Back before I retired, when I began earning my living by weaving, I was barely middle aged, far more spry, fresh from a manufacturing plant where I knew the value of a costed bill of material. What I did not know about sourcing thread for weaving, however, probably filled a warehouse. Of course it was available from the well known shops of the time, neatly wound on one pound cones, and sold at retail.
Retail! Aarrgghh, as Lucy said. In manufacturing everything is purchased at some level of wholesale; you cannot purchase at retail to sell at retail. This was back in the eighties; there was no internet. I recall purchasing a Thomas Directory, and it was a bit helpful locating some suppliers. I was able to direct one of my competitors to a good source of mop cord, for instance. He wove place mats.
One good source of information was dumpster diving. Jan would stand guard and I would look through the trash behind a shop for return address labels on shipping cartons. Ah, the good old days. Another source was the U-turn, going back to visit a place of interest. R&M Yarns, for instance. We saw their name emblazoned across their roof, from an interstate in Georgia, on the way to visit our niece.
Over time we built up our list of suppliers for each kind of cotton we used. The thread for the jacket that made up a third of our sales was the only thread we had produced at a mill. Our several hundred pound orders amused them, no doubt; it probably was the overage they held back from regular orders of a ton or so. I called it the jacket from hell; the most constructed garment we made, and I was not sorry to see the last of them leave the booth the last morning we were in business.
Most of our thread came from brokers who dealt in mill ends, the wonderful eclectic world of any kind of cotton thread you can imagine how to use. Mill ends come about when the spinner makes too much of an order, the dyer doesn't get the color right, the thread isn't wound properly—any number of reasons that cause the original customer to reject the lot and the manufacturer have a loss on his hands, to sell to the thread broker at close to cost, and start over.
We bought from two major thread brokers back then, one in Tennessee and one in North Carolina. I have found my Tennessee broker again, and I think the North Carolina broker flitted past my eyes on the internet, but I lost it before I could bookmark it, and haven’t found him again.
Never mind, I've found Sheldon! Spent his career in the New York garment district, retired to Tennessee, to a sort of bus man’s holiday. The first time I pulled into his Tennessee warehouse I actually drove past several times before I decided the very back road Tennessee accumulation of dilapidated metal sheds and garages actually were a warehouse. “The lady from Ohio is here,” I heard him say through my car radio as the slats on a blind across a trailer window parted and his eyes and ear with telephone were revealed.
“Hello, Sheldon, how are you?” I said enthusiastically, last week. “Older and uglier,” he responded, and we were back in business. An old mill in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, is his new warehouse. I told him what I was looking for and I could just see him moving from box to beautiful box of “the large shipment I just got in from…..,” describing the grist and the color. No matter the order would be small. We both love the stuff.
I ordered some denim blue flake and some yellow 10/3. I do hope it comes before the holiday; I have a full beam and am about to weave more towels.