Making Fabric in the UK – A Visit to Discovery Knitting in Leicester

making fabric in the uk

I recently wrote about the textile heritage of the Derwent Valley and my visit to Masson Mills in this post. Until even quite recently it was common to make stuff, including fabric in the UK, but with the arrival of mass globalisation in the 90’s much of the UK’s textile industries disappeared offshore to the likes of China and jobs, skills and businesses were lost.

But it’s not all doom and gloom!! Leicester has long had a strong reputation in the manufacture of knitted textiles of all descriptions and it still has a thriving textile industry.

One of those keeping the “Made in Britain” flags flying is Discovery Knitting. A family run business based in the southern suburbs of Leicester just 10 minutes off the M1.

I first came across Discovery in spring 2016 when my old boss recommended them to me and I found myself on their website looking at all the gorgeous fabrics I’d been struggling to find elsewhere AND they were all being made in the UK. “Where have you been all my life?” I shouted at the computer screen!! The reason that Discovery had been off my radar was that they had been focussing on supplying wholesale fabrics to manufacturers and designers and hadn’t really been selling fabric retail and certainly not within the home sewing market.

After using Discovery’s fabrics for some dyeing and screen-printing developments that I was working on, I knew I wanted to work more with the people and their fabrics. In the autumn of 2016 the perfect opportunity presented itself in the form of my new book “A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing with Knitted Fabrics”.

After a very long and enthusiastic telephone conversation with Simon Cook the owner of Discovery Knitting, I realised we were on the same wavelength and Simon very generously offered to supply me with any of their fabrics that I wanted to use in my new book. An amazing offer since I’d bought all the fabrics  for my other books out of my publishing advance, using up a very large portion of it and not leaving much behind to live on and pay the bills (the not quite so glamorous life of the author!).

beginner's Guide to sewing with knitted fabrics beginner's Guide to sewing with knitted fabrics beginner's Guide to sewing with knitted fabrics

All samples from Beginner’s Guide to Sewing With Knitted Fabrics made using Discovery’s fabrics. Photos by Julian Ward © Cico Books.

beginner's Guide to sewing with knitted fabrics

On a recent trip up to my hometown of Sheffield I decided it was high time I stopped off at Discovery for a brew and to finally put some faces to all the names that had been helping me.

Who are Discovery Knitting?

Simon Cook is the Sales and Technical Director and owner of Discovery Knitting and has worked in fabric since leaving school. It’s a small knit (no pun intended!) team driving the business, which also includes Simon’s wife Lyn and Phoebe their daughter. Phoebe has taken on the not so enviable task of running the online side of the business, trying to balance running their social media accounts, answering emails and managing orders.

uk textile industry

What do they do at Discovery Knitting?

Well, they do a lot of knitting and they produce a lot of fabric that I had been struggling to find elsewhere. All of their fabrics are produced in-house and as well as using a lot of organic cotton and recycled yarns, they also use a lot of luxury yarns such as merino wool, silk, cashmere and bamboo. They can also create gorgeous unusual textured fabrics, stripes galore, gorgeous denim effect knits that I’d never seen anywhere before, tweed and confetti colour effects as well as a really comprehensive range of high quality basics such as solid colour cotton/lycra jersey, solid colour sweatshirting and matching ribs.

Discovery supply a lot of top end, quality garment manufacturers, with iconic British luxury clothing brands Sunspel (they made Daniel Craig’s t-shirts and polo shirts in the James Bond films….!), Private White and Preen Thornton Bregazzi being just a few and for many years have worked closely with designers showing at London Fashion Week, often collaborating with them on new fabrics.

Most recently they have begun a collaboration with Cheshire based cotton spinners English Fine Cottons to use their British spun yarn in Discovery made fabrics, getting even closer to closing the loop and bringing the whole garment production process back to the UK.

Discovery have also spent years working with other Leicestershire textile businesses such as dyers to keep production as local as possible and the factory now generates almost no waste thanks to the recycling of waste yarn into cleaning cloths.

I had never been inside a knitted textile factory before but have long wanted to, so I was really excited to have a good old nosey around Discovery’s factory. The first thing that stuck me is that it’s compact – like most UK manufacturers this team are doing a lot in a relatively small space. Their factory floor has a wonderful collection of space-age looking knitting machines which I could’ve watched for hours.

UK textile industry UK textile industry UK textile industry

To see cobweb thin lycra yarns being knitted into fabric, watching machines knitting stripes and changing colour was fascinating. The machines are a bit like giant spiders spinning a web, with the big machine spider in the middle drawing in the multiple yarns arranged around it. 

Here’s a short film of the Monarch Striper machine in action:

Simon has an obvious love for these machines; he proudly told me about the week he spent renovating an old machine he rescued from being scrapped for spare parts, which now hums along smoothly. Simon is one of those people who, although he obviously is extremely business savvy, also has a deep love of making and machines and appreciates the connection that his business retains with the process of making.

Across the road is Discovery’s showroom and warehouse. Let’s just say my mind was blown by the wonderful things I saw in there, it’s a good job I hadn’t visited in a van – I would’ve left with it full!

So, the next time you’re looking for single jersey or French Terry or sweatshirt fabrics have a look at Discovery. They have plain colours, stripes, marls and confetti colour effects and will often even be able to recommend a rib that will perfectly match your chosen fabric.

Find Out More

Discovery now have a minimum order of just 2m on most of their fabrics and you can find them online here: http://www.discoveryknitting.co.uk

More about Leicester’s thriving textile industry: http://www.leicestershiretextileshub.co.uk

English Fine Cottons: https://www.englishfinecottons.co.uk

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5 responses to “Making Fabric in the UK – A Visit to Discovery Knitting in Leicester

  1. Thank you for sharing this fabulous resource! I always struggle to find good quality knits as I can’t find them locally and online things can be so variable. This looks perfect.

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  2. Love these posts Wendy they’re really interesting. I follow Discovery on IG but have never bought from them, I love their ethos and will definitely consider them when I next need knit fabric.

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  3. I found DM through your helpful shopping directory. They were so nice to deal with, and delivery charges to the Republic of Ireland were very reasonable. I now have two lengths of merino – solid black and a delicious navy/ivory stripe – waiting to be sewn up. I hope that they continue to thrive (and that they get to invest in a website better suited to direct customers, although that might just make me buy more!).

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    • Glad to hear it!! I like the sound of your fabric choices. I think there are only a few little tweaks I’d make to their website to make it perfect. I already think the grouping of fabric types and the level of information you get about each fabric are both excellent!

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