Wait.”

“You gotta be fit an’ healthy to work here. You’re always running between dyeing and milling. Always lifting stuff.”

Terry went to textile school, enrolled in a program that’s no longer running, and has a rare expertise he’s now passing on to a new employee in their early 30s as he looks to retire.

quality control at the mill.

Quality control is a serious matter at the mill. 

Julianne: production manager

Julianne buzzes around the mill quickly. She keeps the workers on track and understands realistic timeframes better than anyone. She manages our expectations, which are high from fast-moving, digital, city life. The mill puts into perspective what it takes to make things.

Julianne has been with the mill since 1998, only taking two years out to work at one of the big four banks. She stayed through the roughest period when a major client pulled their contract to pursue manufacturing in China. About 100 workers were laid off and the future of the mill was uncertain. Julianne says new investment has brought smaller clients and more of them to the mill.

The renewed interest in recycling has seen a rebrand of the offcuts at the mill. “We don’t call it waste anymore. We call it reclaimed”, says Julianne.

Paul, a weaver speaking from his loom, says “I don’t know how she still has all her hair. Keeping us all in check would get to me!”. But Julianne finds time to drive me to get a sandwich and gives me a big hug when I leave at the end of my visit.

Watch our How It’s Made video or read more about the manufacturing process of Seljak Brand blankets.

Blankets for dyeing

Yarn hanging out to dry at the mill.