Adamley hand-screen printing, Macclesfield

Friday, January 10th 2020
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Let me set the scene. Macclesfield is a small English market town, and it’s a grey day. The bright-green casentino overcoat of Benedikt Fries, as he walks towards us, rather stands out. 

Photographer Alex Natt and I are watching him approach from outside the train station. It's raised up above the town centre, and he is a bright green dot in the middle of the high street.

The three of us are there to see Adamley, the silk printers. Benedikt comes here regularly to place orders for his brand, Shibumi, and I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. So we have combined. 

Benedikt always talked about how much he liked visiting Adamley, describing it as an idyllic slice of England. On this grey morning, I’m slightly worried his view of England might be a little skewed (he is German). 

But as we get in a taxi and ride out of town, the weather starts to brighten up. We roll into some bright, lush countryside, and after 10 minutes pull into a country lane. 

There is a babbling brook, with sun glinting off it, and a dry-stone wall. Adamley is at the bottom of the lane, with a green field rising behind. There are sheep and horses in the field. I begin to see what Benedikt means. 

Adamley is one of few hand-screen printers left in the country - the other well-known one being Robert Keyte, just up the road. 

They don’t make woven silks, but were at one stage part of the same company as Vanners, which along with Stephen Walters is one of the best-known silk weavers. (Vanners was one of the first factories I ever visited for Permanent Style - back in 2009.) 

Adamley has a large archive, a lot of which comes from the old company David Evans (Vanners has the woven side of that collection), and it’s the archive that often first attracts designers such as Benedikt. 

The David Evans part dates from the 1930s, 50s and 60s, but there are also smaller collections (English and French) that date back to the 1890s. 

When Benedikt started Shibumi, a lot of the designs were re-workings or re-colourings of these archive pieces. 

Today, though, pretty much everything at Shibumi is original and designed in Florence (such as the maps series - one shown below). Benedikt comes up with a concept, and an in-house designer turns that into a digital image to send to Adamley. 

The piece above is being digitally printed, but most of Adamley’s work is screen printing (around 80%). 

Digital printing is generally used when a design requires a larger number of colours, or particularly fine detail. And when the material is too fine or large to fit the screens.

The advantages of screen printing are richness of colour, and penetration of the fabric - you can spot a digitally printed tie because the back will be white.

When we saw the screen printing, it was hard not to reflect on how different Adamley was from Hermes, which I visited in Lyon earlier in the year. 

At Adamley, the printing screens are cleaned by a large man in large boots, using a large hose. At Hermes it’s done by a 10-foot-tall mechanical arm. 

At Adamley, the room for mixing colours looks like something out of Willy Wonka. Every implement and surface has a different splatter pattern across it. At Hermes, sparkling white lab coats were worn. 

And at Adamley, the dyes are spread onto each silk piece by hand, and applied with a stick. Even Benedikt had a go. Hermes is automated. 

The technical sophistication of Hermes has real advantages. As I reported back in March, there can be up to 48 different screen prints (it’s one per colour) on an Hermes piece, with the average in the 30s. Adamley usually does 5-8, and once did 18 (“never again”).

The scale of the Hermes production is also the only way they can still screen-print everything (in France) and yet still sell to hundreds of shops. 

But it’s hard to deny that Adamley has more character. 

Every bucket has a mini-Pollock dashed across it, and the cumulative effect is highly stimulating. It makes you want to roll your sleeves up and start mixing and painting yourself. 

The screen archive in the roof, however, might be my favourite space. 

Here, all the engraved screens of all the customers are stacked in rows under the eaves. It’s quiet, and dim, with all the brightness coming from those canvas-sized screens.

Each almost looks like a work of art in itself, with its brightly coloured tape and edges. Perhaps a Rothko to the bucket's Pollock. 

Benedikt and I have a long conversation about whether one of them might look nice hanging on the wall. And how feasible it would be to ship it to Florence. 

As with my recent article on the Horween tannery, the point of this piece is largely to give you a sense for what Adamley is like. 

So that when you see a silk handkerchief from Shibumi, or Drake’s, or any other Adamley client, you feel a little of the creative process that went into its manufacture. 

Hopefully these photos and descriptions have done a little bit of that. 

Photography: Alex Natt

Benedikt is wearing Shibumi, tailoring, shirts and accessories

I am wearing:

  • Green nubuck jacket from Sartoria Melina
  • Grey flannels from Anderson & Sheppard
  • Lighter Everyday Denim shirt from Permanent Style
  • Cashmere Arran scarf from Begg
  • Suede unlined Dover shoes from Edward Green
  • 'Marc' coat from Coherence, via the Armoury