‘Scotch Knitwear’: Reading a Twomax Dress

Written by Isabella Wagner

As a student who has spent some time studying the history of dress, I have been continually surprised and amazed by the incredible storytelling potential of clothes. Perhaps this should be expected: as one of the few objects that stay closest to us throughout our lives, that exist on our bodies, and that we take from the cradle to the grave, personal stories almost inevitably become a part of the clothes we wear. Many other stories can be unlocked through clothing if we only took a closer look, and this was precisely my aim when I got my hands on a Twomax hosiery and knitwear company dress.

Twomax Dress
Figure 1: Blue Twomax shift dress, c.1960s. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)
Twomax dress with belt
Figure 2: Blue Twomax shift dress with red belt, c.1960s. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)

When I had my first encounter with this dress, I had just started my work placement with the Fleece to Fashion project. My job was to research the Twomax company and factory, and at that point, all I really knew was that they produced hosiery and knitwear during the 20th century in a factory in the Gorbals, Glasgow (which still stands today!). As such, the garment was to play a vital role in telling the history of Twomax.

I spent an hour studying the garment to notice all the details that might be missed in a more rushed viewing. I examined the dress from top to bottom, took its measurements, felt the texture of the yarn, and inspected it for alterations, labels, and signs of wear. I also noted down a detailed description of the garment. It is a blue, knitted shift dress with a red and white stripe down the front (see Figure 1). It has short sleeves with ribbed cuffs, a ribbed neckline and it comes with a red, knitted belt (see Figure 2). The length of the dress, as well as the fit and style, suggest that it may be a 60s garment, like several featured in ads by Twomax during the late 1960s.

Having observed and recorded these details, the next step was to interpret them. I was immediately drawn to the label which on its own offers a wealth of information (see Figure 3). It reads: ‘Scotch knitwear by Twomax, 100% turbo orlon high bulk, mild spin dry or dry flat.’ The information on the label is indicative to me of what kind of information a clothing manufacturer finds necessary to convey to a customer. The label thus functions as an important marketing tool. It is compelling that Twomax is advertising their clothing as ‘Scotch knitwear.’

Twomax garment label for illustration of blog by Isabella Wagner. Photo of label taken by Isabella Wagner and used with her permission.
Figure 3: Twomax garment label. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)

By the mid-twentieth century, Scottish knitwear had made a name for itself internationally, owing in large part to the high-quality products manufactured by companies in the Borders. For example, Hawick became almost synonymous in the public consciousness with high quality knitwear. So much so, that when companies located in the town were looking to expand, they resisted opening plants elsewhere to keep the ‘Made in Hawick’ label with all the associated benefits of its reputation (1). It is interesting, then, that Twomax is more general with naming the location of manufacture, calling their goods ‘Scotch’ and omitting their Glasgow origins. This might indicate where Glasgow stood in the wider Scottish, and British, knitwear industries.

The rest of the label’s contents refer to the yarn and the washing instructions. Turbo orlon high bulk is a type of acrylic fibre, and with a quick Google search, one can discover dozens of surviving, vintage knitted garments from the 1950s and 60s made using this fibre under this name. This information along with the style and shape of the dress – which was telling me 1960s anyway – gave me a better idea of a possible date for the garment.

When attempting to uncover such information from items of dress, it is important to try and divorce modern assumptions and attitudes from the material that is in front of you. Although today natural fibres are most desirable, this was, of course, not always the case. When synthetic fibres were first introduced, they appeared modern with new and unique properties. They offered exciting possibilities to make knitted garments that held their shape and could be washed easily (the dress itself certainly smells of very fresh laundry detergent!). Twomax’s bold statement of their use of synthetic fibre in red-coloured font on the label of their dress suggests that it was made at a point when these synthetic fibres were considered new, desirable, and marketable.

Analysing the construction of the garment illuminated its quality and by extension the quality of Twomax’s production. Inside the dress, the overlocked seams are straight and neat (see Figure 4). This was likely aided by the relative lack of stretch the garment has, despite being knitted, although it is still something to be credited! The shoulder seams are sewn together using tape to reinforce them (see Figure 6) and there are darts sewn at the bust (see Figure 5). Altogether, this gives the impression that there was a considerable amount of attention to detail paid to the construction of the dress.

Twomax dress - seam and hem
Figure 4: Twomax dress – internal view of seam and hem. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)
Twomax dress - sleeve and dart
Figure 5: Twomax dress – sleeve and dart. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)

The front, back, stripe on the front, and sleeves of the dress all look like they have been knitted separately and then sewn together. But the ribbed neck of the dress doesn’t appear to have been knitted separately and stitched on – there are no seams joining it to the front or back panel of the dress (see Figures 6 and 7). It seems that it has been knitted onto both sides of the garment. This is an important piece to the puzzle of finding out what type of manufacturing process Twomax used to produce its garments.

Twomax dress taped shoulder seam
Figure 6: Twomax dress – taped shoulder seam and ribbed neckline. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)
Twomax dress - ribbed neckline
Figure 7: Twomax dress – ribbed neckline with no visible seams or stitches, which indicates it has been knitted on rather than sewn on. (Dress in private collection, photograph by author)

Companies producing knitwear in Glasgow had by the 1950s prioritised the cut-and-sew method of manufacture, which alongside developments in knitting technology, resulted in efficient and high-speed production (2). Here it appears Twomax is using a combination of knitting techniques to economise on time and production costs while still delivering a good quality, attractive garment.

Questions remain about the history of the Twomax factory. Who were the workers making these clothes? How did their production methods change during a century of rapid technological advancement? How did the company respond to the influx of cheap imports in the latter half of the twentieth century? No doubt these are the kind of questions that this Twomax dress alone won’t be able to answer. But in taking a closer look at it, we have discovered some pieces of the Twomax story.

 

[1] Clifford Gulvin, The Scottish Hosiery and Knitwear Industry, (Edinburgh: John Donald Publishers Ltd, 1984), p.129.

[2] Ibid, p.132.