"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:


 Ta-da!
 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,

xoxDani

53 comments:

  1. How utterly superb! Your photographs are wonderful, what a great experience. I've been meaning to send you a photo of my Brora jumpers with their original labels, I prefer the old style.
    Balmoral Ted is a cutie, I hope he behaved.

    (Oh this is me Tabitha, have made a mess of trying to change the blog name, have lost posts, lost my Pinterest page, can't get the hang of this computery do da at all. I thought bourbon and pearls was a bit twee now - should have left well alone!)

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  2. Badinage - I sound like a character from Blackadder - only UK' ers will get that.

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    1. Tabs yes please send photo! We looked at some old Brora catalogues which was like entering a time machine... thanks so much to you for being the Brilliant Birdie.

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    2. Oh, there are some of us in the USA who remember Blackadder...

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    3. I remember Blackadder! Thanks for being the Birdie!

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    4. We know Black Adder in Canada....you are braver than I am changing up your blog.

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  3. I find the machinery fascinating. So glad the little bird chirped. What a wonderful experience for you.

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    1. BB the machinery is fascinating, some machines very new and state of the art, other machines 60 years old but still the best in the industry, the floor manager seemed to know how to fix absolutely everything, so much skill!

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  4. Tabs - Canucks know Blackadder, too!

    Dani - what a day and what an experience! I will treasure my Brora even more now! How amazing! I think I will definitely need a pair of those bed socks....

    I love the craftsmanship and old-fashioned-ness of it all. How splendid! And the archive! How wonderful!

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    1. Wendy - oh I thought no one would know what I was yakking about!

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    2. Wendy it was truly amazing. I have thought about how a mill works and the truth is I had no idea! What an education and my Brora treasures are even more treasured now...
      I don't know what Blackadder is, but I often miss those references for some reason!

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    3. Well butter my buns and call me a biscuit..no clue on badinage or blackladder.

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    4. I know... what are they talking about?!

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  5. What a tour! Lucky to see it up close and well done Tabs. You look so happy Dani 😊

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    1. Naomi it was a real privilege and I was extremely happy!

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  6. What a wonderful end to your trip Dani (or is there more to tell?) - and big thanks to Tabitha for making it all happen. Fascinating.

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    1. Patricia it was really a highlight of our whole trip for all of us, MrBP was fascinated but so were the Rascal daughters, I was wishing our son had been with us, he would have loved it, he's always loved to see how things are made, how they work.

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  7. Gorgeous! I have a couple of their pieces but had no idea the work that went into them. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Jen I had no idea either, I was amazed.

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  8. How pretty do you look in that last photo! Love that green on you.
    Loved going along on the pilgrimage with you, never ever thought about how sweaters etc are made which is funny because one of my friends designs knitwear and she travels all over the world lecturing. (apparently she has to wear dark glasses around knitters as they swamp her with questions for hours!!!)

    You're right, this is a great trip for kids, they love to see behind the curtain. I must action a Brora purchase, I love their sensibility

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    1. Jody yes your friend would be very popular at the old knitting circle!
      Thanks Dollface.

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  9. Fascinating! You know you're the one that put Brora on my radar. While I love my local Australian wool knitwear from Cable Melbourne, the Cashmere from Brora has just been superb. I've given my Dad 5 pairs of the socks for Christmas and Birthday presents - he needs them as his house is positively Scottish-cold in Winter, and I bought myself a cardigan and a jumper that I've been wearing non stop this winter.
    Sounds like a dream come true to see the mill in action, and interesting to see so much hand finishing required in this age of machinery too! You're a great ambassador for Brora Dani, and how wonderful of Tabitha to pull a few strings and get you a tour! xx

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    1. Heidi your Dad must love his socks, I buy them for MrBP who also wears Brora jumpers, as he says "you can never go back".
      Did you buy a cropped cardigan? I wear mine all summer with sleeveless dresses.
      I know, how great of Tabs.

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  10. I would love to do this tour! How lucky you got to see everything up close. I remember visiting the Johnston outlet, fourteen years later my DD still wears the grey cashmere sweater I bought her there. Those socks look like a great idea-- I always have night socks in the winter and these would be divine!

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    1. Lane the mill is Johnston as well, great company, family owned and committed to this incredible Scottish craft, the Johnston sweaters are the same quality and attention to detail. Fourteen years later... in the end that sweater is a bargain.
      You must get some bed socks, they are heaven.

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  11. Welcome home Dani. It doesn't surprize me that Tabs would go the extra mile to make this a trip of a lifetime. What a treat to see the mill. Thanks for the peek behind the scenes. Brora has been a joy to wear and this makes me excited to see the fall collection.
    The last picture says it all...

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    1. Thanks Marsha, oooh just wait until Autumn is revealed, I had a sneak peek and it is gorgeous. The "Seville" shade caught my eye but so did a perfect red, "poppy", not too dark or orange or pink. I can't wait to see it on the site.

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  12. Welcome back! Thanks for walking us through your mill visit. It gives me a real appreciation for the technical production process and skill that goes into making each knit. Love the fair isle. And to think that my Brora bed socks were produced in that sock machine! Who knew? Did you get to thumb through the items in the archive room? You look completely blissful.

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    1. AmW yes they very generously let me peruse the archive room, it was indeed bliss! The production process was fascinating, so technical yet so hands-on as well. Thanks AmW.

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  13. What an amazing experience! The archive room must have seemed like cashmere heaven! Loved all the photos, the colours are such a treat for the eye. I may have to order another pair of socks...I wore them constantly last winter, but they mysteriously vanished somewhere.

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    1. Louise it was cashmere heaven! Hmmm, did your socks get stolen? They are so soft and tempting. ;)

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  14. Brora totally won my Find The Best Cashmere project - beating out Eric Bompard and all the US firms. Their cashmere is thin, strong, light, warm, perfect. What a beautiful post, and you look beautiful as always. Fair Isle is tempting, I agree, even out here in California!

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    1. LPC it is the best in the world, and of course the colours are what draw me in... it was really interesting to know that the collections begin with the cashmere, and to learn a little about the inspiration behind those gorgeous layered colours!

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  15. Cashmere love!
    How amazing that you got to go behind the scenes...
    I love a great cashmere sweater and have serious envy.
    I own a Jonston's crew neck sweater from about ten years ago...as fresh as it was when it was gifted.
    Scottish cashmere is superb.
    Hope you brought back some with you.

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    1. Hostess your Johnston's is a treasure, a wonderful company that runs this mill.
      I did buy a new cropped cardigan in periwinkle blue and a blue silk dress at the Brora shop in Edinburgh... really lovely, I'll have to do a post on it!

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  16. What a great visit you had, Dani! You looked like a kid in the candy store int hat last pic! :))

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  17. Wishing and HopingJuly 24, 2014 at 3:14 AM

    Dear Dani.
    What bliss!
    There's no doubt you're in cashmere heaven with all the happiness emanating from your face. :)
    Love Brora cashmere. Discovered it some years ago after seeing it in an English living magazine. I vow not to buy any other brand. I've tried buying cashmere here (made off shore) and find it too flimsy and not warm at all. Doesn't wash well either.
    Brora cashmere really stands out in its weave of the wool, I think. Toasty warm and durable.

    This winter I've been living in cashmere jumpers, thermals, wool skirts, wool tights and boots.
    I've been happy with that even when we have had some very icy mornings!

    DO tell what the new fair-isle range is like. I've always craved for a fair isle jumper but am silly enough to wait out for the sales. Naturally, they're the first to go. My 14 year old daughter is requesting fair -isle too lately, so I must get organised. The colours you've posted are quite delicious.

    Love the mauve colour on the jumper/cardigan and the pattern is divine too. Seems your Rascal has good taste (naturally taking after mum). :)

    Looks like a good time was had by all - including Balmoral teddy. Sweet.
    Helen :)

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    1. Helen I have a similar vow!
      One of the things I learned was about a very important process: the water finishing. There are trade secrets which are closely guarded but of course they begin with good Scottish water... the finishing if done properly leads to durability. Those cashmere sweaters made off shore might feel soft in the store but have often been over-processed with inferior water which affects the longevity and beauty of the product. My view is that buying cheap cashmere is a waste of money: buy once and buy well. Your view as well!
      How important is cashmere on those cold mornings? I was telling some of the people at the mill how important their products are to us here in Canada, with -30 mornings on many days this past winter (and a new puppy to take out at 6am) we really rely on our cashmere!
      Thanks Helen.

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  18. That really does look like a fairytale day! It must have been so interesting to learn all the steps of producing their beautiful cashmere garments. I love all those colours that you can enjoy all along your pictures. Wonderful and special time Dani!

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  19. Dani I hope you got to go to the factory shop too!

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    1. Si je veux, yes but what I really want to do is go to the mill sale in December!

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  20. I found myself fascinated by the process and the materials. I can't even begin to imagine inventing some of those machines!

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    1. Fred how that happens I have absolutely no clue!

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  21. aMAAAAzing!!! I would never have guessed that putting together a sweater entailed 1/10 the amount of work that it does! (Well, a BRORA sweater, I should clarify.) I would feel badly buying any of their cashmere on sale now that I have seen how much time and care goes into the making, to say nothing of the lovely quality of the yarn itself! It sounds like you all had a wonderful trip, and it was very fun to meet YR!

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    1. AudreyS I had no idea and goodness knows I've thought about it too.:)

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  22. In a former life working for the family biz, I toured probably 1500+ manufacturing facilities and always was fascinated seeing how things are made. I would love to tour Brora and your infectious enthusiasm has given me a longing to see how this process goes in person. I do think that plum would look fab on Young Rascal and the cobalt blue gloves are lovely.
    Tabs, we know about Blackadder in Chicago too!

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    1. GSL wow lucky you. You would love to tour the mill, you can pay a visit if you are ever in Scotland, they host tours!

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  23. You look marvelous on the Brora blog, Dani!

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    1. Oh my gosh thanks Rebecca! It was such a fun day, I've been telling my friends at home all about it this last week!

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  24. Super, super excited for you! You SO deserved that fabulous treat!

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  25. Dani, So loved every bit of this! What an amazing tour. I am now even in more awe of the quality of Brora. I have to buy my next sweater from there. They all look so luxe and I don't think there are many factories like this left that do this kind of work! You look so cute in the photo too!! xx Kim

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