With winter approaching and an ever-present threat of a second wave of COVID-19, the U.K. hospitality industry is turning to ways of helping customers through a cold snap.
For example, Caorunn is a gin distillery based in Speyside in the Scottish Highlands. Like its neighbouring whisky distilleries, it’s aware of a growing demand for toddies as heated drinks often referred to and has developed Apple Winter Toddy
Says Samantha Peters, its Global Communication Manager, “Socialising with friends outdoors this winter may come with a few sacrifices, but a hot toddy is the quintessential winter warmer.”
Restaurants and bars providing blankets is a Scandinavian import; a practical manifestation of the hygge culture. This year though, with both COVID-19 and environmental concerns over outdoor heaters, the other 2020 winter essential may be a blanket.
‘People are starting to buy my throws and scarves so they can take them with them rather than relying on a restaurant’s own’ says Jess Quinton of long-established Scottish-made knitwear firm Quinton & Chadwick which is stocked by Liberty London and Merci Paris.
The desolately beautiful Romney Marsh on the English coast in Kent is the birthplace of modern wool production. Romney sheep – with a long and fine staple – has been exported around the world, particularly New Zealand.
Romney Marsh Wools started manufacturing throws and blankets from its flock in 2008. Using a Welsh weaver, the results use only natural colours; the snuggler size (150cmx100cm) are the most practical and use a herringbone design; from 100 kilos twelve years ago to between one and two tonnes today.
Using woollen throws as portable warmth has a venerable history. The Shepherd’s Plaid Blanket created by Stag & Bruce and woven in Yorkshire uses a traditional houndstooth design with a warp and weft border that was originally used by Scottish shepherds to keep both themselves and orphaned lambs warm. It still blends practicality with sustainability.
Designer Moira Gillespie says: ‘My husband John and I established Stag & Bruce in 2016 to create limited editions of woollen throws and blankets from surplus yarn. This, we feel, is even more ethical than using recycled yarn which requires further processing.’
The British textile industry, traditionally based in Scotland, the North of England and Wales, is currently seeing a renaissance. Founded in 1983, Ian Mankin has a collection of blankets and throws, woven in one of the last textile mills in Lancashire. Finished with traditional blanket stitching, its merino lambswool blankets are reversible.
In Wales, centred around the Teifi valley and surrounding areas of Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire, woollen mills were often small. In 1926, there were estimated to be over 250. A hundred years later, only a handful survive, but the throws and blankets they produce are instantly recognisable and highly prized. Focussing on traditional design. London’s cult Labour & Wait shop has a good selection.
There are contemporary designs as well in Wales too. Melin Tregwynt, a small white-washed woollen mill, can be found in a remote wooded valley on the Pembrokeshire coast. Owned by the same family since 1912, it has a small but distinctive collection, including a ‘windfall’ range that uses surplus yarn. Trefriw, still powered by a vintage water turbine, produces intricately woven double weave blankets that are based on traditional designs. Its knee blanket, measuring 125cmx89cm, are eminently suitable for outdoor dining purposes.
The Queen has always seen the point of a knee blanket. Her go-to options in a Scottish check or tartan come from Johnstons of Elgin. First established in 1797, it is the only vertical mill in Scotland, in that it takes in raw fibre and carries out the processes of dyeing, spinning, weaving and finishing on one site. Johnstons, which also supplies Europe’s leading fashion houses, has both traditional and contemporary designs, in a range of wools, including cashmere.