Alloway and Southern Ayrshire FAMILY HISTORY SOCIETY Robert Burns Cottage, Alloway, Ayr
| Home | Contact | Events | Publications | Resources | Links | Membership | Interests | Activities | Notices |

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

14 Mar 2013 - "100 Years of Lace" - Joint Ayrshire FHS meeting

Members of the Ayrshire FHSs travelled to Kilmarnock to hear Margo Graham from MYB Textiles in Newmilns to give a fascinating, well illustrated look into the history of the organisation which now stands as the sole producer of lace in the area.  Attendees were also fortunate to be given samples of their current products.

In 1900 the company Morton, Young and Borland Ltd was founded.  The three families were connected by marriage and some of their descendants retained an interest for many years.  Thomas Morton Junior was the managing director up to 15 years ago. 

In the early years they manufactured Scottish Leno Gauze weave, later known as Scottish Madras, due to the
large amounts of the product that was distributed through the city of Madras in India. Scottish Madras weaving began in the 18th Century as the skills were brought to Scotland by Flemish refugees when it existed as a handloom or cottage industry. The handloom was replaced by the power loom a century later and the technology of these original looms is still relevant today. In 1913 the company invested in Nottingham Lace Looms to offer a larger variety of products to its clients. The Irvine Valley offered the perfect damp climate for the Nottingham Lace machinery and its product.  Today many of the original Nottingham Lace looms have been modified and networked to the CAD computers in the design office, with the computer replacing the original punched cards on which the patterns were transcribed.

MYB Textiles is now the only producer in the world manufacturing with original Nottingham Lace Looms, some of them over 90 years old and up to 1220cms wide. This manufacturing process is extremely labour intensive using traditional skills and processes which are passed on from generation to generation through MYB’s apprenticeships. The looms run at a very slow, controlled pace so as to give a high level of quality control. The Lace produced is available in a number of qualities: 8, 10, 12 and 14 point lace. This figure gives the number of vertical threads per inch. The higher this figure, the more delicate the lace and the more detail it is capable of creating. The product lends itself well to the use of pure cotton yarns and only 5% in any given piece of Scottish Lace is polyester.  In the early days, the skill and speed of the "shuttlers" meant that one particularly skilled shuttler, who called himself "the fastest shuttler in the valley", refused to become a weaver because it would have meant taking a cut in his wages.

When the Darvel company which became famous for its manufacture of baby blankets closed, the works and looms were moved to Newmilns.  Some of the these being so large that part of a wall had to be knocked down to bring them in!

Over the years MYB has invested heavily in developing and modernising the production techniques involved in creating Scottish Lace and Madras, and were lucky enough to receive technical advice from local inventor, Michael Litton, who produced the first seamless air-bag on an MYB Madras loom in return for developing an improved version of the Madras Loom which maintained the high quality product MYB are known for but with a much larger production capability. Backdrops for theatre productions have been a mainstay of the company from the beginning - and made up 50 to 60% of the business, but fashion and couture are now becoming increasingly important.

The production process generates a great deal of waste, but it was encouraging to hear that one fashion company is now taking some of the waste and making it into scarves, but in tune with the modern wish for recycling they would be happy to consider any ideas.  Waste is minimised by employing hand correctors/darners to remedy small production errors.

There was disappointment in the factory that French lace was chosen for the Duchess of Cambridge's wedding dress, but many well-known couture houses are regular customers.  Despite this, they have a wide range of customers from a request from Australia for Aboriginal designs to be put on to fabric to exclusive lace for celebrity weddings.  The biggest market for their products is the USA followed by the UK and Russia.

Margo also brought along a video of the production process which we viewed along with many pattern books to show the huge variety of work undertaken.

It was evident that the survival of the organisation owes a lot to the way it has been flexible and innovative in its approach - a quarter of a million pounds having been spent recently on a new loom. They still employ some 70 people in the area, maintaining the skills of their ancestors.

Patricia & John Weston

Older Postings