House of Cheviot history

Posted on 21st Nov 2014 Categories: News

Shooting journalist Abigail Alldis looks at the heritage of this best-selling shooting sock brand

It’s a fine autumnal afternoon when I’m invited to look around the House of Cheviot’s knitting mill to see how the company crafts its market-leading country socks.

In his office, design and technology director Robin Deas proudly displays an original sock knitting machine from the 1800s, which was still used for making socks during the First World War for the troops.“Isn’t it magnificent?” he asks, showing me how spindle-shaped bobbins rotate around the cylinder while in operation. Manufactured in England, this English sock machine remains one of the oldest in existence - its unparalleled design originating from the British inventors, Hainsworth and Griswold.

The House of Cheviot was given a new lease of life 12 years ago (on the Glorious Twelfth, no less) when managing director James Wright persuaded Robin to come out of retirement and join the team. Robin is from a family of knitwear producers, and brings a wealth of experience and inspiration to the brand. He tells me: “We're looking each year at the colours and patterns in the most popular tweeds, predict what the trends are going to be in shooting and country clothing fashion, and then we create designs and patterns that are going to complement these. We often have people send in samples of tweeds and tartans that they have already ordered and we then offer a service matching their own bespoke socks to these fabrics.”

There are around 2,500 designs and the company is always at the forefront of country sock design.

The name House of Cheviot stems from the fact that James hails from Yorkshire and Robin comes from Scotland, with the Cheviot hills running between them and the Cheviot sheep graze all around the area. “It seemed like a good way of marrying the connection between us both,” explains Robin.

Labour of love

It takes around two hours to handmake each pair of shooting or kilt socks, and the small factor nestled in the Scottish Borders crafts between 60,000 to 70,000 pairs a year using traditional knitting techniques that have been handed down over centuries.

Machines in the House of Cheviot mill range from traditional pieces more than 80 years old to the latest cutting-edge technology, but it's interesting to see that, while some of the process has been mechanised, the principles behind the way the socks are crafted are still the same as they would have been even back in the Victorian ages, staying true to their heritage.

Variety and luxury

Customers can choose from three luxury materials: Merino wool from Italy and cashmere from Mongolia or China. Both shooting socks and kilt socks can be tailored to a cacophony of different effects, with gauges ranging from fine, to chunky, to the new heavy wattle stitch, and even thick hand-knitted granny socks. There are around 2,500 designs and the company is always at the forefront of country sock design.

The highest quality

Each pair is individually checked and, if a sock isn't quite up to standard it goes back into the system to be improved. This results in a large pile of single abandoned socks that have to be matched back up with their mate later - a tricky task, as you can imagine! Robin jokes "We are forever looking for those one-legged shooters to take care of the leftovers."

Innovation

What makes the House of Cheviot unique is its innovation. The team is constantly adapting designs, celebrating colour and comfort, and allowing shooters to inject some personality into their country attire.

Robin concludes: “The thing is, with shooting socks, you're asking a lot of them, so quality is paramount. Your feet are crammed into unbelievable places and asked to do unbelievable things, and at the end of the day you want them to come out smelling of roses - well ours actually do!”

"After all”, winks House of Cheviot’s Ann Sadler conspiratorially as we wind up our tour of the knitting mill, “there are no pills for a sore foot!”.

Shooting Socks

Socks at the House of Cheviot are made on machines that still use traditional techniques

Shooting Socks

Robin Deas checks the socks for any technical imperfections - only the best quality get through