Anyone who has ever threaded a needle to mend a missing button will know all about the precision and patience it requires. So, consider for a moment the intricacies that might go into the milling of tweed, a fabric that is made up of literally thousands of individual threads.
It is impossible to properly convey in words how a Lovat Mill tweed is made, for it is mind-bogglingly complex and intricate. But, put simply, the process begins with spinning, twisting and winding measured lengths of different types and grades of wool onto yarns, each one unique and made up of any combination of shade and hue. This is an intricate job that produces the basic component that all tweed is woven from, and ultimately determines the final character of the tweed.
This is then followed by a process known as warping, where hundreds (or even thousands) of these individual ‘ends’ or threads are simultaneously fed from the yarns into an enormous warping machine which meticulously organises them into lengthwise warps, before loading them with great precision onto a loom. The ends are cut, and then, on state-of-the art machines operated by their highly-skilled and experienced team, the wefts (individual threads running at right angles) are woven into warp, creating the individual weave and pattern of the tweed.
Finally, every metre of tweed is carefully checked over and hand-darned, before it is deemed to be ready to leave the mill.
It is only when you see the entire process from start to finish that you begin to comprehend and appreciate the skill and precision that goes into producing a Lovat Mill tweed, and, indeed, how truly unique each one is.
Today, Lovat Mill is considered to be the home of tweed. It has been based in Hawick on the banks of the Teviot River in the Scottish Borders since 1882 but was bought in 1999 by two brilliant textile designers, Alan Cumming and Stephen Rendle, who, over the past 22 years, have turned it into arguably the most cutting-edge tweed mill in the country.
Of course, history and tradition are still firmly at the heart of everything they do, and when the Schöffel Country team visit, one of the highlights is poring over the incredible design archive that date back to the 1890s.
“Lovat Mill is a truly special place, and we all feel extremely lucky to be able to visit and meet the incredible team there,” says Jess Evans, Area Sales Manager at Schöffel Country. “You instantly feel the passion and years of history ingrained in the mill as soon as you walk through the doors. Their archive of estate tweeds dating back to the 19th century is particularly special and fascinating to see, from bold traditional tweeds to subtle earthy herringbones - all equally beautiful with individual stories behind each one.”
While cloth making may be a traditional craft, Lovat Mill is synonymous with innovation, and they have an exciting and youthful team including their Managing Director, former Scotland 7s rugby player James Fleming, who joined the business in 2018.
“Creating the new Schöffel tweed is a hugely collaborative process. We all start by sharing our colour, pattern, and trend ideas,” adds Jess. “Lovat Mill oozes creativity and inspiration so the process is extremely enjoyable. The cutting room is where we piece together all our ideas. The Lovat Mill team listen and make some fabulous suggestions; there is so much knowledge between them. What really fascinated me was how adding a single thread or two of new colour can transform the tweed into something completely different. Equally, you could add a colour you think will make it bold but does the opposite because of the colours are already in the tweed. If you look at even the most sombre-coloured tweed through a magnifying glass, you will be totally amazed by how many colours are woven into each thread, giving the tweed depth and lustre. It really is magical.”
Marcus Janssen, Head of Country Brands at Bradshaw Taylor, also finds the whole process truly fascinating. “Lovat Mill have managed to perfectly combine a traditional Scottish craft and natural product with modern technology and innovation – an extraordinary feat considering tweed has been made in more-or-less the same way since the 1700s,” says Marcus.
“Today, they are at the very forefront of tweed manufacturing and development and have taken tweed to new levels by investing heavily in the very best and latest machinery and equipment which allows them to fine-tune the weight, density, weave and hand-feel of their tweeds in ways that weren’t previously possible.”
“They have even introduced water-repellent and stain-resistant finishes to their technical tweeds which also makes them machine washable, and they can incorporate synthetic fibres which can add stretch and/or improve durability. They really have perfectly married tradition with innovation without losing the magic that comes from a traditional craft.”
“The other thing that makes Lovat Mill so special is the people,” says Marcus. “They really are a wonderful team who are not only vastly experienced and incredibly knowledgeable, but they are also truly passionate about what they do. Passion is a massively over-used term, but it really is applicable to the team at Lovat Mill. There is no question that they all love what they do, and that enthusiasm is infectious, and makes them a genuine pleasure to work with.”
Creating a new tweed is a hugely collaborative process involving the whole Schöffel team, and they really listen and take on board what we are trying to achieve, and then go out of their way to ensure that we end up with the best possible results. “Seeing the final result is always a very exciting and rewarding,” adds Marcus, “as so much thought and care goes into the whole process, both from our team at Schöffel, and from the team at Lovat Mill.”
This season at Schöffel we have launched three new tweeds into the Autumn/Winter collection: the Iona and Skye for women and the Arran for men. “The Iona tweed is a five-line plaid, with shadow detail and the Arran tweed is based on a traditional ‘Glen check’ design,” says Kate Toothill, Head of Product Development at Schöffel Country.
“The Glen part is actually an abbreviation of Glen Urquhart, one of the oldest estate tweeds, originally developed in the 1840s.” The rich colour palate of the tweeds is inspired by the camels, rusts, greens and browns of the hills of our rugged uplands and the blues from the rocks and rivers that flow down from the highlands.
“The Skye is a contemporary variant of the traditional ‘shepherd check’ design, woven on a herringbone construction,” says Kate. “The colours reflect the joys of being outdoors in beautiful wild places. The call-out colours are a deep red and powder blue, emulating the leaves turning colour and the blue crisp skies as the days shorten and temperatures fall.”
What’s key to remember about this versatile material is that you certainly don’t have to be out in the field to wear it. The Schöffel collection spans from country pursuits to smart evening attire, it is up to you how to style it.