The label says "hand knit." The price tag says $60. Can it be?
Human hands may be involved in the making of an inexpensive sweater, for example, but they're not juggling two needles and a ball of yarn. Manufacturers apply the term hand knit to items made by hand-knitting, or "flat," machines operated by workers. They control the needles that make the cables and designs.
Tags that read "hand loomed" also usually indicate the work of a knitting machine, says Les Levy, president of the National Knitwear and Sportswear Assn. Details such as crochet work may be added by hand to a finished piece.
Most hand-knit sweaters from national retail chains come from large factories in China, where labor is relatively inexpensive, says Levy, president of South Carolina-based Heritage Sportswear. Many prestige-label companies and designers also rely on overseas makers for their knitwear.
"A true hand-knit sweater is usually an expensive sweater, which you usually don't see at the mass level," says Tom Julian of the New York City-based Fashion Assn.
Los Angeles designer Lizi Ruch, whose labels P'galli and Lizi Ruch sell in upscale boutiques for $56 to $300, hires knitters in Hong Kong and China to do her sweaters; each takes five to six weeks to complete, Ruch says.
"The labor cost is one of the biggest reasons some sweaters are cheaper than others," says New York designer Linda Larson, whose sweaters are made on Long Island by computerized machines. "If a company can go to China, the product will be (less expensive)." Larson's labels do not say \o7 hand knit.\f7
Limited-edition and tightly knit sweaters tend to cost more.
"When you're only making 1,000, 500 or 200 sweaters in a design, the prices go up," says Larson, whose sweater collections--Essay by Linda Larson and Crossings--are sold by Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's. Prices range from $75 to $200.
How can consumers tell a sweater made the old-fashioned way from one knocked out by a machine?
The former will show human imperfections--some of the stitches will be larger or smaller, tighter or looser. The latter will have even, flat, uniformly tight stitches.