Lace has long been a treasured decorative element for fashion, interiors and hosiery. Yet when we talk about lace and the manufacture and making of it, we don’t usually think of lace and British manufacture in the same sentence. But surprisingly, we should! MYB Textiles, based in Scotland, is a lace manufacturer success story worth sharing and we find out exactly why from Wendy Murray of MYB Textiles.
Cherished for its delicate workmanship and floral patterns, lace has been worn as an adornment since the 15th Century. It is impossible to say that it originated in one place, although the city whose name was first associated with lace is Venice. At the time Venice was an important trading centre, and it was there that the first-known lace pattern books were printed (Le Pompe in the 1550s). By the year 1600, high-quality lace was being made in many factories across Europe including Spain, France and England.
Through the 18th Century lace became increasingly delicate, often worked in extremely fine linen thread. The Industrial Revolution in Britain brought with it a profound change in lace-making. The first machine lace was made towards the late 17oos, but it was not until 1809 that John Heathcoat was able to produce a wide net fabric that did not unravel when cut. Entrepreneurs made constant improvements to the machines, first producing patterned nets, then increasingly complex designs, until by 1870 virtually every type of hand-made lace had its machine-made copy.
In Britain, the majority of handmade lace companies had disappeared by 1900. This was the year that the lace-making company Morton Young and Borland Ltd was founded. Based in Ayrshire, Scotland, Morton Young and Borland, later renamed MYB Textiles, began by solely manufacturing Scottish Madras lace. This kind of lace weaving began in the 18th Century as the skills were brought to Scotland by Flemish refugees. By 1913 the company inveted in Nottingham lace looms to increase the variety of products they produced for their clients as well as bring a new lease of life to lace-making in Scotland.
Over the years MYB Textiles has invested heavily in developing and modernising the production techniques involved in creating Scottish and Madras lace. They were lucky enough to receive technical advice from a local inventor – Michael Litton, who is famous for having invented the first seamless airbag on an MYB Madras loom. This innovation and development of technology combined with an archive of over 50,000 original drawings give MYB Textiles its unique position as lace makers.
Today many of the original Nottingham Lace looms they own have been modified and connected to CAD computers in the design office. This is yet another amazing development that has allowed for increased production and design capability, whilst simultaneously decreasing the turnaround time of production.
Here at Utelier, we got the chance to catch up with Wendy Murray, who is the Sales and Business Development Manager for MYB Textiles, to ask her a few questions about the company and how they have maintained their bespoke heritage since 1901.
Tell us about MYB Textiles in your own words.
MYB Textiles houses the world’s only Nottingham Lace design team. This, coupled with their specialist knowledge of Scottish Madras lace, makes us an industry world leader.
Over the years, we have invested heavily in design technology and modernisation to meet the needs of the evolving marketplace. In addition to the range of traditional Madras and Nottingham lace looms, we have recently harnessed a 100-year-old loom with electronic jacquards. This innovation enables the transfer of design information directly from CAD systems to the looms, providing a remarkable efficiency in product development. We have created an MYB mill video where we demonstrate and guide you through the machines and tools our team of creative experts use in order to produce our bespoke Scottish Madras lace.
MYB Textiles specialises in natural fibres and offer a comprehensive bank of yarns, which includes cotton, cotton chenille, lambswool, linen, silk and also stock viscose and linen for bespoke orders. Thanks to this capability, the creative in-house design team often work in collaboration with client-based designers on bespoke projects, using their expertise to deliver a completely unique product to the client. Projects in the past have involved translating metalwork to lace, recreating archive museum textiles and creating bespoke period pieces for film sets. The team have immediate access to the mill’s 100-year-old design archive, which consists of over 50,000 original pieces of cloth and drawings. This adds to their wealth of knowledge and design capability.
50,000 original drawings – from when do they date back?
They date back from 1901, from when the mill opened. The original lace designs are still available and are beautifully painted illustrations that have been kept safe in the archive. Over the years a variety of mills have closed within the area and so we got given their archives of drawings and designs to add to ours. We have some drawings dating back before the mills were even opened, just over 115 years worth of drawings.
Are these drawing available to the public?
The archive is not available to the public currently. It is a big job for someone is to arrange and catalogue the collection of drawings. As you can imagine it is not a job we are looking forward to. In the future, we would like to be able to make these drawings available to view to the general public, as a lot of heritage is within this factory.
Your website mentions that the Irvine Valley where you are based, offers the perfect damp climate for the Nottingham lace machinery, why is that?
Great question! Historically, lace-making factories have always been based in the valley. That is because a long time ago it was found that damp climate helps the cotton fiber work more efficiently as the fibers expand when they are damp and they then close again when they dry, allowing the lace to be woven neatly and at ease.
How are Scottish lace and Scottish Madras lace different?
Scottish Lace is made up of 95% of cotton and 5% polyester, which helps to knot the lace together. It works better with humidity and builds the lace up – whereas the Madras lace is 100% cotton and is woven into patterns and loomed.
SCOTTISH LACE: We are now the only producer in the world manufacturing with original Nottingham Lace Looms. Some of them are over 90 years old and up to 1220 cms wide. This manufacturing process is extremely labour-intensive, using traditional skills and processes which are passed on from generation to generation, and we try to keep them alive through our own MYB apprenticeships. The looms run at a very slow, controlled pace, so as to give a high level of quality control. This attention to detail gives the product its niche. Lace is available in a number of qualities: 8, 10, 12 and 14 points. This figure gives the number of vertical threads per inch. The higher the number, the more delicate the lace is and the more detail it is capable of creating. The product lends itself well to the use of pure cotton yarns and we pride ourselves on the minimal use of polyester – only 5% is in any given piece of Scottish Lace.
SCOTTISH MADRAS: Scottish Madras was originally called Leno Gauze Weave, and the name Madras became a generic term as a result of the large amounts of the product that was distributed through the city of Madras in India. Scottish Madras lace has undergone a revolution of its own at MYB Textiles, due to the influence of local inventor Michael Litton and the introduction of computers. Twenty years ago we introduced the first Vamatex loom, which Litton modified solely for Morton Young and Borland, making it the only mill in the world with access to this bespoke technology. This enabled us to become competitive in the textiles market and now – a world leader and the only remaining producer of genuine Scottish Madras lace.
What is the best way to care for the lace?
We recommend that lace should be cared for delicately and be hand-washed. We would never recommend to machine-wash the lace, although you may wash it on a cool delicate cycle if you so wish. One thing I would say is never tumble dry the lace. The instructions on how to care for our lace are as follows:
We would recommend a delicate hand wash in a cool temperature using a mild detergent. The fabric should be reshaped whilst wet, pull firmly lengthways and sideways.
You may wash our lace on a cool, delicate machine cycle at your own discretion.
Iron using a cool temperature setting. Do not use bleach. Do not wring or twist. Do not tumble or spin dry. Detergents containing brightening or optical agents should not be used as these degenerate quickly when exposed to natural light.
Related reading: What to Write on Care Instruction Labels
How does lace differ today to many years ago?
People tend to find lace an old-fashioned fabric to use nowadays, although lace can be made look modern. It is not about the material, it is about how the material is used on a garment and how they manipulate the fabric. Another thing that people get confused about is that it doesn’t have to be floral. It can be a pattern that doesn’t contain flowers but geometrical designs, words…etc. It’s just that people are not used to thinking about lace in new, modern ways.
And finally what has been your biggest challenge as a factory?
Technology, without a shadow of a doubt. MYB Textiles invested in technology early on which helped the brand develop tremendously. We took a big step to widen our client base around the globe and provide bespoke designs for designers within the fashion, interior and theatre industries. We fluttered between high street and premium designer brands also, which gave us a vast range of materials to use as well as patterns. Having up to date technology really helped us develop our brand, whilst other mills and factories fell behind the times. This really is what gave us an edge and helped us stay in business.
Today, MYB Textiles are recognised worldwide for their continual product and design innovation as well as a commitment to ensuring the highest quality of production possible. We supply both volume and small runs of bespoke designs and are able to react to trends quickly. Experience has taught us that no matter what trends come and go, the luxury and romance of lace remains, thus securing its place as one of the most cherished embellishments of all time.
For more information about MYB Textiles, you can visit their website.