But that’s all about to change thanks to the new Textile Towerhouse, part of the £10m Heart of Hawick regeneration process, which was opened yesterday by comedian and impressionist Rory Bremner.
The museum, which has been created within the 16th- century Drumlanrig’s Tower, promises to bring a touch of catwalk fashion to Hawick by exhibiting video footage of Vivienne Westwood catwalk shows alongside traditional weaving equipment.
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Bremner, 48, whose wife, Tessa Campbell-Fraser, a sculptor, comes from the Borders, said the centre would hopefully bring new life to the quiet town. “I visit here often as my parents-in-law live near here,” he explained.
“Hawick has suffered recently from being seen as the poor relation in terms of Borders towns. So hopefully this will change its fortunes. The tower is surrounded by a cafe and a cinema, so it’s a place locals will come to visit time and time again.
“I’ve started to feel quite at home in this part of the country and so I was happy to be part of the opening today. I was born in Edinburgh -- in the same hospital as Sean Connery -- but the Borders is somewhere I spend a lot of time now and the kids really love it here.”
The new Textile Towerhouse will also include a static catwalk exhibition, displaying outfits from Scottish-born designer Christopher Kane, cashmere label Belinda Robertson, as well as vintage Clements Ribeiro and Matthew Williamson garments.
On a lower floor in the building there is a heritage exhibition, which contains original looms, spinning wheels and stocking frames for visitors to look at. A further floor contains an extensive research facility, which is designed to help school pupils and fashion college students find out more about the local mills and textile industries.
The curator for Textile Towerhouse, Shona Sinclair, hopes the new facility will also attract visitors from further afield. “We’re hoping to create more links with local industry as well as those who use Borders fabrics in their collections,” she said.
“The fact that designers such as Chanel use fabric made in the Borders is a really well-kept secret locally. Very few people realise the connections this town has. Hopefully in the future we’ll be able to put on other shows and exhibitions in collaboration with these kinds of labels, to attract more people to the building.”
The Textile Towerhouse is the final part of the Heart of Hawick regeneration process. The arts quarter also includes Tower Mill, which houses a theatre and exhibition space as well as a Heritage Hub -- a state-of-the-art archive and local history centre.
The regenerated buildings have already attracted more than 345,000 visitors and won numerous awards, including an Enterprising Britain Award in 2008.
Hawick is home to a Johnstons Cashmere mill and has a long-standing textile heritage.Until last year, Pringle of Scotland also had a factory in the town. The fashion brand now outsources its cashmere manufacture to other textile producers in the area.
Hawick has struggled in recent years to maintain its position on the fashion map, with many mills contracting in size and talented local weavers looking for jobs elsewhere.
Councillor Graham Garvie, executive member for culture, sport and community learning at Scottish Borders Council, said: “Heart of Hawick has not just sought to regenerate the town of Hawick and beyond but has also used arts and culture to breathe life back into the community. The three hubs have transformed the town by bringing back much-needed cultural resources as well as instilling a sense of pride in the Borders’ industrial heritage. Vitally, it has provided a welcome boost to the local economy through jobs created, tourism and visitor spend.”
Cashmere weaving first started in Scotland in 1797 at the Johnstons Cashmere factory in Elgin.
Pringle of Scotland might not have a factory here any more, but the firm invented the twinset and created pink cashmere for men.
Harris tweed has been used in many catwalk shows, but most often and most famously by Vivienne Westwood. She even named one of her collections after this famous Scottish fabric in 1987.
Harris tweed also recently collaborated with young designer Helen Finlayson to create bespoke wraps for the G20 wives and partners.
Four years ago Johnstons Cashmere reintroduced one of the most expensive fabrics in the world: vicuna. The wool, which comes from animals in the Peruvian mountains, costs 10 times more than cashmere.
Cashmere isn’t just in the Borders. Begg Scotland is based in Ayrshire while Belinda Robertson is in Edinburgh.