Margaret's story

How the “Glovesheet” began!

By Margaret de Quay, co-founder of DK Glovesheets.

“Many years ago in 1954,  Yvan and I were living in a flat in Swiss Cottage, London, with our three daughters, Madeleine, aged 3, and the twins, Gabrielle, and Elizabeth, who were 1 year old.  We had great difficulty keeping the smaller twins from turning their cots into playpens. We often had to get up at night to sort out the rucked up sheets, to make the babies comfortable for the rest of the night.

Yvan, being inventive, made a hem all around the bottom sheet into which I inserted knicker elastic with the aid of a safety pin. This worked quite well, but we needed the fabric of the sheet to be stretchy instead of the basic flannelette, which was then used for cot sheets. Knowing nothing whatsoever about textiles, and their methods of manufacture, we came to meet a young man by the name of Nathaniel, who enabled us to find a supplier of odd rolls of interlock fabric, which at the time was used extensively for making underwear.

We had no car, so we had to travel by bus to this factory to collect the odd roll of interclock. We realized, too, that it would be necessary to buy an “overlock” machine as this is essential for seaming a knitted type of fabric. So Yvan went to Wilcox & Gibbs and bought an overlock machine which we installed in the corner of our living room and, with our one roll of white interlock material, we proceeded to design and make our very first fitted sheets, still with the hem and knickers elastic.

Then came the marketing! Our first customer was Betty Weston who had a baby shop in Hendon, she was most interested and ordered 6 sheets! She also put an advert for us in “Nursery World” and that started off our business. Of course we had to improve on the hem and elastic system and find a suitable elastic edging which we sewed directly around the edge of the fitted sheet. Then they had to be packed to look professional. We bought a roll of cellophane which we cut into squares and formed a sort of envelope which we sealed with sellotape. A paper insert described the contents with details of washing instructions, sizes etc.

We had to find customers, and living in N.W London we were well placed to go out (by bus!) to sell our invention which at that time was quite unknown. There was a superior baby shop in Wigmore St. called “Treasure Cot” and the buyer was very intrigued with the idea of a fitted cot sheet and from that first order great business was to come. “Treasure Cot” was bought up by Daniel Neal in Orchard St.  A larger shop with many more customers. They were very pleased with this novel line and our orders slowly increased.

During these first two or three years our three little daughters took up a lot of our time so we worked during evenings when they were asleep. Our packaging was too primitive so we had to launch into printed polythene bags. All this being on a tight budget, Yvan bought a hand printing outfit (Adana) and did our own printing whenever possible.

Daniel Neal’s shops were bought up by John Lewis, where we had met Miss Penhale in the baby goods department, who was most enthusiastic. (She visited the flat unnanounced, and Yvan, who was baking a large “Tarte au Pomme” for tea, nearly dropped it in shock when he opened the door and she introduced herself). From this beginning our business grew and we moved to Dormansland in 1956, with our ONE machine and started working in the old tumbledown building (which we later rebuilt).

The girls went to the local convent school.  As we still had no car, this was fortunately in walking distance. Our first machinist, Joy Austee, was from the Platt in Dormansland, and later Mrs Phillips joined us, having now got two machines! We bought a van so that Yvan could collect material from Leicester, and do our London deliveries.

At this stage we realised we could expand on sizes, fabric and colours and I approached Heals in Tottenham Court Rd.  Miss Foy, the young buyer there, was most enthusiastic, especially over colours! She wanted scarlet, navy, emerald, brown and that set us off in another direction.  We started with scarlet and navy as the cost of dyeing fabric in dark colours was so expensive.  These bright sheets were extremely popular and looked good on pine bunk beds which were very popular at that time. But Heals wanted more and more colours, and we ended up with 14! John Lewis followed suit with an equally large range of colours. 

We did an exhibition in London and these (then) original sheets were well received. Heals used to save our empty boxes so that we could use them again, Miss Foy would bring them down in the lift to our van. These boxes had already been collected by us from Stanfords (a TV rental shop) in Lingfield, as at that time we couldn’t afford our own printed cartons.

The next part of the story speaks for itself – orders grew and our outlets increased. Yvan (with help) rebuilt the workshop to twice its original size and we bought more and more machines and took on more help. When Bernard arrived in 1957 we used to take him out into the workshop and Yvan made a hammock for him so that he grew up from infancy to hear the sound of overlock machines.“

Margaret stayed involved in the business right up until her death in 2012, aged 96. Yvan was still working and customizing sewing machines until he was 97, but sadly passed away in 2018, aged 98.

Bernard eventually grew out of his hammock, and joined the family business after leaving school, working with Yvan in the factory. With the addition of Bernard’s wife Lisa to the partnership,  a 3rd generation of de Quays soon grew up in the business.

Today, two generations of the family are still making fitted sheets in the same factory built by Yvan beside his house. Bernard and his eldest son Luke now run the business, with all of Bernard and Lisa’s children having started their careers here. From humble beginnings in a flat in London, we now employ around 20 staff, all of whom are treated as members of the DK Family.

These days we are dealing with big cotton contracts for our own bespoke materials and have over 400 size/colour Glovesheet variations, but the family ethos and strong ethics remains central to all aspects of our business. We have resisted the temptation to expand heavily, allowing us to stay true to our core business and customer’s needs without compromising our quality or values. We still have old customers from our early days in 1956.

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