There’s no shortage of garage sewers in America trying their crafty hands at making garments. Just check out Etsy and you’ll see for yourself. Canvas bags, leather accessories, boro scarves – a swath of savvy folks are ready to bedazzle your neck with friendship chokers. But when it comes to craftspeople making their own fabrics, the market is bare.
That’s where Huston Textile Co. comes in. Based in the Sacramento area, Ryan Huston is producing textiles all by himself. He got started when, after two years of hunting, he was able to acquire a Davis and Furber Pinless Dressing Reel–a rudimentary textile machine. The dressing reel allowed him to start making baby wraps, which he continues to sell today. But the dream wouldn’t end there.
His space is small. He rents in a lot where many of the businesses are small time mechanics. But he’s quickly outgrowing his rental. He’s already taken up two spaces in the lot and is planning on bringing in a few more looms in a couple of months.
As far as technical know-how goes, Ryan’s depth of knowledge is incredible. Aside from textiles, he’s finishing up school in the Sacramento area for electrical engineering. Originally on the path toward computer science, he even won a robotics competition that sparked the move toward engineering. When we visited, he went into such detail about each of the machines like each one was the back of his hand. Growing up around machinery paved the way. To be honest, a lot of it went over my head. But I let my pride get to me and acted like I understood 100% of what I was being told.
Basically, he can tear apart these machines and put them back together. Not surprisingly, the machines he’s acquired along the way don’t often come with manuals. That’s a whole other hunt in itself. But he’s managed to find most manuals to help him bring these machines back to life.
It also helps that he stays in contact with the few people who still know about or even own these machines. The small circle of owners have contributed advice as well as a few stories about the machines. One former loom owner was adamant that Huston stay on the right side of the machine. Why? Because if you’re caught on the wrong side, it could literally pull you under and eat you alive, weaving your body into the afterlife. With Ryan handling the entire operation by himself, advice like this is invaluable.
He’s also in contact with the last owner of the Draper company. You know all those fancy selvedge denim fabrics that Cone Mills makes? They’re made using looms made by Draper. Although Draper itself is now a defunct company, the owner is still around, and maintaining contact with him is extremely helpful to Huston in case he has any questions or even needs a particular part re-made.
His Draper X3 looms aren’t exactly the same as the ones at Cone Mills, though. His makes fabrics that are 50″ wide while Cone Mills’ looms are almost half that width. Cone Mills, he says, does have narrower looms, but also takes wide selvedge looms and cuts them in half to produce the sought after narrow width ones. As for Huston, he’s not about to do the same. He’d rather wait until he finds his own narrow loom. Wide selvedge denim is a harder sell, but it’s ideal for shirting fabrics, so that’s what he’s producing for now.
The Draper’s are loud. For safety, you’d want to have hearing protection lest you let your sweet vinyl setup go to waste. The pinless dressing reel, made by Dave and Furber in the 1950s, on the other hand, is pleasant. As Ryan described it, it sounds a lot like a big creaky door. Although it might sound nice, that’s the one that will eat you alive.
He’s pretty much just a one man operation, which is easier to do when he knows the machinery as well as he does. He’s even modified the Draper to stop automatically should something go wrong. Set it and forget it.
Regarding Cone Mills, the only other selvedge fabric maker in the US, Huston doesn’t want to do what they’re doing. He’d rather recreate fabrics from the past while experimenting with new ones. When we visited his operation, he wasn’t yet able to produce denim. But mostly because he hadn’t yet found a proper indigo dyer in the States who can provide the blue he desires.
But that’s no problem. “If I can’t find one, I’ll just do it myself.” Even though he’s not weaving denim just yet, he’s already caught the attention of some local denim dudes, Michael Masterson and Roy Slaper. But for you small batch bros looking to make a super slubby 25oz. pair of jeans, hold your two horses. While Huston will surely collaborate, he wants to develop his own fabrics.
We were able to see him in the middle of weaving some selvedge chambray.
American-made goods are a solid selling point. However, Huston looks to take that notion even further by providing American-made raw materials. And, with the recent closing of the historic Cramerton Mills which produced the twill of the same name, it’s comforting to know that there are still people out there who care.
For some time Cone has been the only place to get selvedge denim. Again, look at Etsy or any small jean maker; they’ll have something from Cone. Now with Huston on the move to produce selvedge fabrics, we should see more and more unique selvedge goods.