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Issue 13 - Cashmere if you can

Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004


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Cashmere if you can

With Scottish knitwear now appearing on the international designer catwalks as high-fashion in its own right, Kate Patrick talks us through some of the best places for pullovers in Scotland

Thanks to a phenomenal renaissance in the popularity of Scottish cashmere and other high-quality knitwear, the wool-hungry shopper no longer actually needs to go to Scotland to buy it.

With top Scottish designers producing collections alongside their own – Belinda Robertson for Michael Kors, Hillary Rohde for N Peal and Matthew Williamson, and Johnstons of Elgin for Hermes and Burberry – you’re as likely to find a ‘Made in Scotland’ label in New York City or Milan as in Hawick or Brora.

Even Pringle – which was typecast for years as the designer behind Nick Faldo’s preferred golfing sweater – is now producing the kind of designs that are not just warm on a windy day. As worn by Sophie Dahl, the company’s new ‘face’, they’re positively ultra-violet.

All of which is good for the retailers who, for years, were forced somehow to make a shapeless navy V-neck or baggy beige cardigan look sexy. Buying 'Made in Scotland' in Scotland is just so much more fun now.

Jenners, the old-established department store in Edinburgh, led the way in backing these companies through their reinvention, and is now reaping the rewards as the high-fashion – but reassuringly well-made – designs from Ballantyne and Pringle leap off the shelves.

I can quite happily immerse myself in the first-floor knitwear department for a whole afternoon, just to come away with the perfect sleeveless polo-neck.

This spring Ballantyne, still produced in Scotland but with a new team of Italian designers, has done sweaters featuring fun motifs in bright, acidic cashmere. Johnstons have come out with some lovely intarsias, in black, white, sugar pink or periwinkle blue; Hodgsons, a Scottish label exclusive to Jenners, has done some very affordable numbers in merino; and Pringle has applied its argyle and lion rampant motifs to some positively smouldering shapes.

Knitwear buyer Rowan Duff told me: “As vintage clothing and all things retro remain popular, brands have been referring to their back catalogues for design inspiration. The collections featured vintage designs and patterns, cleverly updated through colour, material or styling.”

Hawick Cashmere, over the castlehill in the Grassmarket, is my favourite place for a cashmere T: I have three – in silver grey, slate grey and charcoal grey – and I’m sure part of the reason for this excess is that it’s such a pleasure shopping in this cool, contemporary but friendly store.

The best long-sleeved polo-neck in the world is designed by Belinda Robertson; you might find one at her informal showroom in Edinburgh’s west end, but if they’re out of these curvaceous beauties, I’d urge you to order at least a black one – and then another in one of 200 colours on offer.

Not far from Belinda Robertson, cashmere with a funky edge can also be found at Arkangel: this spring look out for the DCC short-sleeved cashmere tops with plunging Vs, in grasshopper green or wild orange. Or, if you want to see how a Hillary Rohde hand-knitted piece is finished off, make an appointment at the Moray Place studios – and don’t leave without a softly-coloured, gauzy ballerina wrap, worn over a cashmere camisole – perfect for spring in Scotland.

One of my favourite sweaters is not made out of designer cashmere at all: it’s from the warm, undyed wool of the rare, North Ronaldshay sheep. In a wonderful, earthy colour, and with a natural softness about it, it represents hand-knitting as an important Scottish craft tradition.

I bought it at Ragamuffin on Edinburgh’s Canongate some years ago, and similar chunky knits, some with appliqué and motif, all handcrafted by small Scottish producers, can be found here and at Ragamuffin’s original shop on the pier at Armadale on the Isle of Skye.

Also in the craft tradition, Judith Glue produces a lively collection of sweaters, handmade in Orkney, which can only be bought from her shop or via her website. I love her 70s’ ‘stripeys’, and you can also get her take on a Fair Isle sweater – a ‘peat-bog tunic’. (Her inspiration was a little morbid: in 1951 a body was found preserved in a peat bog on Fair Isle itself, carrying a coin dated 1681. There was evidence it had been wearing knitted, patterned garments. So it’s a long tradition.)

Elsewhere, traditional Arran sweaters, originally crafted to keep fishermen warm, with rope and net designs that have been handed down the generations, can be found at the Old Byre on the west coast of the Isle of Arran, or made to order by Anne Stewart Knitwear in Machrihanish, who also does some wonderful Shetland and Fair Isle patterns for men, women and children.

Bargain hunters should consider making a Borders-raid. Woollen mills retain a centrifugal attachment to the area, and some of them offer tours, museums and – crucially – shops with ends of lines, samples and seconds.

There are millshops in Galashiels, Hawick, Melrose, Selkirk, Walkerburn, Peebles, Moffat and Innerleithen, where I once emerged with three men’s sweaters – perfect, as far as I could tell – at about the normal shop price of one of them.

King of the woollen mills is probably Johnstons of Elgin in Morayshire which is creating knitwear for its own label as well as many others.

Its hottest tip for 2004 is a mandarin-collar, cap-sleeved cashmere top with button details, inspired by an original oriental kimono – and the plum colour is to die for.

Lynda Usher in Beauly is where the Johnstons staff go for a change of scene: one of a number of shops that stand out for their great product mix. Moon, in Glasgow, is another whose owner sources from all over, often with specific customers in mind.

And in the pretty town of Auchterarder, Perthshire, R. Watson Hogg is a family business specialising in knitwear, which is also known for having a very loyal clientele.

If you’re shopping in Glasgow, you can do a lot worse than dive straight into Frasers, where several knitwear companies have their own concessions. I’ve been known to make a day-trip from Edinburgh to do just that. Did I come back with a gorgeous pale blue babe of a cardigan? I couldn’t possibly comment.


Princes Street
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 2442

Hawick Cashmere
71-81 Grassmarket
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 8634

Belinda Robertson
22 Palmerston Place
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 1057
4 William Street
Tel: +44 (0)131 226 4466

Hillary Rohde
22 Moray Place
Tel: +44 (0)131 225 3948

The Pier
Isle of Skye
Tel: +44 (0)1471 844 217

Tel: +44 (0)131 557 6007

Judith Glue
25 Broad Street
Tel: +44 (0)1856 874 225

Old Byre
Auchencar Farm
Isle of Arran
Tel: +44 (0)1770 840 227

Anne Stewart Knitwear

Johnstons of Elgin
New Mill
Tel: +44 (0)1343 554 099

For details of the Borders woollen trail, look up

Lynda Usher
50 High Street
Tel: +44 (0)1463 783017

10 Ruthven Lane
Tel: +44 (0)141 339 2315

R.Watson Hogg
52 High Street
Tel: +44 (0)1764 662151

21-45 Buchanan St
Tel: +44 (0)141 221 3880