|Our vision of how our threads are made - 66 heads spinning|
under computer control with no humans in sight
Well the silk thread and gold thread making industry is small. Two European silk floss companies (meaning not spun) and one has chosen to focus on their medical business. There are four companies in all of Europe making gold threads.
When you take these two pieces of information together, maybe you see where I am going but I am going to say it out loud. Our thread making infrastructure is Victorian Era and (if we are lucky) early twentieth century machines that are often the only one left in existence. One special purling machine was the one for the original patent with never a match made. The computer control? A pair of expert hands with a brain that contains knowledge that goes back to the 1960's when those hands apprenticed on the same machines at the feet of the prior master. Those brains are the database of all knowledge of how threads have been made and are being made.
|Herb drawing gold wire. Note his fingers|
on the wire. How much pressure
he uses defines the gauge of the
drawn wire - and thus the size
of the purl. Squeeze too tight or too
little and it isn't right.
This came home to me when visiting one of the many historic thread manufacturers one year. I was watching the rolling mill that squishes the wire into tinsel before it is wrapped around a silk thread to become gold thread. I asked how they set the gauge of the strip (tinsel) to get the right width to make that passing thread we were discussing. Dee laughed and said to me, well Herb knows that about here (she pointed down to a big lever) is the right spot to put the big weight. As someone who has already spent a career helping design production methods, I almost fainted. That wasn't the only time and not the only company where I was shown a process and found out that there were pencil marks or notches or expert feels on the tension and that was just the 'right' amount to get that product made. In EVERYONE of these wonderful companies, I could look around me and see that everyone working at the machines was nearing retirement. And as my England tour group found out, I don't exaggerate about this.
|Can you figure out how to use this silk twisting machine?|
There isn't a manual. You have to apprentice to learn.
So our threads exist because of a small and very experienced group of artisans. Period. The problem is that the market is too small for automation. And these wonderful individuals are all over 60 years old. I have been talking about this for several years, waiting for the shoe to drop and racing to get new threads made so I could run the courses I wanted to run.
The shoe dropped in January. Herb retired. I am proud to say that the volume of orders I had been making had contributed to the start of an apprentice. But Herb retired before this over-50 year old man was fully trained. What thread will not be made because Herb took that knowledge of that hash mark on that machine with him??
So we need more apprentices. Our culture is also not turning out young people who want to learn a trade or who have any hand skills to speak of. Talk to any company that needs tool and die - they will tell you that they can't find anyone and they are now (in my area) offering six-figures for people with those hand skills. Computers are the thing. And labor laws in Europe make it near impossible for someone who doesn't work out to be fired. So these small companies are deathly afraid to go out on a limb. Just in our cabinet making, finding the right detail oriented person is very, very hard. They don't push the buttons on the computer control - they are the computer control.
To have apprentices, the business numbers must be there and be consistent. That means a market. The Cabinet of Curiosities class has enabled a great deal of threads to be made and created a market for these speciality thread. The problem is that there are many more threads on my list to go. And I am out of classes. So how do we get more threads before the knowledge on how to make them retires??