10 Feb. 2000 - Galashiels, The Borders, Scotland
The wind is blowing, sometimes filled with rain, other times sleet. The weather is anything but nice as we motor about an hour or so south and east of Stirling to visit one of the most respected tartan weavers in the world, Lochcarron of Scotland.1
I can't help but think of our ancestors who traveled around the country MUCH more than we realize. No warm car going 60 miles per hour with the heater on. No it was more like on foot, slogging through the mud and heather, wrapped up or dressed in wool. Brrr!
Our destination soon appears in Galashiels, a wonderful little town nestled in a narrow valley. The woolen mill is spectacular, some of the buildings dating from 1802. We are quickly introduced to John Alistair Buchan, who is the managing director of the firm. His father founded the business over 50 years ago. The red carpet is rolled out for Clan Stirling and Alistair assembles his team of people, capably lead by Jim, and we begin discussion of the Stirling Family Tartan in earnest.
Jim and Alistair are quite impressed with the method the family chose to pick this pattern, commenting it was the first time they had heard of a family doing it over the Internet. Actually we missed being the first family in history to select a tartan over the Internet by less than a week. But hey, we were one of the first, and we're here getting ready to have it made for the first time.
The first item of business is to read the thread count and numbers from the Tartan historians instructions. We go over numbers, repeats, proportional patterns, colors, all the terms and other items that go into the design of a tartan. Jim makes it seem all so easy, years of experience very obvious to me.
Computer representation of Stirling Family Tartan
Once we get things organized and compare notes we begin discussing cloth weights. The kilt material is known as Braeriach weight and has a sett of approximately seven to seven and one-half inch squares. This material is also suitable for furniture upholstery, which some of you have indicated an interest in purchasing.
For ties, scarfs, ladies skirts, etc., a lighter weight material is called for. This material is known as Reiver weight, and has a smaller sett of five to five and a half inch squares. There is some discussion regarding the transition from computer screen to actual sample, so we head downstairs to get samples of the actual threads.
TOUR OF THE FACILITY
The Thread Skeins
There are six colors in our Stirling Family Tartan, and a sample of each is quickly produced. Then a guided tour of the facility is given. The looms are very interesting, and Lochcarron has several different types. Which one is used depends on the number of colors, the width of the material required, how much is to be produced, etc. etc. I can't remember all the facts and figures, but I'm a real automobile nut, and as Jim describes these "babies" it's quite clear the whole company is very proud of their machines. The people operating them were trained in apprenticeship programs, a process that takes several years. The hum and flow of energy in the building is really cool, a combination of manufacturing from one of natures raw materials, and the wisdom and love of the employees.
The Weft Grid
The pattern of the kilt is setup on these large grids, that stand behind the actual looms. It's a time consuming process, and quite labor intensive. The ease of which these employees deal with hundreds of threads, all in place, all in a set pattern is amazing. Consider the difficulty you and I have with a stray thread in our suits or skirts....
Modern Japanese Loom
This loom uses a different process to create the tartan cloth. It's a modern design by the Japanese firm Suzuki, and instead of the threads being gathered on the large grids it's woven a thread at a time by this computer driven machine. This machine specializes in small runs of private patterns, so it's quite likely this is the actual location our Stirling Family Tartan will be born. Larger runs of material are run on the other machines.
Traditional Machine Loom
We move on to another building, and a different type of machine. It's noisy in here as the sound of shuttlecocks and looms makes quite a bit of racket. It's always fascinated me how the making of cloth works, I remember as a young child going with my Aunt Helen to see an old woman making cloth on a large hand loom in her living room. These machines are much faster and louder, the gears grinding, the shuttlecocks banging back and forth, and the looms pulling the threads together.
A large green door looms ahead with a sign saying "Quiet Please" The room inside is basked in warm light, and several women are carefully going over every square inch of a Lindsay, Napier and several other tartans I don't recognize. Jim tells us each piece of tartan is carefully checked here for broken threads, etc., and repaired before going to the next stage, which is the wash.
These machines carefully wash and set the wool. Tartan of different weights is all woven exactly the same way, how heavy the cloth is due to how much it's washed, and shrunk. The heavier the cloth, the more it's been condensed, and therefore the more condensed the wool fibers are.
In this room the actual ties, scarves, etc. are made. Kilts are generally sent out to expert kilt makers who work on them lovingly from home. There is a wonderful creative and warm energy in this room, the tartan now being created into things useful for all of us. I'm very impressed with one young person who is carefully stitching the Lochcarron label onto a set of completed scarves, giving them the final touch, and stamp of quality.
THESE GUYS ARE SERIOUS!
"We dye to live, and live to die." The Galashiels manufacturers shield says it all. doesn't it.ORDERS - LEAD-TIMES
A price list is currently being developed for everything from Kilts to simple hats and neckties. I will be posting that information as soon as it arrives from Lochcarron in the next 10 days. The lead-time on a kilt is 10-12 weeks, so those of you planning on weddings and such will need to plan accordingly. In addition, since this is a private pattern, we will need to order a certain amount of tartan called a half or full piece of cloth at a time. This is the minimum amount of cloth Lochcarron will produce at one time.
So our first order for kilts will require a minimum of eight orders. I have one order already (mine!) please don't delay once the final prices are posted. We need to work together, as the first seven orders will have to wait until that eighth order comes in. The 10-12 week time frame will begin with the LAST order is received. Some families charge membership fees, the funds are used to make the cloth in advance and Lochcarron keeps the material on hand so that a standing bolt of cloth can be maintained and single orders processed. This is another option, please let me know your thoughts. It's never been my intention to ask for membership fees, but this is one way to make single orders available.
These are not kilts like you see in cheap souvenir shops, they are the kinds of kilts that taken care of will last generations, being passed down from one family member to another. Lochcarron will be taking care of most of the details for us, but we will need to pay for the items up front when ordering them. Rick and I will be setting things up on the website for you to order the tartan. Since this is a family tartan and to keep costs down Lochcarron has asked that all orders for the tartan be sent through Clan Stirling Online.
If there are questions - please send them to [email protected]
On the way back to Stirling we made a brief stop at the ruin of Melrose abbey, where the heart of Robert The Bruce is reported to be buried. The heart of Scotland is here, the soul perhaps flows through the tartan cloth we saw created in a centuries old process, updated with more modern equipment. Sounds a little like this Internet Family community we have here in a number of ways. It's been a wonderful experience for me being here and feeling connected to Stirling cousins all over the world thanks to the Internet. I appreciate your comments, suggestions, and for sharing your discoveries and experiences as you get to know more about our family.
I've only worn my Stirling District tartan kilt once, at my wedding. I plan on wearing it more often in the future, but I can tell you this, it's a wonderful feeling in quite a number of ways!!!
Read More About It at Lockcarron's Website
Galashiels "A village and parish in the district of Tweeddale. The parish is of an irregular triangular figure, on an average about 5 1/2 miles in breadth, lying partly in the county of Roxburgh, and partly in that of Selkirk; the Tweed, which divides it into two parts, being the boundary of the two shires. The surface is hilly and mountainous; the highest point, Meghill, being elevated about 1480 feet above the level of the sea. The hills are mostly green, and furnish excellent sheep pasture. The soil is various, being partly a deep loam on a till bottom and partly a shallow loam upon gravel, with which it is much mixed. Considerable attention is paid to the rearing of sheep, and the improvement of the wool. Besides the Tweed, the parish is intersected by the Etterick and Gala waters, which are well known from the beautiful pastoral songs to which they give their name. The village of Galashiels, part of which lies in the parish of Melrose, is finely situated on the banks of the Gala, and contains about 780 inhabitants ... Population [of the parish] in 1801, 844." from Gazetteer of Scotland published 1806, Edinburgh. You can visit Lochcarron's website by clicking here.