If you’re looking to buy a piece of knitwear that’s well-made and going to last, the first thing you need to do is find a Scottish knitwear producer. Scottish knitwear is the finest in the world and can be worn for decades rather than the years (or more likely months) that high street knitwear lasts.
It’s a well-known fact in the fashion industry that Scotland is the place to go for high end knitwear - but why? What is it about Scotland that makes their knitwear so special? The answer is threefold.
- Sourcing the Best Fibres -
Creating any piece of knitwear starts with finding the very best fibres. At Colhay’s we use a Yarn producer called Todd and Duncan. Based in Scotland too, Todd and Duncan work to the highest standards throughout the production process, and this includes sourcing fibres.
Todd and Duncan work with farmers out in Mongolia and South Africa who aren’t overworked and who aren’t under pressure to cultivate huge amounts of wool. The farmers are carefully selected to ensure they have as little environmental impact as possible and that the sheep and goats are well looked after.
The three key ingredients for a fine fibre are a long length and small diameter. For the best quality knitwear, the fibres need to be, quite literally, fine. To put this into perspective, the fibres are measured in microns and the best fibres, those chosen by Todd and Duncan, are around 15 microns wide for the cashmere, and 18 microns wide for the superfine lambswool. By comparison, most lambswool is around the 24 or 25 mark and that’s why it feels scratchy and rough on the skin. The difference is miniscule and not visible to the naked eye, but it’s certainly felt on the skin. In terms of longevity, the longer the fibre the more durable the knit and the longer it will last too.
For these reasons, Todd and Duncan test vigorously to make sure the fibres are up to their exacting standards. In fact, they test them three times, where many others only test once or twice.
- The Finest Yarn Spinners -
Once the fibres have been sourced, the next step is spinning them into yarn. Again, it’s another lengthy process to ensure the very best quality. Todd and Duncan sits just next to Loch Leven, which is where the first process, washing, takes place. The water of Loch Leven contains a unique blend of minerals that opens up the natural fibres and enhances their softness. This blend cannot be found elsewhere and its effects can’t be replicated. This water is also used for dyeing before being cleaned and returned to the loch, ensuring minimal impact on the environment.
The fibres are then blended and carded, a process which disentangles the fibres. Many mass producers of knitwear use modern machines for this, but Todd and Duncan use slightly older ones for a better result. The new machines used elsewhere will trim a few millimetres from the fibres and so, in order to keep the fibres as long as possible, the older machines are still used. It’s a slower process, but it means the length is preserved and, ultimately, whatever knitwear these fibres go on to make will last far longer.
Finally the carded fibres are spun into yarn before making their way to the knitters.
- The Most Experienced Knitters -
With a long history of knitting, the most experienced knitters can be found in Scotland. Colhay’s knitwear production is in Hawick, a Scottish town renowned for its knitting history that dates back to the 18th century. In Hawick, knitting is a skill that is passed down through generations and one that the knitters themselves take great pride in. Put simply, their expertise and knowledge are unrivalled and cannot be matched anywhere else in the world.
Having spent decades honing their unique craft, the techniques used by the knitters in Hawick unsurprisingly differ to those used by fast fashion producers. For example, the knit is much more dense. This is perhaps a word that you wouldn’t immediately associate with quality or luxury, but a dense knit will actually last far longer. A loose knit will lose shape and fast. Despite the wearer’s best efforts with careful handwashing, the garment will become misshapen and pill.
Another technique employed by the Scottish knitters is called hand linking. Each piece of the garment is individually knitted before being linked together by hand. Again, it's a longer process than you’d find with mass produced knitwear where the shape of the garment is cut out from a huge piece. The process creates seams that look smooth to the eye and are incredibly strong, again adding to the longevity of the garment.
Once finished, the piece needs to be washed again. Though it sounds like it should be simple, it actually takes a great deal of skill and experience to wash wool correctly. Many mass producers of knitwear will wash and wash and wash until the knitwear feels super soft to the touch, in the hope that buyers will be lured in and tempted to buy. Actually, this is not in the best interests of the buyer or the knitwear itself. When washed to just the right level, as is done by the expert washers who wash Colhay’s knitwear, the knitwear might not feel super soft at the first touch, but the integrity of the wool hasn’t been compromised. If washed correctly, over time the knitwear will soften and adapt to the wearer’s body shape. It's a crucial process and a skill only learned with experience.
By the time a piece of knitwear from Colhay’s is finished, around twenty different experts will have worked on it. It takes months to create a single item of Scottish knitwear, supported by decades of experience and knowledge.
Knitwear made in Scotland has been through so many extra processes, with so much extra attention to detail, which all combine to create the very best quality. You can wear your garment for years and pass it down through generations. If you decide not to, the garment is made of natural fibres which will decompose if thrown away. The expertise of the knitters and the quality of the fibres, and subsequently the yarns, are unrivalled by any other country. You simply can’t replicate the history or geographical advantages that Scotland holds and, as result, the quality can never be replicated either.