AW16 Featured Knitwear
Drake's Knitwear: Handmade in Britain
Jul 13, 2022
Take a look behind the scenes at the tradition and craftsmanship that goes into our luxury knitwear.
Knitwear is an essential part of any British wardrobe, and at Drake’s we’re proud to offer some of the world’s finest. All of our knitwear is made exclusively using natural materials and knitted entirely in the British Isles. Knitting has been a cornerstone of the British garment trade for hundreds of years, however with more and more production moving off-shore, it is becoming something of a dying art. However we couldn’t be more proud to carry on the tradition of the craft; working with some of the finest artisans in the world, who knit our garments using traditional machinery, and techniques and expertise that have been passed down over generations.
Our fine lambswool and cashmere knitwear is knitted in the small town of Hawick, in the Scottish borders. Once a thriving centre for the craft, there are just a handful of traditional knitters still left. The knitwear we make here is what’s known as fully-fashioned knitwear, meaning that each panel of every garment is literally knitted into it’s final shape, rather than the yarn being knitted into a roll of cloth which is then cut and sewn together. This greatly enhances the shape, durability and finish of the final product. Many of the remaining Scottish knitters have moved entirely to digital machines. “We’re against that” says Allan, one of the factory’s longest serving staff “because really the classic sweater that’s made on these machines is superior.” Part of that superiority comes from the needle traditional machines use, called a bearded needle. The bearded needle features an eye that compresses as it passes through the yarn, which prevents any stretching or damage to the fibres as the garments are being knitted.
Once the fronts, backs and sleeves have been knitted into their respective shapes, they are bundled together by size and sent to be assembled into garments. The process of assembling the panels together into a garment is painstaking - every stitch at the panel’s edge has to be individually looped onto needles set around the edge of a cylindrical sewing machine. This lets the marry the panels of the garment stitch for stitch. “This is what we call single needle linking” says Allan. “ Everything goes in point for point. There is another method called twin-needle, but with twin-needle nothing matches. It’s much quicker, but nothing matches, which is why we use this single-needle technique.”
One of our factory’s few concessions to modernity is its washing department. The yarn used in the knitting arrives at the factory coated in oil, which helps maintain the fibre when it’s been knitted and assembled. After that however, the garments need to have the oil washed out - a process known as felting. This process drastically changes the feel of the garments for coarse and stiff to rich and soft.. The factory is nestled in the fork of two rivers, both providing very soft water which is used in the factory’s supply; ideal for washing knitwear. “This used to be a romantic department” laughs Allan. “It was like a small paddling pool and all the water used to run there. A man would stand in there, in his overalls and his wellingtons, and use these big wooden paddles to wash the garments. But modern technology has caught up with us, even in Scotland, so now we have all of the latest machines.” After washing, the garments head for steaming and pressing.
When this process is complete, the gartments heading to another workroom to have any binding applied to the neck or pocket. Binding is knitted separately, but always in the same gauge as the sweater, and has to be painstakingly sewn on by hand. Finally, the garments are ready for inspection. Every garment is individually checked. We use large lightboxes to check every item before dispatching them to ensure that no dropped stitches make it through to the final product. If one is found, a new garment is knitted from scratch. “We take a lot of pride it what we make here” Allan says. “There aren’t many left who can make what we can make.”