John Smedley Mill

In April visited the John Smedley factory near Matlock in Derbyshire. I introduced my work to several of the senior team visiting from Japan.

Getting To The Mill

For the Easter holidays I stayed with my parents in Shropshire. I loaded the car with a few pieces of recent work and put on a nice frock, as my granny would have said, and set out for Derbyshire.

It’s often at these moments I wish I had maybe taken up a lighter craft. Even three pieces of work weighed a great deal, talk about not travelling light!

Once loaded the drive through the Peak District National Park was gorgeous. It’s such a beautiful part of the UK and in the sunny spring weather it was such a sight.

I drove into the village of Lea Mills and discovered that the mill took up a significant part of the town. The first thing which struck me was how old the buildings were.

I knew that John Smedley is the oldest manufacturing company in the UK, incredibly it’s been at this site for 238 years.

Bridge over the road at John Smedley

The John Smedley Bridge In Lea Mills

John Smedley Deputy Managing Director

I signed in at reception and met Jess McGuire-Dudley who’s the Deputy Managing Director. She showed me the room where I was presenting and helped me set up my work.

I worked with Jess in 2019 as part of their 235th Anniversary. (It was significant year as it made them the oldest manufacturing company in the world). I was selected as one of 10 craft ambassadors for the year.

It was lovely to see her again, she was interested to see what I had been making since we last met. She explained who their guests were and we talked a little more about the upcoming exhibition in London for London Craft Week.

Zoe standing in front of her presentation at John Smedley, in a nice light room

The Meeting at The Mill

We had an informal meeting with senior directors from Japan. It was especially nice to meet Mr Takeuchi who was on the panel of judges and selected me. He will also be one of the four people to sit down with me for business mentorship.

We talked about my work and discussed the tools and the joy of traditional crafts, both for the maker and for the buyer.

I joined them for lunch in the board room and conversation moved onto my visit to Kyoto. The store looks amazing, almost like a gallery already!

Buff coloured stone sphere with a geometric pattern carving into the stone

One of my new stone spheres called ‘Arc’ which will be exhibited with John Smedley in May

The Archives

As the guests departed, I was invited to go on a tour of the mill with the wonderful Archivist, Jane Middleton-Smith. (to read more about the John Smedley Achives, click here)

It’s incredibly wonderful that so much pride is taken in their history and that it will be saved for future generations to appreciate. Since 2009 it’s been Janes job to research and document the companies long and fascinating history.

I knew very little about how garments are made, and even less about how many processes there are for a knitted piece.

The Mill Tour

I was completely blow away by the Mill tour. There were countless processes, some elements done by machine and others by hand. All of this to ensure uppermost quality, precision and consistency.

I loved seeing all the different machines and tools and hearing how developments in technology and computing changed the manufacturing processes. The history of the building was wonderful as was the community of workers.

Zoe and her mum eating ice cream and smiling

brushes casually having a break

It was easy to feel the sense of pride everyone had in their work. This was mostly because everyone was so kind and eager to show me what they were doing. Each detailed process is vital to the completion of the garment. The John Smedley Mill is a well-oiled machine, but clearly a family too.

The further we got into the tour, the more I learnt! It has made me feel even more privileged I felt to have won the Craft Prize. John Smedley understands the importance of heritage and craft, but also the importance of supporting other crafts and business of different sizes.

I will certianly be working hard this year to be a worthy recipient. I also want to be the type of small business John Smedley might feel reflects some of their wonderful values.

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