First we should cover the type of knitter we are. We are not hand knitters, there isn’t a room full of folk busily clicking away with knitting needles in front of a transistor radio. That is the type of knitting most people can picture when they imagine how knitwear is produced. That is not us. Neither are we a huge factory with massive robotic knitting machines churning away in endless rows of glistening steel. That’s the type of knitting most people are terrified of and come to us to avoid.
We sit in the middle of these two examples, admittedly a little closer to the “clicking while listening to the radio” end of the scale.
In many very large factories, knitwear is cut out, like when you use a cookie cutter, from great big sheets of knitted fabric. This is called cut & sew and makes use of a very large labour force. It is a relatively low tech process but requires teams of highly skilled sewing machine operators. All the unwanted material is wasted and goes off to be shredded or recycled.
Very high tech modern equipment can actually produce you a complete garment with sleeves and neck holes and button holes and pockets – it just pops out of the machine basically ready to wear. This process is often called Knit & Wear. It doesn’t require huge teams of sewing machines but is a very expensive process to set up. We don’t do that, although some days when you are looking at a mountain of garments to knit it does sound lovely!
So how do we knit?
We are most accurately described as a fully fashioned, hand framed knitter. That means that we use large electric knitting machines, but we use them really only for speed & efficiency.
We rarely produce the same thing twice so a lot of time is spent hand framing at the machine changing colours and swapping over designs. It is a very labour intensive process. As you change designs between jobs you often have to make tiny adjustments to the machine to ensure each piece knits perfectly. Then when you change the design again, you start over on the adjustments.
We produce panels of knitted fabric on an electric machine. Each panel is the exact shape & size that we need it to be for the finished garment, that is where the term “fully fashioned” comes in. If we need a sleeve, we create a tapered fabric panel knitted to the exact shape and size that we require. Think Ikea furniture, you open the box and all the bits of wood and screws are ready for assembly.
Our knitted panels are taken from the machine, checked and assembled by hand.
Step one is called topping & tailing. That is where we take the “raw” panel and remove the few trailing threads that are essential for its knitting.
Step two is a very close visual inspection of the panel, we are looking for knitting or yarn defects. In many cases these defects can be repaired by a trained experienced expert – Helen Baber has a particular talent for taking what others would consider a lost cause and turning it into a perfect piece.
Step three is a steam press with a good quality steam generator iron. We use domestic ones but some factories have great big rooms sized things! We ready the panel for the next step by pressing it flat and exposing the edges. This is also where woollen garments are given their first shape. You can see with your own eyes the wool shrinking and puffing up. This is a vital stage in getting wool ready to be worn & washed.
Step four is really a bunch of steps, this is where garments are linked. This blog doesn’t want to be too long so we wont go into it here, maybe something for the future! In essence the various panels of the garment are assembled on a linking machine. We take one or more of the yarns used in the knitting and use it to bind the panels together on a large round machine that behaves a bit like a sewing machine. This gives us a strong invisible seam along the edges of the garment. Being a good linker takes years of training and practice, it’s about quality not speed. All of us here at Bill Baber Knitwear can link and when we are very busy, that’s what we are all doing!
Step five is about quality control, each garment is closely inspected for any defects or errors. We call them dropped stitches, but it includes yarn breaks and a range of other issues. As with step two most of these defects can be repaired. Any which can’t often find themselves making it into our personal collections or in our annual sale rail in the shop, clearly labelled of course!
Step six is for wool items. We have a wash & drying regime that everything goes through. Using the same process for each item helps us to keep any variations caused by water temperature or drying conditions to a minimum!
Step seven is another steam press. This is the final chance for a visual inspection before the items is ready for sale. It is also the stage at which we check the garment for size. It is in fact the first time we can reliably measure up and see what we have.
We hope that you found this usual, any questions, please go ahead and ask! email@example.com