Age Of Enlightenment: Bills Khakis’ 18th-Century Shetland Crew

It’s easy to bemoan the death of American manufacturing, but much harder to go and discover historic facilities that still exist.

That’s exactly what Bill Thomas did when he set out to produce an American-made Shetland sweater and made an illuminating discovery.

“When we set out to introduce a fully fashioned American-made Shetland sweater, we questioned whether it was still possible,” reads the Bills Khakis website. “So we were astounded by our discovery of a water-powered brick mill in a small town in New Hampshire that has been spinning Shetland yarns continuously since 1794.”

Harrisville Designs is the current manufacturing incarnation of Harrisville, a milling village that was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977. Its current owners continue to spin woolens on antique equipment.

Just how rare is Harrisville? It’s truly the last of its kind. “It is recognized as the only 18th-century textile village in America that survives in its original form,” declares Harrisville Designs.

Called the New England Shetland, the sweater comes in a saddle-shouldered crewneck cut and with a suggested retail price of $225.

“This might be the only fully fashioned American-made Shetland sweater in the world,” Thomas told Ivy Style. “I can’t be positive, but I never expected to be able to pull this off.” — CC

27 Comments on "Age Of Enlightenment: Bills Khakis’ 18th-Century Shetland Crew"

  1. I’m quite familiar with Harrisville Designs, since I have one of their looms, and other associated equipment. I just finished knitting a vest with some of their yarn.

  2. This is an amazing story. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  3. Is it possible to have a “Shetland” sweater made in USA? Huge fan of Bill’s and have been selling them since he first started…Just not sure how a Shetland can come from New Hampshire and not the Shetlands.

  4. Quote: “spinning Shetland yarns continuously since 1794.”

  5. @John H

    I guess the same way an Englishman calls himself “Ivy”.

  6. I don’t own a piece of Bill’s clothing, but have often checked it out in stores. After reading this, and looking at some of his other goods, I think its time to become one of his customers.

  7. If you’re not going to wear an authentic Scottish-made Shetland sweater, you might as well wear a Chinese-made one from L.L. Bean at $39.95.

    O’Connell’s has the authentic made-in-Scotland article at $145.

  8. EC, why not have all three? I’m wearing an LL Bean today that’s my beater sweater, have an O’Connell’s as well, and think it’s a pretty cool story behind the Bills sweater and might just have to get one.

  9. Roy R. Platt | December 9, 2011 at 8:34 am |

    By the same logic that knitwear made from Shetland wool has to be made in Scotland to be “Shetland”, do all Sea Island Cotton shirts have to be made on Sea Island (wherever that is) to be Sea Island Cotton shirts? None of my Oxford cloth shirts were made in either Oxford, England, or Oxford, Mississippi.

  10. I believe Shetland wool comes from Shetland sheep.

  11. I had a Bill’s sweater growing up that sadly no longer fits me. Great article!

  12. I dont’ believe “Shetland” sweaters have a Protected Geographical Status (like Harris Tweed enjoys, or Champagne). Making it from wool from a Shetland sheep seems to be the accepted standard. The Shetland Isles do still rely on milling yarn and weaving products though -Ben Silver sells Shetlands made on the Shetland Isles (if you believe their copy, and why not) for about $200. Others out there too.

  13. Gentleman Mac | December 9, 2011 at 10:54 am |

    Sea Island is down here in Georgia.

  14. Apparently “Sea Island Cotton” no longer exists. Here is an article about it’s history:

  15. Thanks for the post. But I can’t imagine paying more for a USA-made sweater than for one made in Scotland.

  16. Absolutely superior. Great story.

  17. You could put a Shetland sheep on the moon and still make a Shetland sweater.

  18. Dave, Shetland sheep need oxygen too.

  19. Shetland is a reference to the sheep wool more than anything else. So bugger off those are upset. LL Bean doesn’t even carry them for women. Shetland sweaters for women are even more scarce than for men especially the once traditional Shetland cardigan with the grosgrain ribbon – brass or pewter buttoned front. Even L.L. Bean doesn’t offer them any longer! Sad.

  20. I ever given Bill’s a try, but the seem to produce top notch products.Does anyone have any insight in the Saxxon wool of Brooks uses. How do they monitor these stanards.

  21. Sorry^
    I have never given Bill’s a try, but the seem to produce top notch products.Does anyone have any insight in the Saxxon wool of Brooks uses. How do they monitor these standards.

  22. O’Connells carries genuine, made-in Scotland,
    Shetland crew neck and cardigan sweaters
    for women.

    They’re beautiful !

  23. Shetland sheep are able to exist outside of Scotland.
    They really don’t give a sh*t about nationalities.

  24. Great article. I must admit not being familiar with the Harrisville Designs and their relationship with Bills Khakis. Most fans of BK know of his brand’s commitment to quality and American heritage.

    The article clearly points out what is still possible in the States when the right attitude is play. Bravo to everyone involved.

  25. At 225 I don’t expect to pull it off either.

  26. I have seen these sweaters in person and I use the Harrisville wool in my own designs due to it’s rustic properties. The BK’s sweater is knit in the U.S. and hand linked, hence the cost. It is worth every cent of the $225 price. Unfortunately and understandably Bill’s misspoke. It is Shetland WEIGHT wool, not wool from a Shetland sheep. HD uses raw New England wool and spins it in several weights including what they call “Shetland weight” which is similar to the weight one uses to produce a fair isle sweater. They also produce Jared Flood’s “Shelter” wool.

    Visit the Harrisville Designs website for confirmation.

  27. A year or so backed I scored one of the Bill’s “New England Shetland” sweaters on deep discount from an Ivy-style advertiser. I am not impressed by either the wool or the finish; the sweaters I have from various Scottish sources are far more to my liking.

    Now… the (former) Bill’s former Ivy Cardigan is, IMO, fantastic. Wish I’d scored another one when they were available.

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