The Weaving Process
At Lochcarron, like most other modern mills, the weaving process starts with the delivery of the required yarn.
The yarns used in the mill are spun from raw material sourced throughout the world. Cashmere from China and Scotland, silk from China and the Far East, wool from Australia, New Zealand, England and Scotland, mohair from South Africa, The Americas and the Far East, and cotton from Egypt
Once unpacked, the yarn is wound onto a spring or cheese to the required length ready for dyeing. The cheeses are loaded into a dyeing tank by slipping them over perforated tubes after which the lid of the tank is clamped down tight. The tank is then filled with water. Initially the water temperature is 40° C but it is then brought up to boiling point for 45 minutes and left for a further 30-60 minutes (30 minutes for light colours and 60 minutes for dark colours). The dye is forced up the perforated tube, out through the holes into the centre of the cheeses and then outwards through the yarn wound on to the cheese, dying it thoroughly.
The dyes are in powder form and other chemicals such as acids are used for the fixing of the colour (to stop it washing out) and a levelling agent is added to prevent the dyeing taking place too quickly. Once dyed, the cheeses are rinsed in the tank with cold water and when that runs clear, the cheeses are removed, spun dried, then air dried for 8 hours.
The dyed yarn on the cheeses is transferred to the yarn store to be wound onto cones to the required length, ready for the warper, with the weft being wound onto pirns (the pirns fit inside the shuttle). Many of the more popular yarn qualities are kept in stock in order to shorten production times
The coloured yarns on the cones are now arranged on the bank or creel using the information set out for the warper on the ticket for that particular tartan.
The warp threads are drawn from the bank through a wire caulm and then drawn through a reed. The threads are then tied, looped and hooked onto a pin on the Warp Mill. The Warp Mill revolves and the warp threads are wound round the Warp Mill. Once the desired length is reached, which is anything from 5 to 500 ells' (an ell is 45") the threads are cut, then tucked away, the reed turned over (the warp threads that were on the left hand side of the reed, are now on the right side of the reed and the whole process repeated until the width is gained, anything from 36 inches to 82 inches wide. So the warp is made up in stripes of threads and held together by tension.
The Scottish warp is warped from right to left, and the English from left to right.
When the warp is completed it is wound onto a beam (spool). The warp on the beam is ready to be drawn in the weaving shed.
Most warps are knotted on to warp threads already in the Loom, however some have to be drawn by hand. This is done by drawing the threads one at a time through the healds or heddles which are fine wires with eyelets in the middle which are held together in a frame called a shaft.
Once drawn through the healds in the required number of shafts, the threads are fed through the splits on the reed. Now the beam, warp, shafts and reed are ready for the loom.
The following steps describe the intricate procedure in shuttle weaving.
1 The shafts are inserted in the loom.
2 The reed is also centred in the loom.
3 The warp is tied on to the take-up beam which maintains the tension of the threads. Temples on the loom, which also help keep the tension of the cloth, are fixed to either side of the loom.
5 Cards, pegs, or punch tapes are installed to control the weft design.
6 Shuttles are loaded with weft pirns.
7 Check warp for no cross ends
8 Droppers placed over each warp thread
9 Check weft pattern on the ticket
10 The loom is run for a short while and the woven cloth is examined to check for any errors - wrong thread counts and crossed ends.
11 Threads - usually white - are used to mark the face of the cloth - that's the front of the cloth - its best side.
12 The tuner makes his final checks and the weaver is now ready to weave.
The lifting and dropping of the shafts allows the threads to be lifted and lowered, forming a shed, which the shuttle carrying the weft passes through. The reed beats the weft thread close up to the preceding weft.
When a thread breaks, the dropper falls onto a castellated ratchet and the loom stops so that the weaver can find the broken thread and tie it together with a weaver's knot and restart the loom.
Every piece of cloth is checked and repaired (darned ) until perfect. Burling is when the cloth is rubbed by hand to find knots and any other faults. The cloth is grease darned, then washed , scoured, dried and pressed. It is then clean darned On average a length of tartan cloth 60 ells long (59 inches wide) takes 8 hours. (1 ell = 45 inches.)
Finishing and Scouring.
The cloth is now ready to be scoured and finished. As an example we'll us cashmere scarves.
1 First the cashmere is washed for 15 minutes in lukewarm water and soap, a warm 5 minute rinse and a further 10 minute wash in soap.
2 The cashmere is then transferred to the hydro extractor, where it is spun almost dry.
3 The cashmere is now milled by being fed through the mouthpiece of the milling machine, both ends of the cashmere are stitched together to make a continuous loop. The machine is switched on and the cashmere runs through the mouthpiece which is like a runnel, pressure is added to the cashmere by a lid at the back of the mouthpiece. Through time the cashmere shrinks in width from 65 inches to 59 inches
4 The scarves are then once more rinsed and washed and rinsed again in varying water temperatures.
5 On to be spun dried in the hydro extractor.
6 Dried in the tenter which is a large pipe lined drying machine.
7 Brushed on the mozer, which is a large cylindrical machine clothed with wire brushes.
8 Wet again.
9 Brushed this time with teazels (natural plant like a thistle found in Southern France) fitted on a cylindrical holder
10 Partly dried once more on the centrifugal hydro-extractor.
11 Heat dried in the tenter
12 Lightly brushed.
I 3 Finally, softly pressed to add a sheen.
The above unbelievably complex process involves considerable patience and skill typical of that required to achieve the traditional quality for which Lochcarron is noted around the world.