The internationally renowned Lochcarron of Scotland is a family owned company which has been weaving a wide range of fabrics since 1947. For over three decades it has been operating factory tours, and today a visit to Lochcarron of Scotland is a rare chance to glimpse an industry which was once central to the economy of southern Scotland and remains central to a key element of our national heritage: tartan.
Since mid 2006, Lochcarron of Scotland has occupied a site not far from the Ettrick Water on the north side of Selkirk. The postal address is Waverley Mill, and the name is all that remains of Lochcarron's old premises, six miles to the north on the banks of the Gala Water in Galashiels. The old Waverley Mill was on a cramped site which offered little flexibility. Since Lochcarron's relocation to Selkirk the old site has been redeveloped as shops.
The new premises mean that a lot more space has been made available for a large visitor centre which includes a shop and the opportunity to have a private fitting for Highland wear and kilts.
Still using mainly traditional methods the mill weaves the world's largest range of pure new wool tartans. And with ever increasing popularity for fine fabrics, Lochcarron are now taking orders from some of the most famous names in fashion. Clients include Vivienne Westwood, Ralph Lauren, Burberry and Jigsaw, to name just a handful: all have contracts for the unique tartans and fabrics the Waverley Mill produces.
And visitors are able to view these tartans and fabrics being produced, because mill tours remain an integral part of what Lochcarron does. These tours offer visitors and potential clients the chance to see much of the process that leads from the spun yarn to the finished tartan or fabric. Tours are available all year round and your guide will take you right into the heart of the action.
Visitors begin their tour at the beginning of the weaving process itself. The spun yarn is the first component of the whole story. At Waverley Mill they use a number of different types of natural fibres that are specially dyed for use in the final tartan fabrics. The next step lines these yarns up into the pattern they will form on large drums and produces a roll of threads that will eventually be woven together to make the tartan.
Checks are made every step of the way to maintain the highest standards of quality. Lochcarron of Scotland's high standards have resulted in their winning the Gold Award for Export Achievement from the British Knitting and Clothing Export Council.
The gathered threads can range in length from those suitable for short, individual one-off orders of 10m to those destined for large corporate orders that can be many hundreds of metres long. Weaving time depends on the length of the fabric being produced. In the past, looms could take a number of days to produce a large order. Today's vastly improved technology means that even the largest orders can be woven in just a few hours.
From the looms the tartans go to be methodically hand checked and any faults that are found are rectified, again by hand. The fabric is then taken off site to be washed in local spring waters and dried. Depending on the finish of the final fabric the material may be washed and dried at different temperatures during a number of different cycles: rather like washing different fabrics at home! Finally, the tartan goes through a last finishing process before being dispatched to order or being returned to Selkirk to go into stock.
Although the main focus of Lochcarron of Scotland is the weaving of tartan, the company also produce many different types of fine knitwear. They are particularly famous for the way that they finish their cashmere products. They still use a traditional method involving hundreds of dried thistles, known as teasels. The teasels are lined up on a huge drum and are sprayed with water to soften them. Cashmere passed over the teasels is combed more effectively than by any artificial process yet found. So specialised is this process that many companies send their finished fabrics to Lochcarron just to be combed.
The tour finishes back in the visitor centre where visitors are able to see the finished products on the shelves in the form of scarves, jumpers, ties and kilts to name just a few. Here you can purchase Lochcarron of Scotland knitwear as well as tartan and tweeds produced from cashmere, lamora, lambswool and mohair.