Nestled right in the Port Richmond neighborhood of Philadelphia, you'll find the family owned and operated Huntingdon Yarn Mill. The building, it's machines, and it's people reflect not only Philadelphia's historical manufacturing past - but the hidden gems just waiting to be discovered by designers and makers who are wanting to produce regionally. If you know where to look and can learn about the process, you can make and design here.
Huntingdon Yarn Mill is owned by Fay and Majid Jarah. Majid started working for the mill 30 years ago, bought in some time later, and the business has been a family and friend affair ever since. With about 50 employees, most of whom live in the neighborhood, they seem to have the same set up as most of the other manufacturers in this area. They love and treat their employees like family and it's very common to find siblings, spouses, and family members of various generations all working under the same roof.
Quality is key, whether it be natural fibers or silk, linen, and rayon - Huntingdon keeps it's customers because it produces a superior quality material. This distinguishing quality, according to owner Majid Jarah is the quality of the tried and true equipment from the '30s "Newer machines - they loose the detail. Some people want perfection and our machines can create that"
Two years ago Huntingdon launched "Made in America Yarns" - an offshoot that focused on direct to end consumer yarns manufactured and dyed in the USA. The company is focused on yarns for three main markets: home furnishings, clothing/apparel, and the craft industry for hand knitting. One of their specialties is also metallic yarn - which is the combining of metallic yarns with nylon, rayon, acetate or silk.
We go into the similar manufacturing process in detail in our very first Hands On video where we cover Wayne Mills Co., so we'll touch on it just briefly here. Yarn is created in three steps: production, dying, and finishing.
1. The yarns start off as spools of thread that are sent through machines called twisters and winders. These highly technical machines create the unique patterning or texturing which is then wound up on large skeins. A skein is basically loose spool of threaded material.
2. The material is loose because these skeins are then dipped into various dye baths. Every batch goes through a number of dyes and then washes to achieve the purest and cleanest colors and even dye treatment. Huntindon uses direct and acid dyes, depending on the material type.
3. After dyeing, the loosely wound skeins are hung to dry in a warmed drying room. They are lastly wound and wrapped onto spindles ready to be sold to other makers and manufacturers in various industries.
Majid Jarah has a terrific letter on the website which I think clearly expresses what Huntingdon is all about.
"Dear friends and potential customers,
I arrived in the US after graduating from a textile university in Manchester, England. I began my career working as a purchasing agent for Huntingdon Yarn Mill. About 14 years ago, I took a leap of faith and purchased the Mill. With 30 years of textile experience behind me, I am very proud to be a domestic manufacturer of textiles in the USA.
We here at Huntingdon are a team of 50 people who hope to continue our work for many more years to come. We are truly a family run business. Jesse, our Plant Manager, has been working in the textile industry most of his life. Barbara, our Office Manager, has been working at the company for over 25 years. Her mother, Loretta, has worked here for over 50 years before retiring three years ago. Barbara’s daughter also worked with us until three years ago. My wife, Fay, works with the Dye House as well as in our Marketing Department. My daughters, Ranna and Sarah, work in the office part time whenever they have time off from school.
As a family business, we stay true to several core values with suppliers and customers. We purchase raw materials from domestic manufacturers as much as possible; saving our supplier’s job in turn insures our own. There is a glorified desire among the American people for saving American jobs, but when it comes time to take action, we become reluctant to make the necessary changes.
Buying products from overseas may seem more cost-efficient, but the result is not necessarily more quality-efficient. Domestic Manufacturers are still making the best products in the world. However, if we do not take action now we will lose the valuable and accessible resources they provide. The most reliable wool and cotton spinners are still in the US. Believe it or not, our company is shipping Novelty yarns to China where they are made into garments before being shipped back to America.
Last year, we had a booth at the spin Expo show in New York City. Most of out young design visitors were surprised to know that there was still a textile mill operating in Philadelphia. At the same time, the large fashion companies are saying that their customers are demanding American made products. When I asked “Why are we not able to sell more of our products to internationally renowned American companies”, I was told that it was a set mentality. Designers who have a choice between an American-made product and a more expensive European product will vote against domestic manufacturing in the US under the false pretense that the quality is not as good.
I have no doubt that the given the opportunity, US manufacturers are capable of producing a product as good as or better than overseas suppliers. We can offer consistency and reliability as a result. This will provide American jobs, which will be good for all of us.
I would like to take this opportunity to prove that we can withstand the test of comparison.
If you are looking into or are interested in production of your own yarn visit www.hymill.com . Special thanks to Karen Randal and the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce for facilitating this trip.