To celebrate the launch of the exclusive new colours of the perennially popular Lowery Workstands, SewandSo took a trip over to the heartland of production in Lincolnshire to have a chat with Gemma Casswell – married to Ben, grandson of the founder of Lowery, Keith – who manages the entire operation.
How was Lowery Workstands born?
Lowery is very much a family owned and run business, more about the team later, but to set the tone, Gemma tells us how Lowery came into being. “Rosemary (Granny Rose) was a keen embroiderer and Ben’s Grandfather Keith (Popper Keith or PK) a farmer. PK has always been interested in how things worked and what would make life easier, so when Granny Rose asked for a stand to hold an embroidery frame, as a birthday present, PK gave the matter his full attention and, after a fair bit of trial and error, the result was the Lowery Workstand.”
The best inventions come from need or adversity and we are all grateful for Granny Rose’s request to PK!
Do you think Keith would make one for me?!
When Rosemary, an enthusiastic and talented embroiderer, proudly took her newly created Workstand along to her embroidery class, her teacher tried it out and exclaimed: “I have been doing this for more than forty years and this is the first decent stand I’ve tried!” Swiftly followed by: “Do you think Keith would make one for me?!”
Having spent his first 45 years farming, and we all know how resourceful and thrifty farmers have to be, PK undertook all his own repairs and has a natural interest and talent for all things mechanical. PK hadn’t thought of starting another business but this was 1986: a time of grain mountains and olive oil lakes with the government starting to urge farmers to diversify their businesses. Although as a farmer, PK’s natural instinct was to disregard official advice, for some reason on this occasion he went with it.
And Lowery Workstands, as a business, was born.
The demands of the farm meant when things needed fixing there was only time to do it once, it had to work well and to last. Following this ethic, Lowery products are made to be durable – in fact, the very first Workstand is still alive and kicking!
The team who makes the Lowery Workstands are small but vital. Ben has been a regular in his Grandad’s workshop from the age of two until he completed his degree, when ‘regular’ became full time! Grandad PK supposedly retired from farming in 2007, but still has a keen interest in the research and design aspect. Local lads, Adi and Phil, help out in the workshop. Angela does the books and keeps the business on track financially, and Becky manages the stores.
The team is very resourceful. “I didn’t know the business was part of the deal when I met Ben at University whilst doing a fine arts degree, but I served an accelerated apprenticeship and now oversee the whole job,” chuckles Gemma. “I find myself welding one minute and at an embroidery show the next! Tomorrow I’m going on a research visit to a local foundry with Keith. Ben has moved on to other things but still does the CAD drawings and rolls up his sleeves when we’re desperate.”
Workstands vs sugar beet
Lowery Workstands, sold across the world, are still made in what were the farm buildings. “The big difference between selling bacon pigs and sugar beet,” describes PK, “was that our customers actually wrote to us, some even visited, to say how pleased they were with their purchases. Making Needlecraft Workstands has been rewarding in every way.”
The business resides on what was once a pig farm, not far from the M180 in Lincolnshire. The buildings still retain their working names such as the Sow House and Multiple Sucklings, where the boxes are now stored. The heart of the business is in the Nissen hut workshop, where relics from local industry reside along with the unique jigs developed over the years to refine the Lowery.
“Ben says he can still remember going to a machine and tooling auction at Immingham docks when he was seven, along with PK and Herbert (who used to help in the workshop), to buy a Ward 7 lathe,” smiles Gemma. “The location is great but there is a lot of grass to mow which can, indirectly, cause about the only hindrance: when PK parks his ancient lawn mower in the middle of the workshop for maintenance or improvement – one of his favourite pastimes!”
…there isn’t much call for pink motorbike parts!
Gemma explains how SewandSo have made the new exclusive colour range a tad challenging, “The powder coaters, who finish the ‘painted’ bits, are in Grimsby and have been involved for 20 years. They specialise in motorbike parts and the extremes that road use bring make for a very durable finish. However, one of the colours chosen by Sew & So was a little hard to get hold of but it was sourced from Europe eventually – there isn’t much call for pink motorbike parts!”
The powder coating is the last part of the manufacturing process, before that the press, lathe, welding, grinding and polishing work has to be done. PK, ever keen to make sure the team as efficient as possible, keeps everyone up to date with the latest technology.
“We now use the services of state of the art subcontractors for some of the parts,” concludes Gemma. “But lots of the jigs and tools, some developed out of old combine harvester parts all those years ago, are still in service today. And, most importantly, we can still make everything here from scratch if we need to!”
Thank goodness for the resourcefulness and inventive mind of PK, and for the entire team who make Lowery Workstands a very special product indeed.
At SewandSo we are thrilled to work with Lowery and developing this new range of colours with them has been an absolute joy. Check out our exclusive range in the SewandSo store !
Three exclusive new colours of Lowery Workstands are launched today and are available to buy now. Priced at £110, colours available are Strawberry Red, Lemon Yellow and Teal Zeal. Silver Grey option is also available for £95.70.