The fantastic part about O-Wool's new Philadelphia location is that we are closer to some of our producers - like our skein winder, Bill! His workshop is down the street from our warehouse, so last Friday I popped over to have a chat with him so I could share some of his background and experience with you! He is one of the last vestiges of the once-thriving Philadelphia textile industry, and I'm so glad he is part of the O-Wool team. Below is the transcription of our conversation that I recorded. Enjoy!
Bill: You know, when I was young my father always worked in textiles. I came from Manayunk and it was textile mills everywhere when we were young my brother and myself when we were young he’d take us in on Saturdays he’d take us in the mill and we’d do some winding to make spare money. Well anyway, he got jobs throughout textiles. Sometimes we would go work with him, but how we actually got started was he worked at a dye house and they sent me to textile college to learn to be a dyer, but they did bad so at that time I stopped going and became the truck driver.
J: Did you go to Philadelphia for school?
B: Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science. I went there for about a year.
J: Me, too! I didn’t know that.
B: Well for me it was years ago, obviously. Anyway, I became the truck driver and I knew all the customers and eventually they were going out of business and they were big! Everybody was going, “Man, there’s all the dye houses here. How am I going to get my winding done?” So I said to my dad, “Everybody needs winding done,” so he said to the owners, “what are you going to do with all this winding equipment” and they said, “You can have it if you want it” so we took it and we actually had three in-house winding places. We set up three places. I had one, my dad had one, my brother had one, and we all had a helper. I was up in Bristol.
J: He just GAVE you the equipment?
B: He said, “Here, take the equipment!” so we started doing it on our own. And then my dad went back and actually got another good job. And my brother eventually said he had had enough and he moved to Florida so it kind of fell into me. We went from a lot of employees down to a few. I went from being a truck driver and then I knew some of the customers and then it was word of mouth after that, and everybody knew we were here. I never advertised or anything.
J: What do you mainly do now? What types of yarn manufacturers do you work with? Because I know what you do for me is a small part of your business.
B: I do a lot of package dyeing rewinding, overflow from package dyeing dye houses. It doesn’t take a lot of work to keep one guy going. I can do maybe 2000lbs a day on this kind of work (rewinding for package dyeing), but a lot less on the skeins. Actually, nobody else does skein winding out of the 5 or 6 dye houses in Philly I think I’m the only one who does any skein winding – maybe one dye house does. They actually took some of my machines and tried it and said, “Ah the heck with it.”
J: Too much of a pain?
B: It takes a knack. How to read the skeins and handle them right. Believe me, the dye houses don’t take real good care of them sometimes. There was a dye house across the street over here – they used to send a truckload every day over here of skein work, enough to keep two or three of us busy all the time. I don’t know what happened to all the work. Eventually it just dried up. At one time I probably had 50 customers, maybe now I only have 15 to 20. Everything’s coming from overseas.
J: When you’re not here, what do you like to do?
B: Fish! I’m mostly a fisherman. Both my sons go with me, one more than the other, at least once a week during the summer. That’s you’re getaway, you’ve gotta have it. In the winter I don’t care, I’ll come in here and work 7 days a week, doesn’t bother me.