'There were other things that contributed to the decision to close. Many of our staff were in their 50s and 60s, very skilled, but a lot of them wanted to slow down, especially on the knitting side. Also, the company that made the knitting machines in Italy closed down last year (2009). We would end up waiting on spares, sometimes for six weeks.
Another reason for closing was with the yarn suppliers. British sheep give quite coarse wool. However, demands of late have been for softer Merino wools. We would get wool from France, Austria and Italy. Most suppliers were doing a stock service so we would put in a bulk order for the raw material and during the season would call in whatever colours we wanted. Hardly any of the spinners now do a stock service so we could end up waiting for six weeks for delivery. With the limited season it is very difficult from getting orders to waiting six weeks for the materials to come in.
We always thought we were better at manufacturing for others than to use the Stevenage Knitting Company label but Albam wanted us to use our label in our final set of jumpers that we did.
I've always made something, ever since childhood. It was always really satisfying seeing your designs on the catwalk or on the cover of Vogue... it seems odd that's gone now. I would like to carry on making something. There's so little manufacturing left now.
In Stevenage, the new town was built on assembly: ESA school furniture, Platignum pens, Kodak cameras and Vincent Motorcycles. Now it is nearly all service industry or companies like Glaxo (Smith Kline) or Fujitsu computers. There's hardly any manufacturing. There's a few engineering companies left... but nowhere near as many there was.
Our chief knitter started at 15 and is now 62. She only left to have children. When her children were young she would have a knitting machine at home. She used to do all of our interpretations of designs - from sketches in to finished garments. She wanted to retire. The closure is a combination of lots of things. It was a very family oriented business, we had cousins working for us... a mother and daughter, sisters... and for some of the staff it was the only job they'd ever done.
I phoned up the Knitting Industries Federation and explained that we were closing. They told me that they thought SKC was the last place producing hand framed garments.'
Images (from top to bottom): The window of the factory on Sish Lane, Stevenage, Spare parts boxes on wall, yards of yarn and a view from the factory floor