“Gilly Nicolson Bed linen” was set up to produce quality bed linen, which could be custom made and tailored to a customer’s exact design and color requirements. Gilly is now going international from her base in Edinburgh. Via New Zealand.
“I kept asking myself the question ‘you choose your curtain fabric, have your sofa made in your choice of color, and tailor the interior of your car as you want it, so why can’t you have more choice when it comes to bed linen? I hadn’t come up with the idea on my own, of course.
“After university, a year in Japan, and a few years in London, I ended up in New Zealand and worked for a small bed linen business. Their products were beautiful. I completely fell in love with seeing it being produced in their workshop above their little shop in Wellington.
“Customers would come in, and we’d pull out sheeting, ribbons, and trims for them to choose from – I loved the interaction, and the delight people experienced having things made for them. It was like any other form of shopping.
“I returned to Scotland with the idea that I wanted to open a shop – something colorful with lots of lovely products. It would’ve lasted a year! Thankfully my mind and focus kept returning to bespoke bed linen. The shop in Wellington had struggled, but the trade side with Interior Designers both in N.Z. and Australia ran profitably. I knew nothing about producing bed linen, however, and still maintain to this day can’t even sew on a button. I knew I had to outsource the production to the experts.
Linum usitatissimum is one of the oldest cultivated plants in human history. The spinning and weaving of linen are depicted on wall paintings of ancient Egypt. As early as 3,000 B.C., the fiber was processed into the fine white fabric (540 threads to the inch – finer than anything weaved today) and wrapped around the mummies of the ancient Egyptian pharaohs.
Finnish traders are believed to have introduced flax to Northern Europe. The best-quality linen is retted in slow-moving natural water sources such as streams and rivers. The highest-quality linen in the world is lye from Belgium. France produces the whitest. But Scottish linen has always been overshadowed by Irish linen. However, it has an impressive pedigree.
The British Linen Company, established in 1746, was the largest firm in the Scottish linen industry in the 18th century, exporting linen to England and America. Linen manufacture was Scotland’s premier industry in the eighteenth century and formed the basis for the later cotton, jute, and woolen industries. By 1770, Glasgow was the largest linen manufacturer in Britain. The first cotton spinning mill was opened at Penicuik, south of Edinburgh, in 1778.
In 1787 Scotland had 19 mills and by 1839, 192. The rise of cotton was the result of a sudden fall in the price of the raw materials imported from the U.S., and the availability of a pool of cheap labor caused by population rise and migration. New Lanark had the largest mills in the world. The cotton industry flourished until, in 1861, the American Civil War cut off the supplies of raw cotton.
“Scottish Linen” is the retail side of linen manufacturers Peter Greig & Co., offering a wide range of luxurious fabrics, fashion, and interior accessories such as bags, cushions, throws, and now face masks made from 100% Scottish linen. They cater to the furnishing, industrial and apparel markets with Plains, Semi-Plains and Dobby designs, color woven linens, and linen unions. From the weaving of the cloth to the designing of the product, everything is designed and made in Scotland.
Peter Greig & Co. was established in 1825 and still operates from the Victoria Linen works in Kirkcaldy in the East Neuk of Fife. It is the largest linen manufacturer in Scotland.
Continues Gilly Nicolson: “It took two years to find a mill to help me. I tried Scotland, England, and eventually found our mill exhibiting at Maison Objet in Paris, and I have been working with them ever since. We’ve now grown and have started to use two other mills in Portugal for bedlinen and towels, as well as a bedding mill in Scotland and hopefully soon a table linen mill in Italy.
“We’ve built up a strong trade following in the U.K., but we’re spreading our wings. There’s a lot of bed linen about, but we’re bespoke. I tirelessly focus on how we can offer as many choices as possible for our clients. Our ribbon collection has over 60 different colors, our embroidery collection has over 400 different thread colors, and we have other sheeting qualities and colors too.
“Competitors have a handful of colors you can choose from, usually white, grey, navy, but what if you want a khaki green or a powder blue to match the rest of the bedroom? Our customers don’t have to settle for a small selection anymore; they can have it created for them precisely to their requirements. Be that dancing hares, their clan tartan, frogs, you soldiers, or lovebirds!
“We regularly supply second homes abroad and hotels too. Our most interesting project was when we worked with an interior designer in Glasgow for a property in Stirlingshire. The house was complete with a £1million floor to ceiling, cylindrical fish tank, sun tanning booths, and a circular, rotating Master Bed. It was quite a challenge and experience.”