Tagged: Coats

Aug 15

Paisley: The Town That Thread Built




Paisley has been all over my Twitter feed recently because it’s been shortlisted for City of Culture 2021. I’m definitely keeping my fingers crossed for it. And if you want to know why I think it deserves such an accolade then watch this delightful BBC documentary, The Town That Thread Built, which aired last night. Hint: it has something to do with J&P Coats and their magnificent thread empire.

It was fascinating to hear the memories of the women who produced Paisley’s thread (for it was mostly women), and refreshing to hear a former factory manager (a descendent of one of the original Coats founding fathers) talking enthusiastically about the unsung importance of thread – even the distinct type used to make sanitary tampons. This is just the sort of obscure textile detail that I love to hear. So, please enjoy! Sincere apologies to those outside the UK who will be unable to view it. And note that it’s only available for another 28 days.

I was pleased to see a box of J&P Coats Bear thread featured prominently a couple of times in this film; in terms of design, this is one of my favourite antique reels, and I’ve had a full box (see below) tucked away in the Museum of Haberdashery the for some years now. The pink, dyed reels and orange thread are also a salutary reminder that the past was often more colourful than we tend to imagine.


Vintage haberdashery

J&P Coats Extra Strong Bear Thread, made in Paisley, Scotland

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Jan 02

American embossed wooden thread reels




The Museum of Haberdashery* –  a virtual, crowd-sourced collection of sewing equipment – needs your help. What do you know about embossed wooden thread reels?

I believe that all these North American (mostly) silk reels date from the earlier part of the 20th century. The brands include some of the biggest names in North American silk thread production: Belding, Corticelli, Richardson, Coats, Clark’s (in various guises and partnerships). What they all have in common is that their reels have embossed, dyed ends rather than gummed paper labels. If you can help at all with the questions below, please do leave a comment.


Q1. Were embossed labels a particularly North American phenomenon? 

Q2. When and where was factory-embossing of wood introduced? 

Q3. Was embossing reserved mainly for silk thread reels?


It would make sense that the same or very similar technology would have been used for other wooden items such as pencils, rulers etc too. Did thread companies ever employ other companies to emboss reels for them? I’m wondering how expensive the process was, particularly in comparison with gummed labels? It would appear to have denoted a premium product – and would have carried the distinct benefit of never detaching from the reel, so there would have been some branding advantage there. From an online conversation with textile artist Hannah Lamb, I understand that silk producer Lister’s in Bradford, UK, decided to invest in such embossing technology, but I haven’t yet discovered further details. I’d be delighted if you would disclose more here, Hannah, if you could bear to!

So, any enlightenment or thoughts you can offer, fellow antique thread enthusiasts, would be really wonderful. Thank you in advance. And may I take this chance to wish you a very happy new year?  Here’s a close up of one of the more obscure reels in this selection, produced by Berkshire and Becket, a Massachusetts thread company, and featuring the wonderful slogan ‘Bountiful & Better’. Here’s hoping for a bountiful and better 2017!




* You’re warmly invited to use the hashtag #museumofhaberdashery on social media to share you own sewing collection or interesting sewing-related items you’ve spotted on your travels


Nov 04

Temporary spool

I’m throwing myself into World War II re-enactment mode. My son will be dressing up as an evacuee tomorrow with the rest of Year 6 at his primary school. I’ve booked him in at the barber’s for a short-back-and-sides this afternoon. There’ll be a brown label round his neck – held on with green garden twine – and he’ll be wearing some old wire spectacles, a hand-knit sweater (shame it’s not a fair-isle tank-top), short trousers (which he hates) and he’ll be grasping an old leather suitcase and his teddy for dear life.  I’m supposed to dress up appropriately in order to wave him off, chipper and bright, with not a tear shed. Keep the home fires burning…

I have quite a few war items of haberdashery which I hope to show the kids, but I thought I’d give you a sneak preview.

Make do And Mend

Make Do And Mend, reproductions of official WWII instruction leaflets, Michael O'Mara Books, 2007

Nothing flashy or majorly propagandist. No images of Hitler or reminders to keep your trap shut while you’re darning. But some good, honest examples of the austerity environment, and how ingenious manufacturers managed to reduce packaging while not skimping on the quality or quantity of the product itself.

Temporary war spool

Coats' temporary war spool with its regular demob cousin

For example, the two Coats thread spools above carry the same amount of thread. I don’t know about you, but I am really tickled by the idea of a “temporary spool”; it holds the same surreal place in my affections as “vanishing day cream” or “universal primer”.

Wartime Sylko thread

Regular Sylko thread and austerity version

While Coats’ spools got taller and thinner – much like the average land girl, I would guess – Sylko’s spools got squatter. The boxes shrank, but still held 12 spools of 100 yards of thread, thanks to the clever folk at Dewhurst’s. Here I must add the disclaimer that I’m not entirely sure which war the smaller Sylko box was made during, so it might be even older. If anyone knows, do get in touch. There’s a picture of the wartime lettering on the side of the box here.

British Snap

Snap to fit, austerity style

The British Snap people had a geometrical field day, arranging their haberdashery into lines instead of triangles. If only today’s packagers would take note.

Little Scraplet will be carrying this authentic World War II blanket in his case.

War Emergency Temporary Spool

Grace's utility blanket

It belonged to my mother-in-law and has been in constant use since she had it as a girl. It still sports its wartime utility label, her girlhood name tag (in lovely red deco lettering) and evidence of mending. But I’ll come back to wartime mending another time. There are some more pictures of this blanket, not to mention more of my haberdashery, on Flickr. I’ll also come back to the great little Make Do And Mend book at a later date.

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