Our knitter in Hawick is small but formidable. Consisting of a dedicated team of about 30 or so local craftsmen, they are considered leaders in the world of knitwear manufacturing, attracting customers from high end luxury brands and Savile Row haberdasheries alike.
There are a few facets that elevate our knitters from Hawick above others around the world:
high tension knitting
The first is that they knit with a high tension. This means that the yarn is knitted densely, making the garment heavier and more substantial. This translates to garments which hold shape better over time. Knitting densely also means using more yarn, and if the yarn is already the world’s most highly priced, it becomes obvious why so many low cost manufacturers do not follow this approach. These loosely knitted sweaters may be softer and lighter, but will lose shape much more quickly.
Older Bentley-Cotton frame machines are used to knit simpler styles such as our crew neck and v neck sweaters in 12 gauge. This machine has been a mainstay for our knitters, beginning its service a few decades ago and still going strong - British engineering that has stood the test of time.
The second is the high degree of hand finishing. Garments are "fully-fashioned". This means that each piece of the garment (e.g. sleeves, cuffs, body) is individually knitted up first into a specific shape before being hand-linked together. Much like a bespoke suit, this makes the finished garment more well fitted and wrap more naturally around the body.
“Hand-linking” is a meticulous process by which each tiny knit-loop at the end of each piece of the sweater is linked together by hand. It ensures that the seams are the smoothest, straightest and strongest, to prevent the garment from losing shape despite years of regular wear.
It is a skill that requires sharp attention to detail and years of training. We were told by a hand-linking veteran that she remembers sitting a "dexterity" test some 20 years ago before being allowed to operate. She and many others would have been hand-linking for decades, developing skills honed through years of practice.
Another example of hand-finishing is the hand sewn bar tacks that you will find on the inside of the cuff and hem of the sweaters.
This is done neatly by hand using thread by an expert seamstress who has spent 30 years perfecting this craft. This is to further reinforce the seams so they are resilient to pulling. Cheaper knitwear manufacturers often don’t bother with this or they will roughly sew on a couple of threads that create a bump rather than a tack.
This level of hand finishing is becoming increasingly rare today as clothing companies favour mass production that chases cost efficiency over quality.
The third is the unique qualities of Scottish water and the washing expertise. Scottish cashmere and wool knitwear may feel stiffer than cheaper alternatives at the start. This is a good sign. When a garment has been knitted, it needs to be washed in order to soften it. Scottish water is unique in that it contains the precise balance of minerals that softens the garment but without damaging the integrity of the fibres, so the garment is not “over-washed”. The quality of this water makes a big difference and cannot be replicated elsewhere in the world. It also takes many years of experience to get the washing right. Leave the garment in the wash for too long and it won’t be as durable, but not long enough, and it will not be sufficiently soft. Our washing expert has been in the trade for 30 years so he knows, from the feel of the garment, when it is the right moment to remove it from the water.
Cheaper knitwear is often over-washed to create an artificially soft handle that impresses in the beginning, but with the fibres undermined, the garment won't last long.
Like a trusty pair of English shoes from Northampton or Japanese selvedge denim, knitwear made in Scotland may, for this reason, feel a little firmer to begin with but is "worn in" and softens naturally with age, becoming a deeply personal item to be treasured and passed on.
The difference may not be visible when you first purchase it but as the years pass, you will reap the benefits of having invested in a garment that still keeps you warm and cosy like the first day you bought it, except it has now softened and moulded to your body shape, making it a rewarding sartorial experience.
As with all things in life, time is the most astute examiner of true quality.