Several weeks ago I had the absolute pleasure of visiting Appletons Wool Ltd in Aylesbury, UK.
I had been very keen to visit them ever since I had found out about their long heritage (dating back nearly 200 years) and discovered their 4ply Tapestry Wool and started using it in my Bargello Embroidery kits.
Apart from the beautiful quality of the wool with a wide range of colours to choose from (there are over 240 shades!), I was impressed to find out that all their wool is British from sheep to needle!
I was keen to find out more about this long established company!
I headed off in the car from Brighton, with Daisy wearing her little Bargello Embroidered harness I made for her and also my hubby who was my driver and photographer for the visit.
When we arrived at the main hub and distribution centre of the company, we were greeted by one of the lovely ladies who work part-time at Appletons Wool.
I was surprised to find out that Appletons Wool Ltd is a small business with only 10 employees. It made the company feel a bit more unique and special that I was stocking their amazing wool in my embroidery business.
I got to meet several of the staff that day including Debbie who was able to show me around the premises. Here is a photo of Debbie and I in the Appletons Wool office where I was finding out about the history of the company:
I learned that in 1835 a gentleman called Thomas Appleton set up Appletons in Pitfold Mill, Haslemere for the manufacture of worsted lace and epaulettes for military uniforms. They also made wicks for candles.
Not long after the initial set up of the business, Thomas married and moved to Elstead, where he took over the corn mill. Appletons have since moved from this mill, but it is now a pub and restaurant known as The Mill.
It also retains the original bell tower, which was installed by Thomas Appleton to call the workers to the mill and at it's high point, around 100 workers were employed there.
He continued the business in Surrey until the 1880s when it moved to West London and occupied a factory in Chiswick for over 100 years until 2013, when it moved to it's current position in Long Crendon, Buckinghamshire.
During this 100 year period, the use of military braid was phased out and the company turned it's focus to embroidery and tapestry wool.
The start of producing the wool in their business coincided with the Arts and Crafts movement and famous designers of that period, such as William Morris who used Appletons Wool in his tapestry designs.
For 180 years, the business was owned by the Appleton family, but was sold in 2013 to an external group of people who now direct the company.
Upon finding out this information, I was really happy that the company was not closed, but managed to keep manufacturing within the UK.
As the name suggests, Appletons Wool Ltd now only focus on 2ply Crewel and 4ply Tapestry Wool. Debbie explained to me that the variety of colours available, are identical for both the Crewel and Tapestry Wool.
I was aware that the wool obtained to make the Appletons threads comes from the Yorkshire Wool Markets and is also dyed and spun in Yorkshire.
I asked Debbie for some more information regarding this and she explained to me that they have an expert working for their company who liaises with the Yorkshire Markets and sorts out the blends of wool required to make the threads. These come from a variety of british sheep and the tops of wool they require to blend, need to be as white as possible, as they will take the dye colour the best.
Once the wool tops have been carefully selected, the wool is taken to a mill in Bradford where it is spun. It is then taken to a further mill in Bradford where it is dyed in large hanks.
The hanks are dip dyed so there is consistency with the colour shades and they aren't too different every time.
Debbie showed me a test colour skein they use for each shade, so they can check this against the new batches of wool that arrive to their distribution centre. They then check the shades still match and that there isn't too much difference in the colour recently dyed:
Once these large hanks have been dyed, they are then spun into large cones and transported down to Appletons Wool HQ in Aylesbury and are stored:
Production happens in five locations in total in Bradford before the wool is ready to be transported for it's final process....to be spun into smaller skeins and hanks for distribution.
Debbie knew I was keen to see the machinery they use at Appletons for the final process of turning the large cones into skeins and hanks.
I was greeted by Marcus who has worked at Appletons since 2013 and operates the machinery at Appletons HQ to enable this to happen:
I learnt that round 2000 skeins are produced on this machine each day!
On this particular day, they were preparing a large order for an embroidery designer who was designing some new tapestry kits with the Ukraine colours where all profits from each sale were going to support the Ukraine, which I thought was lovely:
Each hank weighs 25g and contains approx 180m of thread in the crewel wool and approx 55m of thread in the tapestry wool. Each skein is approx 25m in length for crewel wool and 10m in length for tapestry wool.
Debbie then kindly showed me around the warehouse where all the threads are stored, ready to be shipped to their stockists.
I was curious to know where most of their stockists were located and she confirmed that more than 50% are based in the UK, which would make sense since this is british made product. They do ship worldwide too.
Debbie also informed me that last year they sold approx 40,000 KM worth of wool, which is enough to go around the world once!
Here are some photos of my trip around the warehouse:
Such a cute little sheep illustration:
I love how it states 100% pure English Wool on the box:
There is a designated area in the warehouse where they store all their wonderful shade cards!
Appletons still supply the original shades that William Morris used in his tapestry designs like the more muted yellows:
I asked Debbie if there was any ever 'waste' wool that they can't supply to their stockists, if it doesn't meet their high standards. She agreed there was some 'seconds' and I loved hearing that they don't throw it away. Instead they donate it to charities that require wool to make things such as baby knitting charities and schools.
Lastly, I was shown the groovy kits that Appletons produce from collaborations with some very talented embroidery designers such as Emily Peacock, who has designed several kits for them. I particularly loved the Oscar Wilde one (since I'm a fan of his literature):
Her kit designs are printed on tapestry canvas as they are quite detailed:
Debbie was also excited about one of their latest kit collaborations with the Flanders Tapestry Collection, which has been designed especially for the Queen's Platinum Jubilee:
Finally, I got to see the wonderful Bargello Embroidery kits that were a collaboration between the Bargello Sisters and Appletons:
I'm really excited to now be stocking these Bargello kits!
I had such a fantastic visit to Appletons and it was nice to finally put faces to the wonderful ladies I normally chat to via email when sorting orders for my stock etc. They were so friendly and welcoming and I'm very proud to be a stockist of their amazing high quality tapestry wool!
You'll note at the beginning of this blog, I had mentioned that Appletons were once located at the Mill in Elstead.
I decided to pay it a visit on my way back to Brighton, since it is now a pub and restaurant.
It is really beautiful in appearance and you'll notice the bell tower at the top that was installed by Thomas Appleton:
Upon entering the building, I was happy to find a sign that mentioned the Appleton family:
I was also super impressed to see they had kept the original mill features and that it was still turning!