Not that they seem to mind. The firm has gone about its business for four generations — making some of the best knitwear in the world, let alone the British Isles, in the least grandstanding manner imaginable. Indeed, if ever there was a world-beating fashion force with its feet on the ground, they’d be feet wearing a pair of hand-framed cable-knit socks.
The firm was founded in the early 1900s, as many other knitwear makers, to kit out the workers of grubby-collared local industry, and over the years the means by it makes have wavered little. Every piece of knitwear made here is hand-framed — the only large-scale maker in the Isles still able to make the claim — and many of its patterns and contraptions have been in place since its doors first opened. The only things that have changed, indeed, are the workers — though the tenure of many of them is over half of the factory’s lifespan.
Then there are the domestic machines. These are neither the most high-tech nor in appearance the most olde-worlde-charming. Once mastered, however, with the domestics it is Liberty Hall; in terms of designs, the sky is the limit. The versatility of the domestics is down to the use of punchcards: the dot-matrix programme cards that instruct the machine what to stitch when, with the pattern repeated to the width on the card.
These three types of machine take up most of the factory, but a narrow door to the back of the floor leads to the most hallowed room here: the sock hall. Here are found a whirring, whizzing arsenal of circular sock-knitting machines. These are incredibly clever contraptions — they speedily re-enact, robot-like, the physical action of knitting a sock. But, even then, there are some things they cannot do. They cannot make cable-knit socks, press socks, nor hand-link socks. Because of this, these sock-making activities are left to a chosen few back in the other room.
The third handmade-sock practice — the hand-linking — is one fabled in sock lore; a method of attaching the toe onto the tube-like ankle. As opposed to stitching, hand-linking gives a completely flat seam between the two sections, and thus maximum comfort. It is seldom practiced; the reason clear when you see how it is done. Hand-linking is meticulous and eye-aching work: a single worker lining up every stitch by hand, one by one, on the front and back of the toe, before pulling a carriage very carefully around.
What you get with the miscellany of machinery here are methods so skilled and time-consuming so as to be unthinkable were there any other way to get the same results. There are fewer and fewer crafts that expensive technology today cannot simulate, but here can be found several of them. That fact, coupled with the maker’s insistence on using only the softest and most carefully blended micro-fine yarns on the market, means the result is knitwear with qualities unparalleled anywhere else in the world. The best of the new, in other words, married to the best of the really very old.