Nestled among Dundee’s former jute mills lies the realisation of a long-held dream for Scottish designer Donna Wilson. Her Knit Shop – a micro-factory – has opened its doors and is now producing knitted goods for local designers and international brands. Recent collaborations include a giant family of horses for Hermès’ flagship store in Paris, a Selkie seal mascot for V&A Dundee, a knitted ‘car-cosy’ for Parisian department store Merci, and bespoke knitted jumpers and beanies for Glenmorangie.
Wilson is part of the new generation of manufacturers in Scotland who recognise the strength and quality of the design sector, as well as the corresponding opportunity for a nuanced manufacturing base to supply it. Companies like Kalopsia, CAT Digital and Risotto epitomise the confident, entrepreneurial side of the design scene catering for an ever-expanding community of designers.
“I’ve finally achieved a long-time dream of mine, and have established a micro knit factory in Dundee," says Wilson. "I’m so proud to be a small part of the regeneration of the long-dwindling Scottish textile industry. The Knit Shop already employs a team of talented local tradespeople, who are not only manufacturing my own products, but also offering these services to other designers and businesses and instilling valuable skills in a new generation of makers.”
Knit Shop has a simple, transparent pricing structure and low minimum order quantity, making it accessible to a wide range of customers, from small, independent designers to architects, artists and big business. Wilson is also developing partnerships with local colleges and universities to enable their students to design and manufacture their own textile products, gain practical industry experience and equip them with the skills to start their own business.
The concept of Knit Shop stems from Wilson’s desire to encourage the sharing of skills, innovation and investment in the regeneration of the Scottish textile industry. “I think the last couple of years have made us all take stock of what we’re doing and how we’re doing it. This has allowed me to steer my company to take control of our own production and to ensure that we are investing in the future skills that may otherwise disappear from the Scottish manufacturing landscape," she explains. "I’m happy to have the opportunity to employ and nurture a new generation of young, dynamic, creative makers in Dundee. My aim is to create a sustainable working practice, which delivers a high quality product that nods to Scotland's rich textiles history, but consciously moves us into the future.”
Offering a comprehensive consultancy, design and manufacture service, clients can work alongside the Knit Shop’s accomplished in-house design team to develop their own products. With two state-of-the-art Shima Seiki knitting machines on-site, the Knit Shop is equipped to offer sampling and to produce a variety of knitted products at scale. From fully fashioned knitwear, accessories, and homewares – the possibilities afforded by yarn and knit are endless.
“It’s important to me to be able to offer a stepping stone for the next generation of makers who are graduating from university and want to set up their own businesses. I remember how hard it was to find someone to make knit samples when I couldn’t commit to the thousands of pieces needed for a minimum order. We are already working with Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art & Design to offer projects and internships to students and graduates, helping them to bridge that often impossible gap from university to the real world.”
As a forerunner of the contemporary craft movement, Wilson has remained true to her principles, using traditional techniques and locally based suppliers wherever possible. The Knit Shop is an important next step for her, allowing her to become even more hands-on with the production process of her own products, while investing in the regeneration of the textile industry in Scotland.
From 1 October, you’ll be able to purchase your own special piece of this story in the form of a limited edition jumper that Wilson has designed for V&A Dundee. The cosy crew neck takes its inspiration from a hand-knitted 1920s Fair Isle given to the V&A by Mrs Kirke of Shetland, now on permanent display in the museum’s Scottish Design Galleries. In the traditional Fair Isle knitting style of two colours per horizontal row, it has a unique pattern representing Dundee’s maritime past and the three historic pillars of industry for which the city was once famed – Jute, Jam and Journalism. Only 50 of each of the two colourways have been produced. Each is knitted from pure new wool and hand-finished at the Knit Shop.
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