Each season we produce a single hand-knitted piece as a mark of our admiration of this rare skill and our commitment to preserving it.
Autumn-Winter 21: Bramble Hand Knit
This season our Bramble Hand Knit Sweater features a timeless cable knit design made with undyed British wool, championing regenerative farming practices and heritage craft in the UK. It takes a week to bring each seamless knit to life; a versatile piece to be treasured for years to come.
British Bluefaced Leicester Wool
Our Bramble Hand Knit for the Autumn-Winter 21 collection uses 100% fine English wool. This garment champions responsible local farming practices, using wool grown by Bluefaced Leicester Sheep which yield the finest fleece of any heritage sheep in England. Native to the North West England, they live very comfortably in this climate and produce a very high quality wool.
We are emphatically aligned with farmers and mills in the UK who share our commitment to revitalising this heritage industry, bringing back value for farmers and for UK sheepswool.
Stitches in time
Excerpt from Seed Magazine Volume 1.
Stephanie Laird designs and produces exquisite hand-knitted pieces for clothing designers that include Pringle of Scotland, Mulberry, Bamford, Stella McCartney and Paul Smith. She works from her flat, set in a former hospital building in one of the handsome squares in Edinburgh’s New Town. Arriving on a calm, bright morning, I am struck by the harmony in the rows of tall, evenly- proportioned sandstone buildings; the elegant uniformity of the Georgian architecture feels like an appropriate setting for someone whose profession is so equally steeped in measured precision and skilled craftsmanship.
‘I was a professional ballerina and in my era dancers spent an awful lot of time sitting at the sides during rehearsals. We had a lot of time on our hands and we generally divided into two groups to fill it – the smokers and the knitters, explains Stephanie. We used to knit our own all-in-ones, just in a very simple stocking stitch, but they had a lovely double V-neck, three-quarter length sleeves and a really low back. They were so beautiful. You put them on over your tights and leotard and they were close- fitting but stretchy and so comfortable.’
‘Knitting was just very much part of the dancer’s world,’ she tells me. ‘My mother was a fashion journalist so I have always loved clothes and fabric and I used to work in the wardrobe at the theatre, especially when I was injured. I didn’t have any professional training. My mother knits like an angel and so I simply picked it up in childhood; and I have always just understood line and shape. As dancers we all used to take scissors to our leotards – it was nothing to do with vanity, it was about knowing what would give you an extra inch to move; I suppose because we always had to tamper with our bodies, we were very in tune with them. And then when I moved to Edinburgh after my dancing career had ended I met Hillary Rohde, and I started to go to her studio once
a week for the afternoon to help her. Hillary had a company designing two knitwear collections a year, and as a side she would produce hand-knitted pieces for several of the big fashion houses. This was during the 1980s when there was a big trend for hand-knits – it was the heyday when everybody wanted them in their collections, and for a while it was important to have at least one hand-knitted piece, especially for the British designers. Sadly that’s not the case now and for most designers knitwear is produced by machine.’
But for a small handful of labels, there is still a value and a beauty to be celebrated in the work of the hand and the intricate skills required to craft hand-knitted pieces. Stephanie works with a collection of knitters, who each work from their own home, mostly in Scotland. ‘Hillary had this book – her bible – that I inherited when I took over her company. It is a directory, where she noted the name of each knitter, their address and phone number and what particular skills they had. Some knitters will only do fine knitting, for example; some only chunky; some don’t like cashmere because it’s slippy, whereas swool has purchase; some knits are too heavy for my older ladies. We kept a record of all these specifics and learned to work with their different preferences and skills. I know their work so well.’
In a world of digital domination, it’s heartwarming to learn how much of the communication between Stephanie and her knitters is still done over the phone and by post. ‘Once I have a commission from a designer, I’ll work with a pattern maker to draw up the pattern for the design, then I’ll ring around my knitters. I’ll always send a knitter a sample of the item and say I have a run needing doing and ask how many I can put them down for – two or twenty? It’s a conversation. Then I will wind off the yarn, measure it and send them the pattern and sometimes the size – how loosely or tightly a person knits can affect this, so I always spec the pieces for size when they are sent back to me. They will come to me unwashed and often not sewn up, so I’ll sew the pieces together.’
‘The washing is something that isn’t difficult but it takes ages to learn because different yarns need different care. Sometimes I’m terrified the pieces will stretch or grow during the washing; I lay them so carefully over my pullies. Wool is a little more forgiving than cashmere or alpaca because it gives, so you can change the measurements and shrink or grow the pieces a little according to how you wash and dry them. They take ages to dry – even a cotton knit takes about a week and a half. Then I stitch on the labels and send them to the designer.’
Read the full article in Seed Magazine Volume 1.