Ask the Expert: Mary Lyon, Laboratory Technician

In the latest in our ‘Ask the Expert’ series, we spoke to Laboratory Technician Mary Lyon about her work at AW Hainsworth and her day-to-day responsibilities.

When did you start working at AW Hainsworth?

I started working for Replin back in 2006 when it was still based in Peebles, and then in 2015 the business was acquired by AW Hainsworth (to form Replin by Hainsworth, our transport fabrics brand). I originally came to Hainsworth on a temporary basis to help with the transition of the Replin business, but I enjoyed it so much that I decided to work here permanently!

How did you get involved in your current role?

My first experience of the textiles industry was when I did a Youth Opportunities Work Scheme at the age of 17. After that I left to work in a solicitors’ office for several years, but I knew that what I had always really loved and wanted to do was work in the Textiles and Fashion Design sector.

After doing several Higher Certificates at evening classes and taking a week-long summer weaving course at the Scottish College of Textiles (now known as the Heriot-Watt University School of Textiles and Design), I eventually took the bull by the horns and decided to do a four-year honours degree course. This course covered everything from textile design, fashion design, marketing, finance and all the way through to management, so it was a great foundation for the work I would eventually end up doing at Hainsworth.

After I graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Textiles and Fashion Design Management, it was actually as a result of a visit to the dentists that I got my original job at Replin in Peebles. The dental nurse at the surgery knew I was looking for employment in textiles and told me her husband was looking for someone to work with him at Replin, and the rest is history!

What does a typical day at AW Hainsworth look like?

My role at AW Hainsworth is different in some respects to my role at Replin. In Peebles I worked more generally in the lab, carrying out flammability, tensile strength, seam slippage and tear testing on fabrics, and doing physical testing and colour matching on the yarn side. At Hainsworth however I now focus more on the colour matching side, and the range of yarns that I assess has expanded to include the Protectives and Hainsworth woollens areas of the business.

Generally, my day-to-day involves working with yarns or unfinished fabrics. On the yarn side I check submits sent from various dyers for shade, colour matching them with our yarn standards for continuity, liaising with our dyers for any further adjustments required and then checking the yarn shade again when it comes in as bulk from the dyers. The yarn is also checked for levelness and any other faults, and after each dyeing it is assessed to ensure that it will be acceptable for the fabric it is going into. A hank from each dyeing is kept for our records in ‘continuity cards’, which help me to assess future yarns and keep the continuity of fabric as close as possible to the woven standard.

On the fabric side I assess loom-state passing strips, which are strips taken from the start of a woven piece which the weavers take from the looms and bring to me. These can either be for established fabrics or for new designs. I have to check the woven structure and design of the fabric against the standard (or temporary standard), as well as the shade, weight and picks per inch, and feed back to the weavers if there are any problems. It’s important that any faults are picked up on before the piece is woven further so that this can be discussed and rectified. We keep continuity cards for unfinished fabrics with the standards in the Colour Room alongside the yarn cards, so that we can ensure their upkeep and keep track of any new standards.

During the day I can also receive queries from a variety of people such as colleagues requiring information on products, assessing whether a particular yarn in stock will be acceptable to use in a specific fabric, liaising with designers and any other questions that may come up.

I’ve also become more involved working with Atkinsons, the dyers acquired by Hainsworth. We have been working together on various lab dyes, from assessment through to establishing new yarn standards for them, all while trying to keep the continuity of yarn shade consistent between them and the previous dyers. It can be quite challenging as dyes used by one dyer can vary from one to another and change under different light sources, so being aware of this and trying to achieve consistency is important in developing our products.

Do you have any advice for anyone getting into your line of work?

I would tell anyone who wants to work in this field to consider doing a Textiles or Design related degree, but to also try and get some work experience in the industry behind you before you decide to commit to studying. I was fortunate to have a month-long placement in the industry as a teenager and it proved very useful to be able to talk to people about the day-to-day reality of the job and whether or not it would suit me. Doing this can also help people to consider what side of the industry they want to get into at the end of their studies, whether it be creative, technical, management, or whatever appeals to them. I would advise prospective students to grab any opportunity to go along to university open days and have discussions with course leaders to see whether course content is suitable for their expectations. My degree course covered a variety of different aspects of the textiles industry which proved to be a useful grounding for my job.

What is your favourite Hainsworth product to work with?

I love working with Replin by Hainsworth fabrics, and not just because they’re the products I’m most familiar with! The aviation and rail industries have really strict safety standards that all our fabrics have to conform to, and the fact that the standards are so rigid makes Replin products more satisfying to work with, for me.

Is there anything you’re particularly proud of working on here?

Probably the period of time when I first came to work at the mill in Yorkshire. I originally came down on a temporary basis alongside colleagues from the Peebles mill to help with Replin operations being transferred over. We had to work as a team to ensure continuity across products and services as the business moved down to Pudsey, without losing any of the knowledge built up since Replin was established in 1945. There had been about 80 people working at the mill in Peebles so there was a lot of knowledge and expertise that needed to be carried over to the Hainsworth mill. I’m very proud that we successfully helped the transition go smoothly and that Replin fabrics continue to be made at such a high quality.

What is the best thing about working at AW Hainsworth?

The recent investment into the new laboratory space is really appreciated by me! As part of the refurbishment I have a new purpose-built Colour Room which was much needed – it’s very spacious and a great working environment, with a lovely new area to display our continuity cards.

I also love that I live on-site – I don’t have to travel to work which gives me so much more free time back in my day. There’s a nice community of people that live on-site. It’s a really friendly environment to live in, and it’s very quiet on Saturdays and Sundays!

What interests you outside of work?

I like to try and keep fit and love going for walks in the country, having discovered some stunning areas of Yorkshire to explore with friends. I go to the gym regularly and I’ve just started taking an Iyengar yoga class there which is very enjoyable. I love going out to the theatre and to local venues to see musicals and gigs – as I live between Leeds and Bradford there is a lot going on nearby to keep me entertained!