Extracts by June Pearce a Mender and Burler at Sunny Bank Mills (between 1949-1959)
First the chair. A swivel chair with adjustable height and back rest. It was essential, we would be sat for long periods of time and the chair had to fit into the small of our backs to give us support, and the height to rest our feet comfortably so you didn’t slouch. You sat upright and your work was brought up to your chest and not in your lap. How to hold your needle was harder than you might think. Thimble on middle finger, with the eye of a long thin bendy needle on it, to guide it up and down to pick up stitches. Then you had to hook your scissors over your little finger on the same hand in order to cut threads. You can imagine the gaffes we made, needle, thimble, scissors all in one go. Even holding the cloth was done a certain way, gripping between thumb and first finger to stretch between third and small finger to hold it taut. Then learning to burl was just as difficult on my first day. Burlers are like large tweezers, we sharpened the ends with emery paper to fine points so we could pick up the fine silk and mercerised cotton that was used in the warps. They also doubled as eyebrow plucking tweezers but that was suppose to be a no, no. The blunt end was rounded and smooth so that if you had a tight end or pick in your piece, you would cut it, then ease the ends back into place with the blunt end of your burlers; and mend in the gap with the appropriate yarn. We had to learn how to raise the knots tied in the yarn, which pieces you would cut them off, and which pieces you undid the knot and sewed the ends of them back in. Pulling up the slubs, yarn that was thick and fluffy was thinned down with your points and rubbed gently back into place with the blunt end.
At last lunchtime came and we dashed down into the Mill Yard which thronged with people all on a dinner break. We were full of the mornings happenings and the mistakes we had made. The pointy finger of our teacher Effie which we had all now experience of when we slouched. We compared our thoughts on the work we had just embarked on, and the people who we would be working among. All too soon the buzzer went again, calling us all back in to begin the afternoon shift and back to the school of learning. Not just a school of learning the trade but of learning to fit into a different environment. With adults and rules, finding ourselves a place where we could fit in. Earn a living and go forward with confidence into adulthood.
Five fifteen ended my first working day, which had seemed a long fraught one. Only knowing you alone was not struggling with this new situation helped and being in “the school” and all of an age made a difference. So as the buzzer was signalling home time once again in reverse order. I went down the Mill Yard to meet mum at the gate and joined the crowds dispersing up hill this time homeward bound. My first day was over. I didn’t know what to make of it. Did I like it or not? It was a 2 year training course which seemed a long way ahead. But in the end I did it. Gaining experiences, friendships, seeing many changes and happy times but my first day was my first step towards it: one I have never forgotten.