Keeping out the chill on Scotland’s West coast for 150 years
Davi Buta, Persian pickles, Welsh pears… the paisley pattern might have originated in Persia, but it was a little town in Scotland that gave it its western name.
It was in that town, in 1866, that Alex Begg first began to weave these patterns. These were the first Begg shawls – widely used to keep warm in horse-drawn carriages – decorated with patterns and colours inspired by the Scottish landscape, hand-loomed by a small team of local weavers.
In 1902, Begg moved the company 35 miles southwest to the seaside town of Ayr on the west coast, in search of clean water. The company continues to operate there to this day, although the factory has more than doubled in that time and Begg & Co now exports luxurious scarves, wraps and throws to an international set. In 150 years, however, the production process has changed very little, using traditional looms and specialist machines to hand-craft each piece, and yarns from Scotland and Italy that are exclusive to them.
The technology has also moved on immeasurably since Begg’s day. Take the ultra lightweight Wispy scarf, for instance, the lightest weight cashmere currently produced in the UK. Thought there wasn’t much to making a scarf? Think again. There are five miles of yarn in every Wispy scarf. To put that into perspective, if you were to start unpicking at one London landmark, Albert Bridge in Chelsea, you could keep unravelling it all the way along the embankment until you reached St Paul’s Cathedral.
Then there are the colour-graded Nuance scarves, which use a unique technique to subtly weave 100 per cent cashmere yarns from one contrasting colour to the next. The process involves painstaking hand-dyeing, spinning and weaving.
2016 marked 150 years for Begg & Co. To commemorate the occasion, they gathered a collection of 150 cashmere colours inspired by the local surrounds, to form a unique palette of heather, forest green, moss and sea blue hues. They used this as the basis for 150 plain-coloured scarves in weights that range from the super lightweight Wispy to the traditional weight Arran, which achieves its signature ripple effect by using teasles grown specially in Italy.
Speaking of the new anniversary collection Begg & Co’s Ann Ryley says, ‘We have taken our “heritage” cashmere shades and put a new spin on them by re-weaving the colours into a new contemporary Scottish palette, one that celebrates Begg’s sense of place within an ever-changing Scottish landscape.’
If you don’t think you could choose just one colour, then luckily for you there is a limited-edition, bold check scarf that incorporates 150 colours. In order to incorporate all of the shades of cashmere involved weaving six warp threads with 25 weft, meaning that five cones of differently coloured yarns had to be changed five times in every hour.
There are just 150, at £345, each of which is numbered and distinguished with a special anniversary label and comes with a cashmere pouch and the story of how it was crafted in Ayr.
Harnessing the beauty and sense of place of those early Paisley shawls has allowed Begg & Co to weave expertly the narrative of heritage into a fashion-forward aesthetic that has won them fans who include Stella Tennant, Bryan Ferry, Nick Grimshaw, Kirsty Wark and Benedict Cumberbatch. Never has a company been so proud to drape the Made in Scotland label around people’s shoulders.
BEGG & CO 17 VIEWFIELD ROAD, AYR, SCOTLAND KA8 8HJ +44 (0)1292 267615