Alan Scott, creative director of Johnstons of Elgin up in the Scottish Highlands, is excited. ‘We’ve got one of the only machines in Europe here that can knit intricate patterns.’ He explains that the new men’s worsted superfine polo shirt he’s designed has a plaid pattern that is really difficult to achieve. ‘It’s 14-needle intarsia technology and the results can give you a beautiful resolution.’
Talking to Scott is always educational – and fun. He is one of those designers who combines the know-how of the technician with the vision of the creative – and he’s an unashamed enthusiast. He’s excited because this specialist technology – which is brand new and from Japan – opens up a world of possibilities for Johnstons of Elgin, the 223-year-old Scottish firm. ‘Basically you can draw patterns on a computer to create 3D designs that the machine can execute,’ he explains.
While the company has long been known for its quality, which sees it manufacture for many famous international fashion brands as an uncredited partner, in recent years, under Scott’s creative direction, Johnstons of Elgin has started to build a reputation for modern knitwear design. Often inspired by fabrics in its extensive archive, as well as by his curious mind, Scott is building a new reputation for the firm that today takes its undoubted expertise in knitting and weaving and applies it to 21st-century design.
“Inspired by fabrics in its extensive archive, as well as by his curious mind, Scott is building a new reputation for the firm that today takes its undoubted expertise in knitting and weaving and applies it to 21st-century design”
The new polo shirt is an example of this. The check comes from the Johnstons of Elgin archive, a 1930s classic blue and grey tartan called the Silver Bannockbane, which the firm has previously used for woven scarves. ‘It’s really difficult to get the same vertical and horizontal strength in pattern in a piece of knitwear,’ explains Scott. ‘But with this machine we can, and we create a jacquard. And on the reverse – inside the garment – it’s flat and clean, there are no “floats”. Often when you try and knit a pattern you end up with something that is thick and board-like.’
By contrast, this checked polo shirt is incredibly lightweight. ‘It’s in merino wool,’ explains Scott, ‘beautiful 260s merino high-twist yarn, so it’s cool to wear.’
As well as this traditional tartan, Scott has also introduced a modern pattern through his new machine. A hand-painted red and blue chevron design adorns a men’s superfine worsted merino crew-neck and women’s cape. ‘I’d made a printed scarf with it in merino,’ explains Scott, ‘but before, I couldn’t do the same in an intarsia knit. Each of the brush strokes in the design is uneven, as it is done by hand, and this reflects the theme of the season for our spring/summer 2020 collection, which is “The Artist”.’ Now, through state-of-the-art technology, Scott has managed to bring this modern, exploded herringbone pattern to a knitted sweater and cape.
‘What is great about this new machine is that I can now integrate patterns throughout the collections,’ explains Scott. ‘I can extend them across garments and accessories – for men and women. And I can experiment with old graphics from the archive and create brand new ones.’
So, look out for a whole new world of colour and pattern from Johnstons of Elgin for autumn/winter.