Whilst in the Borders, I also spent a lovely afternoon with the good folk at The Border Mill. Run from a glorified (and glorious) shed on an industrial estate on the edge of Duns, The Border Mill is a wee gem that specialises in processing alpaca fleece into soft and gorgeous yarn. Production Manager Kate spent a couple of hours carefully taking me through the detailed processes involved, and John and Juliet cheerfully chatted about their love for all things alpaca. Hounds Wellington, Ava and Izzy kept me company as I sat scribbling at the mill table, surrounded by cones of yarn-in-progress and sample cards, and everyone made sure I was well supplied with tea. It was a fascinating and heart-lifting afternoon spent surrounded by people who truly love their work; in Kate’s words, if there were more hours in the day, she would spend them working in the mill. Now that’s job satisfaction. Thank you everyone for having me!
Kirk Yetholm Youth Hostel:
Leaving Duns in a blizzard, I headed south for the cheapest available bed in the Borders: a bunk at Kirk Yetholm Youth Hostel. I pass only one car on the road. Sixteen miles, one flash of a stoat and a scattering of quail later, I’m making up a tiny bunk with hostel sheets, using the duvet from the empty bed above me as secondary insulation – there’s no heating in this room.
I head to the pub for a drink, only to be denied succour with the words ‘I’m sorry but I need to close the bar, the horse has died.’
Hawick Heritage Hub:
The next morning I headed to Hawick in a brisk north-easterly wind to interview two former workers from the town’s knitwear factories. Staff at Hawick Heritage Hub have put me in touch with Irene Scott, a mender for Pringle, and Gordon Macdonald, a knitting machine mechanic for Lyle and Scott with an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Border textiles.
In the 1950s and ’60s Hawick’s knitwear factories took on thirty or more apprentices each three times a year – Irene and Gordon among them. They talked me through their work from yarn to shop-ready garment, along with a host of lovely stories about their apprenticeships, getting married (not to each other), and working with experts from across the world to produce some of the most sought-after garments in fashion. A huge thank you to them both, and to the wonderful Kathy and Hannah at Hawick Heritage Hub for putting us in touch.