In the beginning there was only one. And it wasn’t actually a towel, it was a tea towel, but that sounded like a nice intro.
But anyway, the point is: the Willow Weave.
Light and lofty. Classic and refined. And a long-lasting favourite on our flat weave range.
She was one of Mungo’s earliest towel designs. Tested, tweaked, and woven by the Master himself, Stuart Holding.
“Over the years I have been collecting very old textile books. The Willow Weave itself comes from a handweaver’s pattern book written in the early 1920s. The designs are from 18th century handloom weavers. Over the years I’ve used a lot of references like that.”
A long-loved Mungo stalwart, the Willow has a design that sets it apart from it’s flat weave friends. It features a unique and intricate checkerboard design, created by an overshot technique in which the weft threads ‘float’ above the warp with decorative effect.
In the rush to mechanise that followed the Industrial Revolution, many of these traditional handweaving designs were far too complex for early weaving technology. Luckily given Stu’s 50+ years of experience in the biz, from pre-industrial to mechanised weaving, he was able to adapt these historical designs for weaving on our looms.
One of his earliest towel designs, the Willow Weave was initially woven in Stu’s Working Working Museum on one of his original Lancashire looms. A small studio, in what is now Mungo’s pressing department, Stu had a weaving workshop, where passersby could catch a spy of the Master at hand.
Today however, our Willow Weave Towels have moved from the 150-year old Lancashires to our Dornier machines. Circa 1970, the Dorniers operate by means of a rapier, as opposed to the pirn-carrying shuttles which are able to produce a true selvedge.
Using these old machines is part of what sets Mungo apart. Slower machinery allows a high quality yarn to be used – the sort of yarns which would break on high-speed modern machinery. The result is a lofty textile (a weaver’s term for robust) with a unique design.
Then there’s the respect for the textile at hand, and for the weaver that makes it. And the final product is one that’s under careful quality control; taken home by many a Mungo team member to test. It’s not an industrial process. Every meter of fabric is touched by a human being.
“I get a lot of references from old craftsmanship. I think this aspect of craftsmanship is what’s missing in a lot of modern fabrics – where the key is just efficiency and cheapness. We use natural fibres. It’s dependent on the elements – farmers could lose their crop to pestilence or drought, for instance. The cotton has to be ginned to remove the vegetable matter. And then comes the spinning. There’s a lot more art and skill and craftsmanship in a yarn that has been manmade. Each maker along the way – the farmer, the ginner, the spinner, the weaver – has to know what he’s doing. It requires a deep understanding. Today the weaver makes the fabric – they’re in control of the loom. Whereas in a big industry, a fast fashion type industry, it’s the machine that controls the operator. They weave fabric but we weave cloth”.
This last line sounds profound. But what does it actually mean?
“It’s to do with the philosophy behind it. We do it in a gentle way. Aware of everything that surrounds us. For a start we do it in a beautiful place. And the philosophy of why, and how we do it, are very strong. It comes from wanting to create a product, and then doing it in a way that’s respectful to the person that’s making it, and to the environment you’re in, and to the customer who’s going to buy it.”
So how does this come back to making a towel of exceptional quality?
Well, the Willow Weave bears the mark of all of this, of course.
Thoughtfully designed, of a high quality, and with great absorbency. And again ‘lofty’ – a certain textile resilience that ensures that your Mungo towel is designed to last year on end.
“When you’re looking to make a towel you have to think about how to make it durable, absorbent and to have the right handle. Over time, there are things I did with the construction of the fabric that improved the absorbency and the feel. I’ve found tricks over time. It’s a 20 year process to get where we are now”. Those tricks? Top secret of course.
So there it is. The Willow Weave in all her glory.
Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But you can take a trusty old-favourite and give her a new spin.