Todd & Duncan, the World’s finest cashmere

todd-and-duncanRecently Jack went north to Kinross to visit Todd & Duncan, the world’s finest producer of cashmere. We knows it’s the world’s finest, because Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh also visited Todd & Duncan back in the 1960’s. Luckily, not on the same day as us or they’d have been confused about who was more important!

Todd & Duncan have been in business since 1867 which is over 150 years! We’re very proud of our 40+ years in business but 150 is phenomenal! They are a piece of Scotland’s history!

Cashmere-GoatsWe’ve written before on our blog about cashmere and the hardy breed of mountain goat it comes from. Today we wanted to talk to you about the process that turns it into beautiful yarn ready to be used in our collection. This all takes place in the Todd & Duncan mill on the banks of Loch Leven.

These lovely looking laddies (maybe lassies) greet you inside the door. Cashmere goats are usually found in nomadic herds across Mongolia, China and Iran. On average a sheep produces a few kilos of wool per shearing. However these lovely cashmere goats produce only a few hundred grams of cashmere each! That’s only about enough for one pure cashmere scarf!

Bales-of-cashmereOf course this scarcity contributes to why it has been such a sought after yarn for hundreds of years. It is also a very lightweight fibre which makes gorgeously soft garments, perfect for getting through a chilly Scottish winter!

The huge sacks on the left contain the cashmere ready to be dyed and spun – an awful lot of goats provided all the cashmere needed to fill these sacks!

washing-cashmere

First off, you need to give the fibre a good wash! Todd & Duncan have a fascinating facility including these enormous washers on the right. They look nothing like our washing machines at home or in our Edinburgh Grassmarket workshop!

Todd & Duncan mills have been on the banks of Loch Leven since 1897 and say the pure Scottish water is essential to the look and feel of their yarn. The huge bales are washed and dyed in big vats, before being passed over onto the dryers and assorted machines for spinning.

To make up the dizzying array of colours they have on offer, exact blends of dyed batches are mixed together in huge hoppers. Then they are fed into a machine to change the raw cashmere into yarn! In this video the dyed fibre is passed through rollers to remove any impurities. Just one of the many steps taken to be sure the cashmere is as soft as possible when it reaches you!

You can see multiple rollers in this shot, all running in parallel to process the raw cashmere into yarn. I think you start to get a feeling for the size, and noise, of the place!

The yarn is then twisted onto these cobbs and sent out to us in Edinburgh! We turn it into the most beautiful, warm and light weight garments for you! It’s amazing to see how much work goes into processing cashmere and we’re even more impressed with this versatile fabric! Colour is so important in our collection and Todd & Duncan provide breathtaking colours which are soft, warm and lightweight. They are a joy to work with!

dyed-on-cobbs

Thanks so much to Colin and everyone at Todd & Duncan for Jack’s eye opening tour. He had a great day seeing how cashmere is made and, of course, having a look in Todd & Duncan’s own shop! So many jumpers, cardigans and scarves!

cashmere-shop

Check out our Cashmere and Silk Shawls made with Todd & Duncan Scottish cashmere and keep your eyes peeled for more Cashmere products on our website soon. And the next time you are in our Grassmarket Workshop make sure to ask if you can see our latest 100% Cashmere products!

Why not check out our video playlist on yotube and watch the journey the fibre takes from dyed and raw to fully spun cashmere yarn!

Creating Colours

Ever wondered how we go about creating so many beautiful colourways here at Bill Baber Knitwear? Well, we thought we would take you behind the scenes at the Studio and show you how its done.

Helen selecting yarn colours

Three or four times a year we pack up our finest styles and strongest colours and travel off to a Tradeshow. If you have been keeping an eye on our social media over the years, you’ll have seen Bill, Helen & Jack at various locations meeting businesses and buyers from all over the world.

For these Tradeshows we produce not only examples of the styles that we can knit, but also the colourways we can knit them in. Usually we have around 15 – 20 colour options for each style we produce. When you consider there may be 50 or more styles, made in as many as eight different material types and then in 15 -20 different colours, the choice is huge! Which is great as each business we supply can curate their own collection of unique styles and combinations.

So, how do we produce these colourways?

First, you need some supplies! We use hundreds of boxes here at Bill Baber Knitwear, buy them in from IKEA and you’ll find endless ways to use them. We use use Post It notes & sheets of scrap paper – the brighter colours the better. We collected paper or card packaging material and repurpose it wherever we can. And some thick marker pens, lots of colours are best. We love a Sharpie marker!

We start out by creating colour maps for each of our base colours. In this case we are using Black as a foundation, or base colour, here there are four variants Pine, Charcoal, Ivory and Jewel. We put up a colour map for each of our base colours (e.g. Pink, Black, Khaki, Maroon), each base group could have three of four colourways, so its a huge collection to start with.

We start collecting up our base colours from the assorted yarn stocks we use, here you can see Silk, Merino Wool, Cashmere, Donegal Wool and a new Wool & Silk mix called Iona we are testing out. The Post It notes show us gaps in our colour range that we may wish to fill. There are lots of base colours to work with and as yarn suppliers are forever launching new colours or discontinuing old ones, we are often finding new gaps to fill which leads to exciting new colourways.

Yarn suppliers produce shade cards for their available colours, some do it every few months, others maybe once per year. In some rare cases we may have the yarn supplier produce a specific colour to order for us, although its a very costly and time consuming practice so we enter into it very carefully. Below you can see a selection of shade cards lined up on Porche, one of our knitting machines. These cards show a range of Cashmere we use from Todd & Duncan and also a small selection of colour wrappings from Gardiners, these are from the new Silk & Wool mix called Iona. Once we have identified the gap in our base colours we can go hunting in these shade cards to find the missing colours – this often takes days as we find new colours we love and that might start a whole new collection! It is good fun.

Once we have the base colours all together, we put each one into a box. It makes it much easier for us to fish out the right cones as we are sampling – uses up a lot of boxes as you can see, but really helps to be organised before we start. Each box contains each of the different yarn types we use as base colours. So in Black you’ll find a Cashmere, a Silk, a Merino Wool, a Donegal Wool, a Linen and a new Iona (that’s the wool/silk mix in case you haven’t been paying attention).

We also start a box for each colourway. So using Black as a start, we have a box each for Pine, Ivory, Jewel and Charcoal. We then write ourselves a little instruction list on how to build the colourway and affix that to the box.

Each Colourway is actually available in a range of yarn mixtures, at present we are working on eight for launch through 2019. There is a Silk & Linen 2 colour, 3 colour and a 4 colour swatch. Then we have a Merino Wool & Linen and a Donegal Wool & Linen swatch that we use to make our Celtic Stoles. You also have the new Iona & Linen swatches, these haven’t made it into any garments yet as we are only trialling the yarn so far. And finally there is a 100% Cashmere and a Cashmere & Silk mix. There are an lot of colours! For each Base Colour, we have maybe three of four Colourways and for each Colourway you have up to eight Swatches. we are going to need a lot of boxes!

We hope that was interesting. Creating new colours is one of the most fun jobs we have here and we spend a lot of time in the Winter getting ready for the new year collections.

Keep an eye online for the new colours as they launch. You’ll see new collections online through 2019 and we will be showcasing new colourways through our social media all year. If you aren’t already on our newsletter mailing list then please sign up so you don’t miss out on the news as it happens.

If you are a wholesaler then you will be seeing the new colours at the following shows:

Scotland’s Trade Fair Jan 2019

Showcase Ireland Jan 2019

MODA Birmingham Feb 2019

Celtic Showcase Secaucus April 2019

Enjoy!

Secaucus 2018!

We are busy preparing garments for the Celtic Shows trade show in Secaucus this April! Take a look at the website for a full list of exhibitors. We are so excited to showcase some of our new styles along with many classics. This year we will be taking with us a collection of Donegal Wool

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Donegal Yarns

We have started to incorporate more of the beautiful wool from Donegal Yarns into our collection. All production is carried out at the traditional wool spinning mill in Kilnar, taking the wool from its raw state, right through to dying and spinning, leaving it with a beautiful multi- coloured tweed like fleck. The history of

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