Factory Visits - Jersey Knitting in Leicester, England

'Factory Visits' is our series of blogs that we are writing to document our journey as dive deeper into the production of our natural fibre clothing collections. We'll be sharing with you the ups and downs, the intriguing and the annoying...

Over the past year we've decided to broaden our off-duty collections to include t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, and lightweight loungewear. Traditionally, Paul James is a chunky to mid gauge flatbed knitter, whilst many of the products listed above are produced on finer gauge circular knitting machines. Hence this week's factory visit...

So what's knitwear gauge?

On modern knitting machines, gauge means the number of needles in one inch, so a 5 gauge machine produces a classic heritage looking chunky knit, often seen with cables and traditionally worn by fisherman. A 30 gauge machine will produce a fine lightweight fabric that you will see in t-shirts and dresses.

What's the difference between Circular and Flatbed Knitting

Circular Knitting produces a continuous tube of fabric, which is made from up to 32 separate yarn cones. The fabric is knitted in one direction - a circle. The fabric is then cut into the desired shapes and then sewn together to produce the final garment.

Flatbed Knitting produces panels of fabrics which are knitted across two beds of needles arranged in a V-formation. Carriages lay the yarn into the needle beds horizontally in two directions. The panels are knitted into shape (fully fashioned knitwear) and then sewn together to produce the final garment.

This was my first time entering a jersey factory, and there were some obvious differences. Firstly the noise, circular machines are big. Secondly large looms of tightly packed fabric are everywhere. Most jersey fabrics are dyed after knitting, whilst at our factory we only knit with dyed yarns so in this factory we're a few more steps away from the final product. Each machine is also enclosed in its own space with outwardly blowing fans from the needle bed to minimise unwanted dust being knitted into the fabric. 

Why did we visit this Jersey Factory? 

We're looking to develop a 100% cotton loopback sweatshirt for both men and women, so we came here to source our fabric. Since 1987, this company has specialised in producing cotton sweatshirt fabrics, and conveniently for us right here in Leicester, England. 


sweatshirt fabric knitting factory leicester

Left - rolls of loopback fabric ready for the dye house
Right - a close up of the 'loop back' side of our sweatshirt fabric


Why is 'loop back' a performance fabric?

The back of most natural fibre sweatshirt fabrics are knitted with a 'loop back' by reducing the tension on the yarn when knitting the body facing side. This allows an air pocket to be formed so our sweatshirts will be both insulating and cooling as the loop back increases the surface area on the body facing side so that the fabric can absorb more moisture away from the body, thus keeping you cool. Our loopback sweatshirt is designed to be your go to piece for any down time look.

We opted for loopback as it won't pill as much as a commonly seen brushed back sweatshirts and hoodies.

We do not recommend cotton garments for use during high intensity exercise as cotton holds up to 25 times its weight in water so you will feel absolutely drenched in sweat. For our performance sportswear we will be using merino wool instead. 

The next steps?

The fabric now needs to 'finished'. This happens at a different factory where they will combine mechanical techniques such as brushing, and calendaring, or industrial ironing under heavy rollers to smoothen out the fabric, as well as optional chemical process such as bleaching for pre-dyeing, silicone washing to soften the handle, mercerising with caustic soda for strength and adding lustre, or even adding performance properties like teflon to create shrink resistance or resin to create 'easy iron' fabrics.

So thats it for this post, the next step will be pattern cutting and shrink and fabric testing...


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About Our Author

Bhavik Master is the director of Paul James Knitwear. He is an avid enthusiast for sustainable fashion, landscape and urban photography and outdoor pursuits.

About Our Company

Paul James Knitwear is a design house and a specialist manufacturer and wholesaler of natural fibre clothing.

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