Feel the quality on the Scottish Borders Cashmere Trail – There’s a soft side to the Scottish Borders – a very soft side that has brought international fame and wealth to the region for over 150 years.
The Borders is renowned as the home of cashmere, a luxury fashion item that owes its success to the skills and ingenuity resident in the region’s textile industry – and a special blessing from Mother Nature.
A favourite of film stars, jet setters, sporting celebrities and the generally well-heeled, cashmere from the Scottish Borders continues to grace the world’s catwalks in spite of a massive contraction in the local textile industry in recent years.
Flick through any of the latest glossy celeb magazines and you are likely to find cashmere designed and made in the Borders wrapped around the likes of Cheryl Cole and David Beckham.
They follow a long line of film stars and sports personalities whose taste for fashionable knitwear has been tied to the Borders.
That’s a testament to enduring local skills and the unique soft waters that flow through the traditional Borders’ textile town’s of Hawick, Selkirk, Peebles and Innerleithen.
History tells us it was the fashion hungry French that created the initial demand for cashmere. Pashmina shawls, a mix of silk and cashmere, found their way to Paris via Egypt when a gift to Napoleon was sent on to the Empress Josephine.
Cashmere starts out as extremely fine under hair on goats living in Mongolia and the Himalayas, where sub-zero temperatures of -40C are all the incentive you need to develop a special coat to keep warm.
The cashmere industry blossomed in the Scottish Borders from the mid to late 1800’s onwards and became a highly desirable thanks to the attention of fashion giants such as Coco Chanel and Jean Patou.
During the decades that followed, the Scottish Borders led the world in the manufacture of cashmere and top-of-the-range textiles.
Some of the leading Borders’ names from the textiles industry past and present include Ballentyne’s of Innerleithen, Pringle, Lyle and Scott, Peter Scott, Barrie Knitwear and Roxburghe Hand-Knits all of Hawick.
Luxury cashmere takes life on an Intarsia (literally inlaid by hand) weaving machine at the hands of super skilled operators who work to pre-set designs.
Bobby McDonald, who started at Pringle’s as an apprentice was one of the best hand Intarsia operators. He travelled the world demonstrating his skills as an ambassador for Pringle. “I was taught by Walker Stewart who was a legend in hand Intarsia and spent time in America, Japan and India.
“I made garments for top names from the world of entertainment and sport. The list included the jumper worn by Jack Nicklaus at his last open at St Andrew’s and the one he wore when he won at Turnberry 25 years earlier.
“At that time Pringle’s had a shop at Disneyworld in Florida and the textiles industry was the main stay of the Borders. Sadly those days are now gone but we still produce some world class textiles and I hope that will continue,” he said.
The VIP connection has continued into the film world with Hawick being the home of production of Harry Potter’s school outfits.
We are delighted to say that exclusive items of Borders cashmere are still available at selected shops and factory outlets throughout the area.
For a look back to the way things were in the textiles industry, a visit to the Textiles Towerhouse in Hawick is warmly recommended. It’s a top visitor attraction providing a unique look at the region’s knitwear and tweed manufacturing history.
The Towerhouse is home to displays of fashion, artefacts, photographs and film that chart over 200 years of tradition and innovation in the local woollen industries.
The Towerhouse is a tribute to the men and women who worked in the mills, developing unique skills that made Borders textiles a world class act – and a fitting starting point for the Scottish Borders Cashmere Trail.