The Grey Fox
It was our pleasure to see Grey Fox once again just before Xmas, having earlier in the year worked with David on his Grey Fox curated stand at BOB.
David's 2016 was remarkably successful and 2017 looks likely to follow much the same path; so to toast this and, of course, participate in some festive gifting we invited David to Seaward & Stearn London to choose a fabric of his liking that we would then make into a made to measure bespoke tie for him.
From the rolls of woven silks, printed silks, and wools, there appeared only one direction that David was heading.. and it wasn't long before rolls of Madder's were out over the cutting tables and the deliberation began of which pattern to go for.
We got there.. in the end. With English Ancient Madder offering such a wealth of beautiful patterns and distinctive colours it was never going to be a quick choice.
Opting for a large repeat Floret David's construction was 147cm in length and classically 8.5cm on the tip.
Once done, we teamed the beautifully made tie with a silk hank that worked remarkably well with David's outfit of the day; almost as if he had a glimpse into the sartorial future and picked out his apparel in the knowledge that this was the tie he would be travelling home in!
The discerning style and dapperness of The Grey Fox...
English Ancient Madder.
The home of English Ancient Madder is Macclesfield, where today it survives in small specialist workshops. It is a process of skill and hands-on caftsmanship.
It begins of course with the design. Designs are always screen-printed onto a white twill silk fabric. Originally it was the Rubia Tinctoria plant that provided the colour for Madder, offering reds, mustards, greens and blues.
After the designs are printed they are then steamed and washed. When dry, the printed fabric is cut into 12 yard lengths for dipping into indigo dye vats 8 feet deep which essentially starts the process; stirred by hand for 10 minutes, the fabrics are then spun dry and left to hang for 15 minutes in order to oxidise. This process is repeated a further two times, after-which the silk is washed.
Throughout this process the print colours of the design resist the indigo dye, so it is only the unprinted areas that it covers, essentiially blotting out the white of the silk; which is why no white will ever be seen on a Madder silk fabric.
It is the whole handling process that adds to the softening of the silk, giving it the quality and texture we recognise as the Madder finish; with the washing process subduing the colours and giving them their dusty, muted look.
Madder fabrics almost always come in paisley's or neat repeats (often with a floret).
The colour softness achieved from the Madder process balances against the intricacy of these designs and removes any brashness. This results in a dynamic pattern, but one that is not overwhelming.
As the Madder silk is hand crafted over a 12 yard length of silk each 12 yard fabric will be unique, with another 12 yards length potentially having subtle shade differences.
The indigo dye vats also need 24 hours to rest and settle after 25 yards of silk has been processed, so true Madders can only be produced in small quantities.
The ‘Ancient’ part of the name is largely unexplained, though can be attached to the the age of the process, identifying it from more modern techniques that seek to obtain the look. The designs also are distinctly classic.
Victorian popularity in England for Madder spread to the US and Ivy League colleges the following century around the 1930's, where it was recognised as a conservative alternative to stripes.
True Madders a revered due to their unique craftsmanship and rich heritage. The Madder purist will be resolute in seeking out a Real Ancient Madder and investing in this classic style.
Our thanks to Robert Keytes for his guidance in writing this.
Wearing a part of the Madder heritage..