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Yarnstorming: Metro's New Wool Seats

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The wool fabric that Metro is considering for use in its subway cars is woven in England by the nearly 200-year-old company that supplied the fabric for the seats of the famed Orient Express. How cool is that?

The company is called Holdsworth Fabrics and it's in Yorkshire in northeast England, the hotbed of the U.K.'s wool world. (Quick history lesson: Cotton fabrics were traditionally woven in the west of England, woolens in the east. This stems from a time before automatic climate control, when cotton threads would snap in dry conditions. Thus cotton mills were situated on the damper western side of the Pennines, the mountain range that goes down the middle of England's north country.)

The fabric is called moquette and it's woven by a complicated process that creates a plush yet hardwearing cloth. Holdsworth's Peter Rourke tried to explain how it's made but I confess I didn't understand. Something about being woven face to face then split down the middle.

Wool moquette, said Peter, "gives you a nice comfortable feeling in hot or cold climate. The general public do like that fabric to sit on."

I'm sure they do. But isn't it a bit of a luxury? The Green Line is not the Orient Express.

Well, said Peter, if it's cared for it can last a long time. And it's safer than vinyl or polyester seat coverings, which give off toxic fumes when they burn.

But what of the designs themselves? Metro is testing five styles (see them on this YouTube video): a plain blue, a plain red, a patterned blue and two multi-colored patterns. One of the multicolored patterns is called "balls and seals." Here's the other one: neon swooshes on a gray basketweave background.

Here's Dr. Gridlock's take on them. I wouldn't say any of the possibilities are that attractive, at least as compared to what Holdsworth is capable of weaving. They do the seats on London's trains and buses. Some of the designs date to the 1940s and have an appropriately vintage look. Others were created by designers. "Of course over here in England it's become quite a trendy type of cloth," said Peter. It's become so popular that the London Transport Museum sells furniture upholstered in the stuff:

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Like those pillows? The fabric "cubes" are pretty cool, too. You can even buy sneakers made from recycled train and bus seat fabric. (The company's motto? "Do put seats on feet.")

Metro didn't go for any "bespoke" (or custom) designs. They just picked a handful of the standard styles. That's too bad. To me, the ones they picked look like something you'd find on a booth at Chuck E. Cheese. How about copying the design from a White House couch or one of the carpets from the State Department Diplomatic Reception Rooms? Give us something cool and funky.

And in case you are wondering, according to Holdsworth, the "fabrics are woven on energy efficient looms powered by renewable electricity and water is supplied from a natural borehole."

You've got to love a natural borehole. What do you think of the proposed designs? What sort of fabric would you like to plant your butt upon while riding Metro?

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Photos courtesy Holdsworth Fabrics.

By John Kelly  |  December 18, 2008; 9:00 AM ET
 | Tags: England, Metro  
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Comments

Those seats will be filthy in a week. No one will want to sit down on them.

Posted by: Diner65 | December 18, 2008 10:44 AM | Report abuse

The Celebritology chat is discussing "natural boreholes" as celebrity interview subjects...

If I understand your post correctly, Metro is taking fancy custom cloth with the potential for some kind of high-class or at least destinctive design, and dumbing it down for our American butts. Figures.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 12:59 PM | Report abuse

The Celebritology chat is discussing "natural boreholes" as celebrity interview subjects...

If I understand your post correctly, Metro is taking fancy custom cloth with the potential for some kind of high-class or at least destinctive design, and dumbing it down for our American butts. Figures.

Posted by: reddragon1 | December 18, 2008 1:01 PM | Report abuse

Here's my main concern: Ever since my fiancee told me about an incident she had in college revolving around a, shall we say, less than impeccable Metro seat, I've always given the my chosen seat a quick brush with my hand to make sure it isn't wet or sticky. I figure its better that my hand be "less than impeccable" than my pants, especially on the way into work in the morning.

These seats don't particularly water proof, and seem like any moisture they maintain will be relatively hidden until a commuter sits upon them. Kind of like sitting on a cushion on a deck chair after the rain. The top might be dry, but you don't know what you're going to get after all of that filler compresses.

Otherwise: good for Metro for moving away from Orange pleather, which was, to say the least, a little gauche.

Posted by: MattinSW | December 18, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

The fabric on the London Tube trains seems to standup pretty well to conditions alot harsher than metro. The new fabric should work well.

Posted by: mfromalexva | December 18, 2008 2:36 PM | Report abuse

Mfromalexvaa is right: Those Tube seats put up with some some pretty heavy abuse. Remember how damp it is in England. Also, the British rival the Japanese in their ability to drink too much then decorate the inside of a subway car. Having said that, I don't know exactly how you clean that kind of seat. I guess it's not a simple wipe, as with our current naugahyde seats.

Posted by: JohnFKelly | December 18, 2008 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Then again on NYC Transit Subways - I have been working on assignment here in the Big Apple for the last month - WHAT FABRIC? Hard plastic is the rule here. The E Train to Queens is surely not the Red Line to Silver Spring.

Posted by: TC14 | December 18, 2008 9:24 PM | Report abuse

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