"We are what we believe we are."
C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Brora Cashmere: Our Visit to the Mill

Young Rascal wearing Brora cashmere.
Balmoral Teddy wearing his own fur.
The Scottish countryside from the car.  It's impossible to take a bad picture of
this sort of beauty, even with Ol' Lead Foot MrBP driving.
 After two days at The Balmoral in Edinburgh we climbed back into the car with our new friend Balmoral Teddy to travel through gorgeous countryside to the Scottish Borders.
Little did we know it at the time but we were in for an absolute treat of an afternoon:  great conversation, new friends and a cashmere education all while touring the best cashmere mill in Scotland  (and therefore the world)!

We began with the yarn, delicious large spools of cashmere yarn carefully dyed to Brora's own specifications in Elgin, Scotland.  The yarn alone is extremely valuable and guarded with lock, key and then more security.  How does one manufacture knitwear using something so precious?  Very carefully,  with the best machinery certainly, but more importantly with skilled craftspeople intervening every step of the way.
 The yarn itself is dyed each season with new colours which reflect the Brora collection and colour stories.  The Brora design team begins with the cashmere colours and works out from there... many of these colours are derived from nature, from art, or from travel.  Inspired, and inspiring...
 Our first stop on the mill floor, after viewing the guarded spools of yarn, was the very fun and dynamic pom-pom maker!
 The pom-pom maker is a high-tech machine which quickly winds the yarn.  This machine requires a hands-on technique from a skilled craftsman who was so kind and happy to meet us.  He then proceeded to make Young Rascal her own pom-pom to take home with her (which was later pressed into fluffy wonderfulness by the Master Presser), she's been carrying it around ever since!

It was amazing to see stacks of Brora products making their way through the mill, so gorgeous in colour and so doted on by the many people working, and checking, every step of their journey.
Gorgeous cashmere Brora gloves on their journey to warm and beautify hands all over the world.
 A particular thrill was the sock machine, whirring and spinning out socks to be extracted and then hand-finished.
 Yes we do love pink socks!
 I was particularly interested in the knitting machines which assemble some of the complex fair isle patterns, using many different colours which have been programmed to the wish of the designers by the expert engineers behind the scenes...
 Every machine is carefully monitored by a mill employee, I was so impressed by their focus and care, it really is such a creative process which results in a work of art.

 A gorgeous fair isle knit, truly a wonder of colour and pattern, yet warm, toasty and serviceable too:
 The cable knit machines were also particularly interesting because they produce my very favourite cashmere cable bed socks.  With feet encased in the softest, warmest squishiest socks in the world I can go right to sleep without aches, pains or the dreaded insomnia.  I buy a new pair every year and my current bed socks are a slightly darker heather pink, so pretty and boudoir.
Lovely lovely Brora cashmere socks.
The cure for insomnia.
The mill might produce wearable works of art but some of the machinery could serve time as an art installation, all the while still engaging in productivity of course:

 Isn't that amazing?

To see Brora cardigans and jumpers travel through the factory paying visits to all of the craftspeople was like following a riveting story... every step requires the utmost care and attention to the accompanying "ticket".  The "ticket" is the work order that follows the package of sweaters, with detailed information on measurements and finish... every detail is checked along the way.  There is no room for mistakes, with the beginning cashmere yarn so precious a fault along the way is a disastrous loss.  I was amazed at the concentration and skill displayed by each and every craftsperson in the mill.

 Steely focus is needed so as not to ever drop a stitch... it's very impressive eye-hand co-ordination!

 Look at those beautiful cables...

 Imagine the skill and confidence needed to cut into these gorgeous jumpers to create the necklines, or to create the front opening of the cardigans?

 I felt nervous just watching, I'm timid cutting tea-towelling fabric for sewing!

 At every stage there was a careful measure, every single piece of knitwear is made to perfection and for life-long wear...

 Those are some sharp scissors, and a very steady hand.
 I was amazed at the amount of hand-finishing that the knitwear requires.  There is such skill and fast finger-work involved!
 I think I'll be buying some Brora fair isle this season, I was so mesmerized by the patterns and colours.

 As the knitwear arrives at quality control it is checked again and again by different eyes and any areas of concern are marked off for further scrutiny.  This is a perfectionist's work!
 There is a lovely lady who is in charge of clearing the navy and black cashmere of lint, she takes her time and extracts any stray bits from every piece.  That is patient work and I will no longer complain when I spend a mere two minutes with a lint roller over a jacket!
Linty bits are not allowed.
 I adored the interesting v-neckline on this blue jumper.
 We saw gorgeous shades of mauve and plum, my older daughter was interested in these shades as possible contenders for back-to-school.
Gorgeous plum mauve cashmere.
That would ease the sting of winter!
 The buttons are carefully sewn and then reinforced and then checked again!  When we stopped at this workstation the lady in charge wasn't happy with her button, she was getting set to do it all over again.

 The zippers are carefully set in and hand-finished... the Brora Cashmere Hoody is a very popular item that returns every year and is collected by Brora fans.

 I was amazed by this lovely lady's skill and speed, and smile for us!  Everyone at the mill was so friendly and curious about where we were from, and were we having a good holiday?  I could have spent days hanging about the mill, it was such a cozy yet productive atmosphere.
 I am very excited to show you my favourite machine at the mill:  The Amazing Cashmere X-Ray Machine!
 After each piece of knitwear has gone through all of the quality checks it meets the x-ray, which shows (and tells) all...
 Scrutinizing cashmere...

 It looked perfect to me!
 There were so many measurements taken along the way, it was the checking and re-checking and then checking again that amazed me...

 The cashmere takes a final press to put it into perfect shape.  Here you will see a gorgeous Brora cardigan with an open shape, just stunning.  It was being pressed into ultimate loveliness next to some very nice pieces of French Couture, all made alongside Brora every step.  My jaw dropped when I saw those labels!
 Seeing those French Couture labels confirmed something I had heard rumour of:  in buying Brora cashmere we are wearing couture quality at a fraction of the price.  I saw it with my own eyes my friends...
Expert pressing of a lovely long Brora cardigan.

More measuring!
 In the warehouse the socks are hand-folded with labels carefully wrapped around.  We said hello to three sock-folders amicably at work (while listening to some rather good music) before checking out the systems in the warehouse.
 It was so lovely to see those industrious piles of beautiful Brora cashmere waiting to be sent out into the world!

More fair isle, look at that gorgeous cobalt blue!
 I spied a certain cardigan that might have to wing its way to my house this season: the cropped cardigan in "Seville", a stunning new shade of darkest orange.
Cropped cardigan in Seville: I've been dreaming of you.
 Our day at the mill ended with an ultimate dream visit for this Brora Super Fan: I was allowed to browse around the archives!
DaniBP in a state of Utter Happiness amongst the Brora Archives.
Thank you so much Brora for inviting me (and my family, Rascals and all) to have a tour of your mill.  We had so much fun and loved learning about the Magic of Brora.

 (Thank you as well to a Little Birdie (aka Tabitha) who wrote to Brora to tell them I'd be in the UK.  You did me a very kind favour my friend, it was such an opportunity, one I'll never forget.)

What's next?  Well I'm spending my days waiting for Brora's Autumn collection to arrive on the website of course, but in the meantime I have more to share from our trip so please stay tuned...
 Be Good and Have Fun,