Bolton-based Caledonian Quilting celebrates its 50th year

PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 March 2019

The team - Dave Sharrock, Robert Tomlinson, Vicky Gillibrand, Heather Green, Jane Williamson, Martin Burgoyne, Jamie Jackson and Sandra Whittaker

The team - Dave Sharrock, Robert Tomlinson, Vicky Gillibrand, Heather Green, Jane Williamson, Martin Burgoyne, Jamie Jackson and Sandra Whittaker

Chris Foster Photography

From the new Terminator film to the Silk Road to Baku, one Lancashire business is proving that our textile industry is alive and well

Vicky at the factory doorVicky at the factory door

When you pull on your Barbour jacket or your Burberry coat, or perhaps wrap up the dog in a cosy quilted jacket, do you give a second thought to the lovely fabric that helps to keep you warm? And if you did, the chances are you would assume it comes from somewhere in the Far East.

You’d be wrong. Caledonian Quilting has been quietly working away, producing quilting in a small factory in a back street of Bradshaw, Bolton, for the past 50 years.

Three years ago Vicky Gillibrand, born and bred in the town, bought the business which was set up in 1969 by the West family.

‘I have a background in sales and marketing in the corporate world but I wanted to be involved in creating something, and saw exciting potential with Caledonian,’ said Vicky. ‘Coming from Bolton and understanding how important textile manufacturing was here, it was an exciting moment when I explored the business potential.’

Heather Green on the shop floorHeather Green on the shop floor

While the quilting business has been running for a half century, it is based in a much older building that was once a varnish works.

‘Caledonian was well established, with a good team and customer base, and I wanted to challenge myself to run and grow my own business,’ Vicky added. ‘The name comes from founder Bill West’s background – he’s Scottish, and moved to Bolton years ago. Funnily enough, I also have Scottish heritage.

‘Although we’re a relatively small business with a team of nine, it feels like we’re an important part of the local community. We’ve a collective experience of over 100 years – one of our team has been in the business for 34 years and manages all our warehousing, logistics and deliveries.’

Caledonian lives or dies by the level of customer satisfaction. ‘This is how we measure our success,’ she said. ‘Put simply, we deliver on time a quality hand-machined product that our clients love. We manage and maintain our own machinery, too, keeping that skill alive within the team.’

Supervisor Sandra WhittakerSupervisor Sandra Whittaker

You might think it sounds a bit like something out of Coronation Street and, in a way, it is. The staff live locally and clock in and out every day, stopping for breakfast at 9.30am prompt for boiled eggs and “Warbie’s” toast. At 1pm there’s a communal lunchbreak including the boss. The office dog – Ted the springer spaniel – is fondly known as “Quilt-Ted” and he comes into the office every day. He helps keep the works spick and span by snuffling any crumbs off the floor.

‘Our products are to be found literally from the cradle to the grave – with diverse clients from all sectors,’ said Vicky. ‘Yaris Equestrian up in the Lake District, quality garment manufacturer Beaver of Bolton, the Lancashire Sock Company in Bacup, and national brands such as Barbour, Burberry, Private White and Mackintosh. We also make bespoke items for Savile Row tailors. We work closely with textile merchants in Manchester - Frank Bierne, Frank Pine, Hendersons, P&R Fabrics and Carrington Workwear.’

‘Our main work is with clothing and outerwear but we have lots of other interesting clients. We produce quilting for equestrian products, upholstery and soft furnishings, protective covers for pianos, fire-proof quilting for technicians flying out on helicopters to the oil rigs, insulation materials for growing vegetables and even coffin inserts. We were commissioned to quilt the inside of a plane for the next Terminator film and our quilting even goes along the Silk Road to Baku!’

The factory has nine machines, and each quilts 200 metres a day, so 9,000 metres of quilting can be produced each week at full capacity. They are growing steadily and always interested in meeting new customers.

Jane Williamson at one of the loomsJane Williamson at one of the looms

‘There’s a growing demand for UK production. Our unique selling points are quality and quick turnaround. We offer a sampling service; then once an order is placed, we have a lead-time of 10-12 days.

‘If businesses go abroad they will be waiting 12 weeks. We don’t have minimum order sizes and will consider any enquiry. We also provide a consultancy service, helping to connect the supply chain from sourcing material to manufacturers of the finished product. We like to keep it local where we can – our wadding is from Fibre Fillings, part of the John Holden Group in Farnworth, as well as Costmotec in Blackburn. Our threads are from Danfield in Leigh and our sewing tools are from College Sewing in Bury.’

You can tell from visiting Caledonian that there is a great family atmosphere. ‘It’s team work, an understanding of the bigger picture and good old fashioned factory banter,’ said Vicky. ‘We like to measure our success – we keep stock of how many metres we have produced each week, how often we met our deadline for customers and, for a bit of fun, the eggometer – how many eggs are eaten each week!’

‘We attended our first exhibition in London, last year, Make it British. It was a fantastic few days – we had lots of new enquiries, met potential and existing customers and other suppliers to give us new business ideas. We made lots of business connections, and have since contacted everyone who visited our stand. We will be attending again this year.

‘We do get some interesting calls. A couple of designers rang us, asking for ideas for Paris and London Fashion week; we’ve quilted wool from Laura Ashley’s farm and for Private White, and we’ve worked on Eastman Leather clothing for authentic vintage leather jackets.’

Caledonian Quilting is proof that with the right people, and the right attitude there is still huge demand for quality British products, especially those made right here in Lancashire.

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