The History of Swisstulle and Bobbinet
Bobbinet (Bobbin net) was originally handmade: fine silk or linen threads were twisted around each other using bobbins worked against a pillow. The work was skilled, but extremely slow. This fine, delicate net was used as a base for embroidery, also done by skilled artisans usually in their own homes. From the late 1600s the demand for both lace, and tulle, spread from its original use by the clergy, and grew with the fashion for lace on both men and women’s clothing.
The word “Tulle” originates from the town of Tulle in central France which was a centre for silk and lace making.
In 1803, John Heathcoat, a farmer’s son from Duffield near Derby, developed the first mechanical machine which could produce bobbin net. It was just 9” wide. However, by 1808 he had developed a powered machine which revolutionised the production of bobbinet.
With the Luddite uprisings in the Loughborough area where his factory was based, John Heathcoat moved his production to the South West of England where a new textile hub developed.
The Swisstulle factory was built in 1825 in South Chard and was water powered using the local lake and brook. Parts of the original factory still exist, including the wonderful stucco ceiling in the Manager’s office. The entrance hall has been re-designed to show the history of bobbinet and Swisstulle UK.
Latterly, in 1984, the company was purchased by Alfred Illi, a Swiss entrepreneur, who already owned fabric and yarn interests in Switzerland, and a new chapter began with SwissNet, and then Swisstulle becoming part of a larger international group of fabric manufacturers. Swisstulle factories exist in Switzerland, and in China, as well as in South Chard.
Swisstulle bobbinet is still used as a base for embroidery, although usually electronic multi heads, but is also now used wherever a lightweight, strong, or delicate fabric is desired.