While in Italy for Pitti Uomo this year, we took the time for a detour. The trip provided the perfect opportunity to visit somewhere special to us: our knitwear atelier. We were excited to take a closer look at where our knitwear is made, capture the process, and learn all about the steps from start to finish. Leaving Florence early in the morning, we drove for two hours through the Tuscan countryside, down winding roads into a region known for some of the finest knitwork in the world. Dotted among some country houses, the atelier eventually appeared from the cool fog.
As we entered, we were met with walls lined with luxurious yarns – spools of soft silk and the finest wools in a wide array of colors sitting waiting for an order to come. The yarns we use – extra-fine merino wool, pure cashmere, cashmere with wool, cashmere with silk, and cashmere with cotton – are sourced from all over Italy, including the iconic mill Cariaggi located only a few hours away. Yarn is then wound by the atelier into smaller, more usable cones to conserve moisture. If they sit for too long, they’ll be rewound again to ensure the quality always remains the same.
Only once the atelier receives a request do they begin. Each piece of knitwear is crafted piece by piece and order by order. The process depends largely on the style you pick and the complexity of your customizations (if you’re not familiar with what’s possible you can see some of our favorite styles). Whatever you choose, a piece of paper with your personal measurements and design options is crafted that will follow your item throughout its journey. We send over your wishes along with your measurements where they are translated into a digital pattern that is readable by the 3D-knitting machines.
It’s these special machines that allow for the highest precision and our sophisticated seamless finish. Two rows of machines sit inside the atelier, all equipped with thousands of small needles, each machine with a different level of fineness possible. If you have chosen the single-ply cashmere-silk blend, it will be sent to the machine with 18 needles per inch, something more robust like the 2-ply wool-cashmere will only need 8 needles per inch.
The yarn you have selected will be carefully hand-guided into one of the machines to work its magic. A short time later, you have a wearable knit body from neck to hem, with some excess yarn at the bottom from the knitting process. A simple style like a crew neck or t-shirt will be almost knitted in its entirety. For something more complex like a polo or cardigan, the extra details like collars and pockets will be knitted separately and attached later.
This basic garment then goes into the first of many quality control moments. The piece is gently placed over a light source designed to highlight even the smallest imperfections and checked to ensure everything is as it should be. If it passes the test, those knitted details you have requested can be added. It’s intricate work that requires a special light with a magnifying glass. The body of the knit needs to be hand-fed onto another, smaller knitting machine, matching up each existing loop with a tiny needle. The finer the knit, the more painstaking this process.
Once all additional knitted details are attached, that excess yarn from the original process is then removed offering a more finished-looking garment. This finishing is all done by hand, something rare for knitwear you get off the rack. Back to the light it goes for another check. If all is perfect, your knit can go into the next phase: the laundry.
Garments are grouped by quality and washed to remove any impurities accumulated during processing and to give the fibers the softness and volume. The washing and drying method is a bit of an art form that changes depending on the yarn quality, thickness, and color chosen. The atelier will wash your item to ensure the ideal softness and longevity. Once laundered, your knit is checked again for integrity and then it’s time to add the hardware to your wishes – perhaps a zip here or some buttons there. Only the label is left to be sewn on.
Once the knit is truly complete, it will enter a final quality control. Here it is laid out flat, pinned, and checked against your measurements to ensure it will fit perfectly. If any small adjustments to the fit are needed, these changes can be made using a combination of steam and heat to gently lengthen or shorten.
Then for the final touches: the hang tag is attached by hand before being ironed and folded to be packaged up. After being carefully crafted by many hands and checked by many eyes, the piece is finally ready to find its way to you. From the first stitch to final folding, the exacting process and meticulous checks take around two hours per piece – a little less for a simple mock neck, a little more for something like a hoodie.
After following through the process, we left completely in awe of these artisans and their skills. We can’t wait to visit again. Stay tuned to learn more about the yarn making process in one of our next issues.
Check out our range of styles for spring and summer or get inspired by our article on the art of creating an understated statement knit.