Todd & Duncan are regarded in the world of luxury clothing as one of the pre-eminent yarn producers in the world. Established in 1867, they have perfected techniques over the years which earned them the reputation for producing the world's strongest, most consistent and highest quality yarns. This strength and consistency is crucial to creating a piece of knitwear that is voluminous and lasts.
Our knitters in Hawick once remarked that from their experience, Todd & Duncan’s yarn achieves a staggering 95 - 98% consistency, meaning that when a garment is being knitted, you are much more likely to get a garment that is the right shape and size. This is compared to a consistency of 80% and below from yarn mills outside of Scotland. It is for this reason that our spinners' yarns are the world's most sought after, and highly priced.
They hold themselves to a stricter standard to the industry norm at every stage of yarn production:
Wool and cashmere are natural fibres so they will be tangled and contain impurities such as scales when first cultivated. They are in their “raw” state and require careful washing and processing in order to convert them into yarn - the cones of thread that are then knitted into sweaters.
Before arriving in Scotland by boat, the cashmere and lambswool are dehaired and scoured. This is the process by which as much of the impurities are removed as possible.
When the fibres arrive at Todd & Duncan, they are washed using the soft waters of Loch Leven - the famous lake next to which Todd & Duncan has been located since the end of the 19th century. This body of water cannot be underestimated - its unique qualities are not easily found elsewhere in the world and it is what gives our spinners an important edge: apart from further cleaning the wool or cashmere, the water’s natural purity and softness help to open up the natural fibres, resulting in wonderfully consistent colour, and the hand feel for which our spinners are renowned.
Loch Leven, Kinross
After the fibres have been washed, they are dyed, a gentle process that gives our spinners' yarn its superior colour result and finished handle. The dyes used are GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standards) certified, ensuring certain toxins found in other types of non-certified dyes are not present.
The dyeing section of the factory is also carefully separated to avoid the contamination of colours.
The water used for washing and dyeing is then cleaned and returned to Loch Leven, to be used again. A pioneering, cyclical process that protects the precious environment surrounding Todd & Duncan on which these yarn spinners so heavily rely.
When the batches of fibres have been dyed, they are tested for colour standard at delta 0.9, which is industry speak for the tolerance in colour deviation between one batch of fibres to the next of the same colour. This is a more stringent standard than the industry norm which is delta 1.0. This strict, self-imposed requirement ensures the consistency of colour across their yarns. Anything that does not pass the test will be carefully mixed in the blending process to bring the colour back in line and if that does not work, the fibre is re-dyed, a worthwhile process to ensure the quality of the resulting yarn.
Blending is where the dyed fibres are carefully mixed together under the watchful eye of experts to create certain colours that consist of a complex mix of different colours, such as mélanges containing grey and white. The percentage of each colour in a combination needs to be precise in order to achieve the desired effect.
In the past, blending was done painstakingly by hand but with the advent of new technology, this process is now carried out with pinpoint accuracy using industrial sized machines. This is far more efficient and accurate - an example of Todd & Duncan’s approach to innovation - it will only adopt these technologies if they make the process more efficient and improve (rather than undermine) quality.
After the coloured fibres have been blended, it goes through a process called “carding”. The raw fibres are “smoothed out” by simultaneously moving surfaces with tiny needles which disentangle and separate the fibres.
The carding machines untie any knots and clumps and organises the fibres so that they are parallel to each other with the end result being a silky smooth sliver of cashmere or wool.
This is wrapped round a long cylinder called a “spool”, ready to be spun into yarn.
Our spinners use old carding machines despite the availability of newer technology which would make the process quicker. This is because carding can be a rough process, and in their view, the new machines trim the fibre length by too much (by up to 2 to 2.5mm). The older carding machines only trim the fibres by 1mm. The difference may seem minuscule but this slight deficit causes the fibres to be less durable when they are being spun into yarn. So here, a gentler, older process is chosen in favour of newer but rougher technology.
Spinning, winding and twisting
The carded spools are then taken to modern mules where the fibres are spun into yarn.
The spool is connected at one end of the mule, whilst the cops (the white points you see above which the yarn is eventually wrapped around; in blue colour below) are at the other end. The mule moves the spool towards the cops and away again, spinning the fibres into yarn in the process.
Our spinners use modern mules which do long draws, meaning there is a long distance between the spool and the cops. Compared to the alternatives, it’s a slow process, but yields an exceptionally rounded, voluminous and strong yarn.
The yarns are given further strength as a mixture of wax and lubrication are applied on the finished yarns, allowing it to go through the knitting machines more smoothly.
The cones of yarn are then transported from Kinross to our knitters in Hawick.