Having been brought up in the Moray area I have whiled away many an afternoon at Johnstons of Elgin; browsing the shop, admiring the beautiful cashmere and woollen products; eating scones and cakes in the cafe; wandering around The Courtyard department with its selection of home ware. Two lovely blankets rest over my couch and every winter I wrap a Johnston’s scarf around my neck – but until recently, I had never taken the time to find out the story behind my gorgeous blankets and scarf.
I joined one of the free mill tours, which starts in the Cashmere Heritage Centre section of The Courtyard with a short DVD introduction. Johnstons has been manufacturing textiles since 1797 and is a family led business known for its luxurious cashmere and fine woollen products.
Whilst in The Courtyard, you learn about the fibres used in Johnstons products, such as cashmere, lambswool and vicuna, and from which countries these fibres are imported. (My favourite fun facts – it takes 26 goats to make a cashmere jacket and vicuna is the most luxurious fibre in the world).
The tour then takes you around the historic mill buildings, giving you an insight into each stage of the manufacturing process. Seeing the product’s beginnings in the Wool Store and journey through the dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing stages is truly fascinating. The Elgin mill produces scarves and blankets, the mill in Hawick, in the Scottish Borders, is where clothing such as jumpers are knitted.
I loved watching the 100 year old carding machines in action, which was like taking a step back in time. With a process that has changed very little and machinery that is still going strong, they’ve had no need to replace these machines.
The finishing room is for ‘developing the touch of luxury’ and it was interesting to feel a piece of cashmere at different stages, learning what goes into creating its softness.
The tour ends with a walk in the grounds of the original family home of the Johnston family and back into The Courtyard. I thoroughly enjoyed the tour, and finding out more about the history of the company as well as seeing the entire process of how their beautiful scarves and blankets are manufactured. It is all the little things that made it so interesting to me: seeing a tree that is not native to Scotland (with a sign that reads: ‘Possible wool escape’); the place where the original watermill was located; the markers of two floods; the people that work the machinery and the attention to detail at every stage.
And to end your Johnstons experience? I suggest heading to the shop to take a look at the range of finished products and then to the cafe for some delicious home baking.
Tours of the Elgin Mill are available Monday to Thursday, at 11am, midday, 1pm and 2pm, and on Fridays at 11am and midday. Advance booking is advisable.