Warner Textile Archive and Claremont

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House & Garden, mars 2016

Warner Textile Archive and Claremont

Warner Textile Archive and Claremont

In Brief

In the late seventeenth century, William Warner worked as a scarlet dyer in London. His descendant, Benjamin Warner, picture above, started a fabric design firm in 1857, later bringing on board his sons Alfred and Frank, and signaling the birth of Warner & Sons.


Through a new collaboration with Claremont, the Warner Textile Archive is bringing back its historic designs, rethought for the twenty-first century.


Within the myriad drawers of the Warner Textile Archive in Essex lies a treasure trove of inspiration. Set up to record the history of the fabric company Warner & Sons from its arrival at New Mills in Braintree in 1895 to when it stopped manufacturing there in 1971, the archive holds over 60,000 fabric samples. Some were produced by Warner & Sons and others collected by the companies owners and designers. Together they document almost 500 years of textile design. Yet, although it celebrates and conserves history, it also has its eye firmly on the future. In a rare reversal of fortune, 45 years after Warner & Sons ceased weaving at New Mills, the Warner Textile Archive is going back into manufacturing with the relaunch of 11 historic fabrics.

This part of the archives story begins almost six years ago, when its archivist and commercial manager, Kate Wigley, was considering sources of revenue. When Warner & Sons, renamed Warner Fabrics, was eventually sold in the Eighties, the archive became a separate entity and changed ownership several times. It was finally put into storage in Milton Keynes, before being bought by the Braintree Disctrict Museum Trust in 2004 and returned to its home at New Mills the following year. By 2010, with dramatic state-funding cuts looming, the need for self sufficiency was becoming urgent. The archive was already licensing designs to companies such as Sanderson and Liberty, and has released a collection with Surface View - all of which will continue - but it was a long held ambition of Kate's for it to produce a collection under its own name. She experimented with a stationery range, which was launched in early 2013, and the response convinced her that there was an appetite for the designs. It is sold at the archive and online.

At around the same time, she approached Adam Sykes, owner of the fabric house Claremont, with a proposal for a collection. "I was looking for somebody who could interpret the original designs, retain the character and the skill, but also reinvigorate them," she says. "I was aware of the high quality of Claremont's fabrics and wanted to produce to that standard."
Kate's knowledge of fabric design and Adam's experience in supplying to interior designers are a good match. One of Kate's priorities was to produce a good quality chintz, for which Warner & Sons was known: something altogether different from what she describes as the "blowsy, overblown and glossy" quality of hard-glazed modern chintzes. Adam agrees, "People are crying out for old-fashioned, papery quality glazed fabrics again."
That quality, Adam felt, could only be found at one of the specialists, family-owned European mills that produce Claremont's fabrics. The obvious choice was Tissus d'Avesnières in Laval, north-west France, with which he had a longstanding relationship; it had worked with him on a reproduction chintz for Chatsworth.

Thus began a unique collaboration, with Kate, Adam and Nathalie Liguine of Tissus d'Avesnières working closely together. The challenge for Nathalie was to recreate the authentic look of the originals while using modern techniques: a mixture of digital and screen-printing. Replicating the exact colours of the hand-block-printed designs was particularly complex. "We had to use three to four shades of each colour to keep the depth of the block-print effects." She explains.

Each of the 11 new fabrics has been painstakingly reproduced from often fragile original documents, and many have been produced in additional colourways to increase their appeal. Some have been finished with a subtle glaze, giving a crisp effect with a slight sheen - not just the chintzes, but also, unusually, heavier linen fabrics such as "Celia", a floral design from the Twenties. Others have a tumble finish for a softer look.
What is remarkable is the variety: Adam and Kate were keen to reflect the breadth of the archive, so alongside the floral designs, there are simple stripes, a classic toile and a vibrant coral-motif print that looks strikingly contemporary. As Kate intended, these classic and also the archive itself have been revitalized. "We are a living archive," she says. "When people buy these fabrics, they will help support the conservation work we are doing here. We are hoping to tell that story."

Warner Textile Archives fabrics will be available through Claremont from February 24, with prices starting at £140 a meter. warnertextilearchive.co.uk | claremontfurnishing.com