Adventurous knitwear is a focus for London’s menswear designers

Posted on 6th November, by Colin Chapman in menswear. No Comments

I originally wrote this piece about London’s most exciting knitwear designers back in the summer, when thoughts of wooly jumpers and indeed winter itself felt like a distant prospect, stuffed away with the thermal undies, but here we now are in the first properly cold days of the season when a warm sweater makes perfect sense. This piece somehow got squeezed out of the publishing schedule it was intended for, but as some of London’s finest knitted garment designers gave me their time to divulge their thoughts on the art of the knit I’m sharing it with you here.

The humble sweater rarely gets media attention (unless it’s one of those pieces in the free papers celebrating ironic Christmas jumpers) but knitwear for men is becoming more creative and experimental. There will always be scope for a classic – a black cashmere crewneck or a Smedley cotton number for example, but there is movement when it comes to men’s sweaters.

One thing uniting many of the current crop of young British menswear designers, including Sibling, E.Tautz, Baartmans & Siegel, Jonathan Saunders, James Long and Lou Dalton is the interest in producing beautifully executed knitwear (often hand knitted) while pushing the boundaries of what knitwear for men can be.

Lou Dalton’s Fair Isle sweaters for AW14 for example are designed to be worn in reverse, the intriguing, threaded underside adding a subversive urban twist to the item but it could be turned out the other way if you suddenly need to blend in with your rural surroundings.

Lou Dalton AW

Lou Dalton AW14.

In reverse, Lou Dalton AW14.

In reverse, Lou Dalton AW14.

With this adventurous spirit in men’s knitwear in mind I spoke with three London menswear designers about how their knits come about and what makes them special.

Cozette McCreery of Sibling

As part of it’s re-focus on emerging and influential international menswear designers, Selfridges has recently provided a coveted space for London knitwear brand Sibling, the design trio who perhaps most of all push the knitted form beyond its cozy origins, to showcase their work. Cozette McCreery answered my questions.

What are the key knitwear pieces for Sibling men’s AW14?
Scottish hand knits with re-worked traditional Arran stitches and cables are very much the Sibling handwriting. Also the Fair Isle Leopard, again produced in Scotland using exclusive Sibling-created patterns.

Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?

For hand knits yes. All swatches and stitch designs are produced here at the studio. This is what makes us unique as Sid (Bryan) has the best understanding of stitch and how to create them so everything is worked on here first before handing to a factory or home knitter.

What is special about hand knitted pieces?

Even though there is very strict quality control and each knitter works to patterns there is always slight deviation as hand knitting is a handwriting. In our mind and in our customers’ too, this makes each garment totally unique.

Sibling knitwear AW14

Sibling knitwear AW14.

Sibling AW14 crocheted shawl.

Sibling AW14 crocheted shawl.

Patrick Grant of E.Tautz

Grant has long been a champion for all aspects of British fashion manufacture (as Tweed, the BBC Four documentary he contributed to even before his The Great British Sewing Bee fame demonstrated) and knitwear production is no exception, with pieces often hand-knitted for his brand by a small army of home knitters.

What are the key knitwear pieces for E.Tautz AW14?

We have a small number of intarsia graphic knits based on old Byzantine religious patterns. Otherwise its totally straightforward knits, cashmeres from Willliam Lockie, Shetland crews from Jaimiesons. For AW15 we are looking at quite a bit of hand-knit to match the openness of the hand-loomed tweeds we’re working with.

Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?

We take each season as it comes; we try to fit the look and feel of our knits around the overall feel of the collection. Sometimes precise and structured, sometimes looser, we try to give the knits and the cloths the same texture, structure etc. We use home knitters, small hand frame knitters as well as machine knits.

Who are your knitters? What do they bring to the pieces you commission? What is special about home knitted pieces?

We use two main makers. Wendy Keith has a small army of needle knitters who all work from homes across England and Wales. There is a delicacy, a pliability, and a looseness that you don’t get with a machine knit. Also Corgi do their knitting on small hand frames (somewhere between the needle and the industrial machine) again, it just gives a hand feel and structure which has loftiness, it seems like you keep more of the bounce of the original yarn. And there’s also the intangible joy of knowing that its been made by a human being.

Intarsia sweater, E.Tautz AW14

Intarsia sweater, E.Tautz AW14.

Amber Siegel of Baartmans and Siegel

Designers Baartmans and Siegel are also no strangers to the home knit; each of their collections includes desirable knitwear pieces in colours and unique textures that expand the possibilities for men’s knitwear.

What are the key knitwear pieces for Baartmans and Siegel AW14?

Our favorite styles are the black crewneck with red mohair fine stripe detailing, and the honeycomb navy and black slim-fit pullover. Both in a cotton glacé yarn, hand knitted and blended with twisted fine mohair: engineered simplicity

Tell us about how your knitwear is created. Do you use home knitters?

Since our launch we have worked with a talented and charismatic home hand-knitter. Based in south London and in her seventies she is a meticulous perfectionist, who has been knitting since her childhood in Jersey. Watching her hands weave and spin delicate and intricate mathematical combinations is truly fascinating. Each piece is made lovingly, and carefully finished – soft brushed and folded with tissue paper. What she doesn’t know about hand knitting isn’t worth knowing.

What is special about home knitted pieces?

Machine knit is fantastic and can create some very beautiful, fine garments, but nothing compares to the craft and comfort of a hand-knit jumper. The love and effort feels precious and fundamental. A carefully stored hand-knit jumper can last a lifetime. In a time of consumer consciousness, wearing a natural and sustainable fiber garment, which supports traditional and historic skills, is an investment in aesthetic legacy.

Baartmans and Siegel hand knit, AW14.

Baartmans and Siegel hand knit, AW14.

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