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Borders Textile Industry

It was natural that the woollen textile industry should evolve in Teviotdale. Under the monks of the Border abbeys, sheep farming was developed systematically; the monks, as well as being devoted to a religious life, were, through the abbeys, landowners and men of business. The fleeces from their sheep in the Border hills were part of a lively export trade, mainly to Flanders: it was not until around the end of the 15th century that much of it was kept for local knitting instead.

The first knitters to ply their craft commercially were the bonnet makers, manufacturers of the flat blue bonnets so typical of the region. Next came the stocking makers, developers of the chausse, or hose for men. Originally, woven, stitched tubes were used for stockings: they fitted badly, and when the knitted version was introduced (from Spain) it was an instant success.

Though a textile industry of sorts existed in the Borders from early times, it was based on flax, producing linen cloth. Further south, however, there was a demand for the homespun woollen yarn of Hawick to service the English manufacturers using the stocking frame. By 1771 it was obvious to Hawick's leading citizens that the sensible thing would be to manufacture and export stockings from the town itself, and in that year the far-sighted and enterprising Bailie John Hardie of Hawick brought the first knitting frames to his native town. Within a year, he was producing pairs of stockings at an annual rate of 2500. But Hardie was a man who was interested not so much in his own wealth as in that of his town and its neighbouring communities. Far from attempting a monopoly, he encouraged others to follow his example; by the time of his death the knitwear industry was firmly established, with 1500 productive frames in Hawick itself, and others in Denholm, Kelso, Langholm, Selkirk and Melrose.

Hardie himself was an enlightened employer, but many others were not. In the 19th century the lot of the frame worker was a miserable one. They did piecework, obliged not only to rent their machines but also to finance their maintenance. Conditions were bad and wages low; in difficult times employers would arbitrarily cut the latter. Small wonder that unrest and strikes occurred in Hawick. The most bitter of the strikes, the Lang Stand Oot of 1817, ended with the imprisonment of the leaders in Jedburgh Jail. Furthermore, these bad relations led to a reluctance on the part of the work force to accept such improvements as the broader frame, and the use of steam and water power.

There industry's diversification from stockings was encouraged in 1828 after the Duke of York ordered his underwear from Hawick. This was the next major stage of development; and in the invention of the all-in-one seamless garment, Hawick led the field. The sweaters
that bear today's famous names evolved after the First World War from the fine, high-fashion underwear as women began demanding clothing that was comfortable and easy to wear. The once ubiquitous twin-set made its appearance in the 1920s. The inter- war period, too, saw the imaginative leap that kept Hawick knitwear ahead of its rivals: the appointment of designers, beginning with that of the Austrian Otto Weisz at Pringle's. In today's competitive market, given the assurance of quality, it is design that wins the orders.

Hawick Knitwear Ltd is a knitting manufacturer born out of a heritage in Scottish knitwear that can be traced back to 1874, when it's sister company, Lyle & Scott was formed in Hawick.

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