William Whiteley

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An old fashioned photograph of Great Nana in handmade clothing

Family traditions and Mother’s Day

Rachel is our Sales and Marketing manager who has recently been delving within her family tree and discovering how old, local manufacturing can entwine our lives, and how quality can leave its mark many years down the line:

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After finding a pair of William Whiteley scissors in my talented and creative Grandmother’s sewing box that had been bestowed to me upon her passing, I wanted to know a little more about the women in my family tree. Especially after hearing so much regarding female success last week for International Women’s Day!

The sewing box bestowed to me by my Grandmother

My Grandma’s sewing box, passed down to me

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What I uncovered was intriguing – three generations ago, upon leaving school my great-grandmother trained as a tailor in Walsh’s tailoring department (quite rare for a girl of that era), before department stores were bought out and became chains.

A black and white vintage photo of my grandmother

Great Nana Harrison

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On completion of her training, she was given a magnificent gift by her family of a traditional sit down, wooden sewing machine with a foot pedal (something we would consider an antique now) on the terms that she would now make all of the clothing for the entire family, including brothers, sisters, cousins, aunties, uncles, of which there were many. She also made clothes for people during the 2nd world war, working with parachute silk saved especially for dressmaking; there was no wedding dress material available back then, so girls who got engaged to paratroopers were considered very lucky!

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Coincidentally, William Whiteley & Sons used to sell pinking shears to the Ministry of Defence, which they then used to cut the fabric to make the parachutes for WW2. We still make pinking shears to this day, click here to view them.

Great Nana Harrison in the style of the day

Looking fashionable in handmade attire (for the 1930s anyway!)

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As she grew older and the need for handmade garments became less and less, she still handmade wedding dresses, bridesmaid dresses and other items such as matching mother and daughter outfits. Her talent and knowledge was infinitely more sentimental than visiting a wedding shop on the high street. Below is photograph of my Mother’s wedding day, where Great Nana worked with my mother to design the dresses and then made them all – aged 82!

My mother's wedding day, all of the dresses handmade by my Great Nana

All outfits handmade. Was Great Nana the something blue?

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She taught her daughter the craft, although my Nana would modestly claim she was nowhere near as skilled, and then her grandchildren when the time came. My aunt still makes clothing for herself and her daughters to this day with Wilkinson shears.

Handmade dresses for children

Nana in a dress made by her mother, and me in a dress made by Nana

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My family has strong roots in Sheffield, and anyone in a similar position is likely to find a pair of Whiteley or Wilkinson scissors in their family’s possession, handed down by ancestors who purchased a pair at some stage during William Whiteley’s 259 years of manufacturing. It’s wonderful hearing how these shears are being given a new lease of life as consumerism culture has once more shifted towards a desire to make things ourselves rather than simply buying cheap clothes from a store.

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If you happen to be lucky enough to have an old pair in your collection, find out the story behind them, it might surprise you! And don’t forget to get in touch and let us know too.

Cutting felt with Wilkinson scissors
So if you’re looking for the perfect gift this Mother’s Day for a creative Mum, what could be more perfect than a tool to hone her craft? Whether it be sewer, crafter, dress-maker, tailor or anything else. A personalised message can be lasered onto the blade too, making them even more special and bespoke.

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Although Whiteley scissors remain traditional in style, our innovation continues to show. From garden pruners, to kitchen scissors and right through to our ground-breaking EXOs, we’ve got everything for a crafty and creative mother or grandmother (or even great grandmother if you are lucky enough). Designed to last a lifetime, you’ll probably end up using them when the time comes too…

Silver Exo and Ribbon

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