On the 20th of November I was really lucky to get a guided tour through the Vlisco factory in Helmond (NL). A friend of mine won it in a contest, but couldn't go. She asked if I wanted to go, lucky me!
With a group of twelve women, mostly readers of the magazine that gave away the prize, we got a good look at the proces of a cloth becoming a Vlisco fabric. We weren't allowed to make pictures, due to the problem Vlisco is having with the copying of their products. New designs are kept secret as best as possible, so they can release a new campaign without fake wax-prints taking over the market.
I had my notebook with me and put a lot of interesting facts on paper, but how was I to make a nice blog post without pictures? Then I realized I had this great book about Vlisco I received by snailmail. I was really happy with the postal gift. After my lecture De reis naar Batik: making a statement, during the Najaarsdag of the Nederlandse Kostuumvereniging in Amsterdam, I got an email asking if I was interested in a little book about Vlisco made in february of 1989. It included a square cloth as well. The lady that send me the book knows a lot about chintz. I was talking with her on the Najaarsdag after my lecture. She finds Vlisco fascinating because of the link it has with the chintz brought by VOC from India to the Netherlands. I still love to learn more about this subject, and now have some good literature tips were to start. And I can always send my questions to her, how wonderful.
In the booklet from 1989, after a short introduction about Vlisco and its history, they tell about the making process with pictures!!
The Vlisco factory is in the former castle garden. This makes their location unique, so near the center of a city. The oldest building on the property is the water tower from 1880. The building that should have prevented fire, was the only building that survived the fire in 1883. Before P.F. van Vlissingen junior started Vlissingen & Co in 1846, there was already an blue (indigo)dye house on that location from 1802.
There are many theories why Vlisco became so popular in West-Africa, but from a historical point of view it most likely had to do with the impact of trade by sea. The Gold coast was a stopping point on the shipping route to the Dutch East Indies. They used that point for stocking up provision. Cloth was and still is a popular product for trade. Chintz, Batik and eventually Wax Prints found in this way their way on the African Market.
All fabrics start with one thing: A Cloth. Vlisco uses raw cotton from China, but tries to get it more and more from Africa. After a process to get the raw cotton soft and able to absorb the dye, the printing of the patterns starts. Big rolls in which the pattern is engraved apply it in wax (resin) on the cloth. The wax is only applied once. Totally different from Batik, where with every color dye a new layer of wax is applied. Because the wax is only applied once it needs to be very strong. Of course the breaking, and the craquelé affect it leaves with it, is part of the process, but it needs to stay intact till the end. This makes designing for Wax Print difficult. Thin lines can't be used and in the drawing the lines need to be connected to make it stronger.
After the wax is applied the cloths goes through its first dyebath. Originally this first bath was indigo, Blue, but today more base colors are used like red. Indigo is a difficult color to make and to keep fade resistant. The cloth is dyed seven times before it has it's typical Vlisco blue base color.
The now indigo colored cloth goes into a special breaking machine. This machine breaks of the wax and leaves some dots of wax on it. This gives the cloth an irregular wax pattern, and makes every Wax Print unique. The pattern is never the same.
After the breaking machine colors are stamped on the cloth. This was done by hand, the last hand print was in 1993, but this is now done mechanically. Big rolls, like the ones that apply the wax, with orange and green felt like patterns put the dye on the cloth. To keep the misprinted feel of the hand stamped Wax Print, they print wrong on purpose.
The big rolls full of one design, average 1200 meters per design, are gathered in one location to be checked, cut into 6 yards and packed for transport. I liked this part of the factory the best. Big rolls, next to pallets packed with new Vlisco's and bundles with exotic destinations on them. Even though most of the work is done by machines, the final check can only be done by eye. The big rolls are visually checked on flaws. Flaws are part of the quality and recognizability of Wax Prints, but they have to be small flaws. On sight the seams of the cotton, too big misprints, holes in the fabric and other flaws are marked. After this the cloth is cut into the right length for sale. The waste product, the misprints, are burned. Before, parts of cloth were given away for free, but were then sold as original Vlisco. On the selvedge was their name and the number of the design. To protect the quality of the brand, the misprints are burned.
Our guided tour ended with a visit to the boutique. I always love to see the new collection with my own eyes. And to see the outfits used for the campaign. I'm totally in love the with the turquoise with pink jacket!
In the factory we saw the limited edition Angelina's. They are made to celebrate her 50th birthday. Also celebrate the 50th anniversary Vlisco invited Facebookfans to draw an outfit made out of the Angelina fabric. I participated with a dress painted on paper, you can see the dress here: http://woobox.com/cd94jd/vote/for/1741837. Today is the last they of the contest, so your vote is still very welcome, thank you!**
* Quote from "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" by Willy Wonka
** More about my Angelina dress for the Vlisco contest on my website, see "Vlisco's Angelina Contest"