February 24th, 2021

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Reduce, reuse, recycle. Sustainability was always part of West Yorkshires textile heritage and Sunny Bank Mills is no exception.

In business, you never know what is around the corner and in this ever-changing pandemic world, this is very clear to see.  The textile production at Sunny Bank Mills is no exception and has weathered many turbulent events in its long history.  The fine worsted cloth produced at the mill was of the finest quality and destined for the fine suits made on Savile Row and around the world.  The suits were very much part of the fickle world of fashion and so the textile production had to adapt and develop to survive.

A textile mill, therefore, had to make sure that what it produced was used.  There would be very little waste in the process of manufacturing cloth.  This also extended to many other departments of the mill too.  For example, the cloth sample bundles destined for the sales team were stored in recycled flower boxes from the florists.


We have also discovered wage books from the late 1920s recycled for the referencing of peg plans.  Peg plans show the design and pattern of the individual cloth patterns.  It does however make it tricky to research the worker’s names in the original wage books.


Even earlier use of recycling in the textile industry was the manufacturer of shoddy. In the early 1800s, there was a shortage of wool due in no small part to the Napoleonic Wars affecting the wool trade.  Businesses had to come up with new methods and technics to produce a cloth with limited supplies of wool.  The word shoddy referred to the waste cloth from textile mills, tailors, and the community.  These were then sorted and torn and shredded to create wool fibres.  A small amount of new wool was added and a cheap cloth was produced from the mixed fibres.  The rags for this process started in streets all over Britain collected by rag dealers or rag and bone men as they became known.  Rags were sorted, and any parts of the rag not suitable were left to rot and sold to farmers to manure crops or used in bedding or stuffing.

Rags were even brought to Yorkshire from the continent to be processed into shoddy.  This early recycling and sustainability in the textile industry can perhaps give us food for thought in the throwaway world that we seem to inhabit today.  In collaboration with Zero Waste Leeds and the Royal Society of Arts, the Sunny Bank Mills Archive has been involved with an exciting project relating to textile heritage and sustainability.  It has been really interesting to explore the ways our textile heritage can help to inform the future and sustainability of textiles in Leeds.

If you want to find out more about the project  follow this link





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