Newmilns, a Royal Burgh from 1490, was a centre for Lace curtains and tablecloths and in its heyday, over 2,000 people were employed in some twenty companies.
At the end of the 16th Century, handloom weaving was brought to the Irvine Valley by Flemish refugees who settled in the area. Around two centuries later, the Newmilns lace industry rose to national prominence, as Britain began importing cotton from the United States, Newmilns already had a long-established weaving tradition. Nearer the end of the 19th century, handloom weaving was in decline with the introduction of the power loom in 1877 and in the 1880's the introduction of madras-making power-looms automated the process and left handweavers out of work. This technology is still relevant today.
After the United States introduced tariffs to protect their lace industry, new markets had to be found and by 1907 the lace industry bounced back. The industry became the largest employer in the area and Newmilns enjoyed a period of growth. Lace and madras weaving continued to flourish until the late 1970's, but the struggle for companies to compete with the distribution of emerging European and Asian economies had a profound effect on the Scottish textile industry.
Although the industry has diminished much in capacity over the last 50 years, there is still a world-wide demand for lace with Morton Young and Borland and Haddow Aird & Crerar now the last remaining lace factories in Newmilns.