20 years ago I started my first freelance contract in cultural heritage - cataloguing the collection at Otterburn Mill in Northumberland.  Wool was processed and woven at Otterburn Mill from the 1820s, and by the 1950s and 60s the mill was producing tweed for fashion houses such as Dior and Schiaparelli, and blankets for British Rail sleeper trains.  Lack of investment in the British woollen industry after World War II, and competition from abroad, meant that Otterburn Mill closed in 1976.  20 years later, the mill's new owner, with support from Northumbrian Water and Tynedale District Council, restored the original machinery and created interpretation about wool production at the mill. I was fortunate to be able to catalogue the collection of pattern books, sample bunches, sales ledgers and equipment from the mill's heyday of tweed and blanket production - a feast of colour and texture.

sample bunches

Visiting the mill again today, some of the sample bunches (samples of tweed in the different colourways for each pattern) are still on display, which are so evocative of the styles and colours of fashion of the time.






Tenter frames

Otterburn Mill has the last remaining set of tenterhooks in the country - the wooden frames which washed woollen cloth was stretched on to dry, outside in the sun and wind, so that it did not shrink.  The edges of the cloth are fastened onto sharp metal hooks, hence the expression "being on tenterhooks" - feeling anxiety or in suspense.