Adamley is bringing heritage silks back to life. While the appeal of luxury printed silks hasn’t diminished over the past three centuries, the transformation of the world around them has brought new challenges and pressures. This makes the work at the Adamley mill in Macclesfield, in the northwest of England, all the more special. By reformulating traditional dyes, and recovering patterns drawn up a century ago, the printers are making a historic product available for the first time in generations. At once preserving the spirit of the original craft and adapting to the needs of the present day, Adamley’s new collection of archival madder prints offers a rare chance to enjoy a revered classic again.
‘Ancient’ madder, as it’s sometimes known, is traditionally printed with a small, repeated motif (known in the trade as ‘neats’), pines or paisley patterns using a palette of deep, earthy colours: indigo and olive, tan ochre and rusty red. The unique dyeing and finishing process creates silk with a matte, almost chalky surface with colours that are intense and warm.
Adamley has been printing silks at River Mills for over fifty years, but the site has been used for washing and finishing textiles for centuries. The original steam laundry was acquired in the nineteenth century by Parker and Adamski, who began dyeing and finishing silks. Their company, Parkadam, would later become Adamley. English firms up and down the country were weaving silk as well as colouring and finishing it in this period. Another key location for printing was Crayford, in Kent, where printer Augustus Applegath developed copper block printing for silk, as well as printing machines for The Times and the Bank of England. But much of the silk came to the very end of the Silk Road, in Macclesfield.
In an age of plentiful synthetic dyes and digital printing, preservation of the old craft takes careful and deliberate effort. What’s more, some of the traditional dyestuffs and processing chemicals for madder have been justifiably prohibited over the years to protect workers and local water supplies. Traditional production means screen printing silks by hand, and developing and adapting the old formulas and washing processes to meet regulations while retaining the intense, organic colours and dusty finish of the original madder technique. This is arduous but not without its rewards. Hand screen printing produces immaculate, detailed designs, and the colour itself enters deeper into the silk compared with modern industrial techniques. It never has the glossy, plastic look of mass-produced silk, and conversely it doesn’t fade or dull with age. Adamley’s screen printing takes place in small batches, with colours made up individually for every batch, making this a truly artisanal product.
The print works founded in Crayford by Applegath in 1826 was acquired in 1846 by silk merchant David Evans, who established a reputation for luxury prints and for madder dyeing. After David Evans & Co. closed in 2001, Adamley acquired a wealth of archival material from the historic printer, including original sketches, block prints and samples of original fabrics dating back to the early twentieth century. Adamley’s library includes huge ledger books containing hundreds of meticulously hand-drawn patterns, each intended to be copied onto blocks or screens for printing. To celebrate their success in developing and preserving a madder dying process for the twenty-first century, Adamley’s ‘True Ancient Madder’ collection draws its patterns from designs in the Parker Adamski and David Evans archives, uniting contemporary artisanal production with a storied history.
Our collection presents madder at its best, combining Adamley’s luxurious artisanal silk with real wool interlining, meticulously cut and sewn by hand, and unrivalled finishing, including a delicate hand-rolled tip, all made in England. We present a range of archival designs as ties, as well as hand-tasselled scarves in paisley madder. It’s a fitting return for an old classic.
Images © Adamley