Born: October 20, 1916; Died: December 2, 2013
Bill Hamilton, who has died aged 97, was a talented designer of woven textiles who trained at the Templeton's carpet factory in Glasgow and became chief designer at Sekers, one of the UK's leading fabric houses. The firm produced furnishing fabrics and high-quality silk for the fashion trade and, during the Second World War, two million yards of nylon for parachutes.
Born in Glasgow, Mr Hamilton's father William was a wheelwright and his mother Mary a seamstress. Before the war, he worked first at Templeton's where he trained as a textile technician and then at Viyella in Macclesfield.
During the war, he served with the Cameron Highlanders in the Caribbean, which is where he met his future wife Kitty. He applied to the Cotton Board for a job in 1946 and was selected for design work at the West Cumberland Silk Mills in Hensingham, Cumbria. He was still in uniform at the time of the interview.
The mills had been founded by two Hungarians Tomi de Gara and Miki Szekeres who came to Whitehaven in 1938, moving into a factory built for them in 1939. Miki, who changed his surname to Sekers, was in charge of publicity and initially design, and it was as Sekers Silk that the organisation established an international reputation.
Mr Hamilton was the only senior figure in the team who was not a Hungarian, but he established a friendship and a remarkable working relationship with George Spira, who ran production. Mr Hamilton always considered George to be the best friend he ever had.
He was put in charge of the production of tie silk and in 1947 Dior's New Look required a fairly stiff fabric that would not flop in a wide skirt, and tie silk had the right rigid quality, so it was adapted for brocades. Jacquard weaving cards were supplied in Switzerland, but Mr Hamilton was sent to Lyons to discuss terms there, and he was not pleased that the cards themselves were made in St Etienne. He developed a love of France though, especially Paris, where he regularly attended fashion shows during the 1950s and 60s.
The mill started producing furnishing fabrics in 1960, after Miki discovered people were using his dress fabrics for upholstery, and Mr Hamilton's work expanded accordingly. As head of the designing department, with the title of design director, it was he who was presented with The Duke of Edinburgh's Award for Elegant Design in 1962. Man-made fibres were used to create luxury looks, and this involved inducing yarn suppliers and dye makers to develop the raw products needed to create mostly plain fabrics in a wide range of colours that were durable and flame resistant but had the feel and drape of natural fibre.
An article in The Glasgow Herald in 1966 described Mr Hamilton's work and said he was "using Lurex thread to make solid panels of shiny surface, interwoven with nylon thread repeating the design but with matt finish." Mr Hamilton ran the design team of around six people and was responsible for naming the colours and ranges, some, such as Samarkand, inspired by the Orient. One range was called Ramwong which his daughter had mentioned was a Thai dance when she was living in Thailand in 1970.
As Miki's son, David Sekers, who worked at the mill for some years, has written: "I think he knew very well (as I did) that his personal contribution to the success of the mill was considerable over many years. But he was quiet about it and much to his credit, never sought the limelight. It was always a joy to work with him: he had tremendous commitment, and at the same time a positive, even phlegmatic response to the occasional excitements that my father provoked. I still think he deserves greater recognition as a highly skilled and original designer of woven textiles."
From the early 1970s, the mill concentrated on the more lucrative market of contract upholstery and while designing seat covers for Ford exchanged the glamour of Paris for Dagenham. After Mr Hamilton retired in 1983, he continued consultancy work with companies that made tweeds including G & G Kynoch in Scotland, Dartington Hall Textiles in Devon, and designing fabrics for caps made by Kangol in Cleator. He finally retired in 1998.
His widow Kitty, who survived him by only a few months, died shortly before her 96th birthday, on March 1, 2014. She was born to a planter Horace Fowler and his wife Agnes in 1918 in the parish of St Ann in Jamaica. She was a school mistress when she met her future husband Bill Hamilton.
They married in Glasgow, moving to Whitehaven in 1947 where they lived in a house that belonged to the silk mill at 7 Coronation Drive. They later bought a four-storey house in Hensingham Road.
They are survived by their two children Myrna and Ian and grandchildren.
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