Mackintosh drawing patterns

How is a Mackintosh made? With an odd, perhaps appealingly simple process: cut out pieces of bonded cotton and stick them together with blobs of glue, using your fingers.

A few weeks ago Luke and I visited one of the two Mackintosh factories. This one, in Cumbernauld, makes the classic Macs in bonded cotton; the other, in Nelson, makes regular coats, usually in wool.

Mackintosh bonded rubber

The classic Macs use a bonding process originally created by Charles Mackintosh in the nineteenth century. That process uses vulcanised rubber to join two pieces of cotton together – you can see the rubber in between the layers in the image above.

This material isn’t made by Mackintosh, but by a supplier in Oldham. Rather like Globe-Trotter the core material isn’t part of the in-house manufacturing (in Globe-Trotter’s case, its vulcanised board).

There would likely be little of interest in the mass manufacturing of bonded cotton, however. Far more striking is the way it is glued together.

Mackintosh factory cumbernauld

There are 56 workers in the factory. There are some cutters and some sewers, but most of them work at waist-high workbenches, dipping their fingers into buckets of rubbery glue and smearing it across the edges.

The blobs of glue are tight and rubbery. They can be wiped across a surface, leave sufficient deposit and remain stuck to the workers’ fingers. They can even be used to clean the table afterwards, collecting stray bits of glue in the same way you use Blu-Tack to collect other bits of Blu-Tack.

It is an absorbing and bizarrely manual process. 

Mackintosh gluing seams

One place you can see its advantage, though, is dealing with curves – around the armhole and the elbow patches, for example. 

Once the pieces are glued together, the insides are taped to make them waterproof, and then pressed. Tape is being applied to the inside of an armhole in the second image below.

The cuffs and bottom hem are the only places that are sewn (apart from the buttonholes of course). They are still glued, and pressed, but a line of stitching provides an extra level of security.

Mackintosh taping seams

Mackintosh have been in this factory since 1964, and plan to move soon. You can see it’s creaking at the edges, even with the new ventilation funnels on every board, which draw the glue fumes away from the workers and pump them out of the back of the factory.

Although the Mackintosh line doesn’t stray far from its classics, the company does do regular collaborations. Even when the Mac label is not used, you can easily identify the end product by that distinctive material and glued seams. This keeps the factory on its toes, as production director Willie Ross (below) puts it. 

Willie Ross Mackintosh

When we visited, some of the collaborations involved camouflage materials, bright colours and (oddly, for a waterproof) eyelet holes all over the body.

Finally, as some readers requested video coverage of the factory visits, here is a short clip showing the gluing process. There will be a couple more in the post on Begg scarves.