Hands On, Vol. I: Wayne Mills Co. Textile Mill

We fill our lives with objects and things - some of which we interact with daily and some that are as mundane as a bracket. How much do we really know about these items that make up our homes, cities, and lives? Do you know how your belt or shoes were made? Do you know how many steps it takes to make the things you surround yourself with? It's easy to forget that everything around us was made by someone. Manufacturing makes the world go round and we here at Analog Watch Co. aspire to understand and share with you the processes, tools, and people involved.

(Watch The Teaser Video Below)

This is the first installment of Hands On, a series of informal posts dedicated to honoring these people and exploring their crafts.

Wayne Mills Co. is a family owned and operated textile mill in it's fifth generation. They have been weaving strapping, twill, tape, and binding here in Philadelphia since 1910. In 1947 they moved their operations to their current location. Their facility is made up of 10 buildings with different rooms dedicated to weaving, warping, dying, finishing and packing.

Wayne Mills employes about 65 dedicated workers - most who have been with the company for 20+ years. They provide finished goods to over 160 trades - from consumer products, to the fashion industry, to medical, to the military.  




Our tour started out in the warping department. In weaving, the warp is the set of lengthwise threads that are held in tension on a frame or loom. The yarn or thread that is inserted over-and-under the warp threads is called the weft.  At one end of the warping room there are two warper machines. While we were there they were running polyester and cotton. These machines are fed by row after row of shelves with spindles containing spools of thread. Hundreds of threads are automatically wound onto a warp which resembles a large spool of thread.


The majority of the cotton they use comes from the southern United States. Over the years Wayne Mills Co. has established and built solid relationships within the cotton industry. These working relationships ensure that the cotton used is a top notch quality product. 



The weaving room was a sight to be seen. With at least 30 looms running simultaneously - the room was vibrating and loud! Most of the machines are set up to create many different widths and patterns. Each weaving loom has spindles above it holding cones of yarn which are then fed through a series of wheels, tensioners, and needles as the weft yarn. Once the weft yarn has been woven through the warp yarn, it comes out as a continuous long strip of material.


This is Guy Brubaker. When we asked him what he did at Wayne Mills Co. his answer was "Pretty much everything, but mostly I fix things." It was pretty clear to us that that in such a facility, with so many complex machines with small parts, fixing broken things must absolutely be a specialized craft.

Guy's story gets even better. In conversion, he goes on to tell us that his brother Roland, works for Wayne Mills too. Then he tells us that his other brother Rodney also works for Wayne Mills! It was self evident that Wayne Mills cares about it's employees and that their employees care about their work.



After weaving, the tape is then prepared for the next step in a process called skeining. Skeining is when you create loosely coiled lengths of tape, yarn, or thread wound on a reel. The skeins are wound loosely so that the dye will be evenly applied when they are dyed in the next location, the dye house. 



In 2006 Wayne Mills converted the original dye house, built around 1885, back to it's original glory. They moved their dying operations and have been dying materials in this room ever since.


The dyeing process first starts by mixing various pigments and compounds by weight to the customers color specifications. Wayne Mills works with a variety of dye types including direct dyes, reactive dyes, acid dyes, and disperse dyes. For every class of dye there is a different degree of shrinkage which must be factored into the production.

The loosely wound skeins from the previous step are suspended over hot water vats which they are then dipped into for either dyeing, setting, or rinsing. Along one length of the dye house there is a continuous dye range that automatically feeds the material through the dye pan, 5 rinses, into an infrared dryer, and then a hot air dryer. There are also at least 2 high speed extractors - which function similarly to a home washing machines with a fast spin cycle. Doug Forgie, who showed us the rinsing process in the photo below, has been with Wayne Mills for over 35 years.


Blocking & Packaging

The last the step involves blocking the finished materials. Blocking is the process of rolling the materials onto a small roll.  This is done by skilled hand to ensure even wrapping on manual and semi-manual machines.

Some of these blocking machines date back to the 60's - which acts as a testament to the type of quality machinery necessary within a mill. After the finished materials are securely wound onto a roll they are then moved to the packing department to be shipped out to customers all over the world.

In closing, the basis for this trip was initially to investigate possible watch strap manufacturing. Our whole experience was so fantastic that we've felt compelled to share it with you and hope to continue to do so in the future. We owe a special thanks to Mary Jane Myers and Martin Heilman for leading the tour. Another thank you to Karen Randal and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce for facilitating this trip. Be sure to visit http://waynemills.com/ for more information.


Interesting Notes:

  • We were happy to find that there was a lot of natural light within this facility.
  • Martin, the president of Wayne Mills Co., started in 1969 making a whopping $1.50 an hour.
  • Testing is done monthly to ensure the waste water has limited amounts of heavy metals and toxins.  Being in a large metropolitan has it's benefits. The waste water can be treated with Philadelphia's already existing water treatment infrastructure. Mills in locations without such an infrastructure must hold their waste water in ponds and reservoirs. 
  • Pennsylvania boasts the only 2 jacquard weaving companies in the US. With jacquard weaving, a loom is programmed to raise each warp thread independently of the others. This  translates into more complex and multi-colored patterned weaves.

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