Today Autumn came. Finally, albeit briefly, it padded in overnight on rainclouds and stayed the morning, letting us have the sun and blue sky for the afternoon, then returning this evening arm-in-arm with the chill and wearing an early darkness (though not before a spectacular sunset).
I think it’s probably here now, officially, and I also know it’s here because I’m having my annual pre-winter anxieties. I love this time of year but dread it too, since from October 1st a terrifying momentum takes hold as we slide and clang our way through the pinball machine that is Hallowe’en > Guy Fawkes > Thanksgiving > Christmas. So much to do, always, and never enough time.
But this time I feel a little more prepared. The wood shed is stacked, the winter coat has been away for repair and dry cleaning, I’ve put on my Mum-knitted olive winter-weight cardigan, curtains are being discussed and the Christmas ‘promo’ has been underway for months. Today I made vegetable stew and dumplings (I don’t know how I reached this age without making dumplings before), lit the fire, tidied the wood and bought knitwear.
We’ve always striven to buy our clothes from British manufacturers but none comes with quite the pedigree of John Smedley, who’ve had a knitwear factory in Matlock since 1784. They make very fine knitwear for men and women, and between us I guess we own about 15 garms. My favourite is a knee-length black dress with 3/4-length sleeves - very Jackie Kennedy, and excellent for work.
Today they were holding an open day with tours of the ancient but still-working factory - built right over the river from which they draw their water including that is required for washing and softening the garments - followed by a lengthy if scrum-like bash around the Mill Shop, always at discount and today at 30% off; ravenous Smedleyites Dysonning up sweaters, capes, leggings and shirts like the Luddites were on their way to smash up the knitting machines once and for all. We made a handful of beautiful purchases; each piece is made via a series of time-honed, time-consuming and time-honoured processes, carried out on handsome well-oiled machines by…well, handsome well-oiled men and women!
Although we’ve shopped there for a few years, the insight really did bring home the fact that it IS possible to make lovely things right here in Britain, and they don’t need to be monstrously expensive. Every Smedley we buy feels like an investment; a sound bet. It also framed very vividly the fact that similar garments made in the Far East will go through a great many of the same processes as those seen on the tour, yet can be sold for under a tenner, and we all know who are the losers in that equation. Besides - the Smedley clothes, if properly looked after, last for years and years, and because they’re quite classical in their design, don’t need to be replaced every few months. (And being so fine, they’re really good for layering).
So, watch the little videos and enjoy the myriad tiny details captured from around the factory. Knowing I finally have a proper winter hat and gloves is helping! So I’ll clear a few tired things out of the wardrobe - mainly the annual charity shop summer purchases for under a fiver - and after an emptying and re-oiling of the wardrobes, will introduce them to the rest of the Smedleys and get ready for the chill, the pumpkins and the fireworks.
The amazing turn-your-jumper-inside-out machine!
Woman cuts neckline with impressive precision!
The sneaky sleeve-knitter:
This guy was measuring the garments to check each one was perfect. The machine pulled the sleeves straight, then sucked the jumper in and ironed it, dropping it back out the other side neatly onto a pile of other ones:
This fella had just knitted some leggings - all in one piece, no sewing-up required! (we were all a bit baffled)
Ancient hallways, massive stone bricks painted white and the remains of the cobbled floor:
The day was rounded off in the staff canteen with a coffee, home-made root vegetable soup with a decent amount of scovells and a phallic bap, all for the imperial sum of £1.75. Darned good it was too (Sarah, OUCH).
And finally the purchases, clockwise:
- ‘Aggie’ women’s gloves in Bitter Chocolate (100% wool, the gloves reach to the elbow, 40s-style!).
- ‘Hindburn’ hat in Teddy, 100% wool - Sarah’s hoping for a very cold Guy Fawkes night.
- ‘Brock’ men’s pullover in S (but bought by Mole) in Dark Leather, 100& cotton.
- ‘Seth’ men’s collared shirt, 100% cotton.