A few missed calls back and forth and a date and time is arranged to see Saint James.
West France, made up of Bretagne and Basse-Normandie is inaccessible. Public
transport from one part of Normandy to another largely involves a detour via Paris,
back to Reims, then on to the west proper.
What amazes me is the sheer number of processes involved in making a garment. So
many, in fact, that nobody seems entirely certain of the number. What they do know is
that it takes four weeks to make one jumper. Out of this number of processes a great
many are dedicated to quality. From the moment that the wool arrives it is checked,
and really checked.
A tenet of hydrology is the measure of how much moisture the wool holds. As Stan explains,
Saint James wants to buy wool, not water. The cones of wool are passed over with UV
to look for oils or dirt, and most importantly the strands of wool are teased up to
their smaller composite points; each must measure a minimum of 6cm.
This is the secret behind the non-pilling nature of Saint James' woollens. The length
of the strands means that the weave is thorough. At the other end of the clothing
industry, cowboys take offcuts of strands of wool, take them apart and re-spin them.
They can then sell a garment as 100% pure new wool, but it will soon pill and begin
to come apart.
The other secret behind Saint James' knitwear is the machines. They use many types
of loom, but it's the Swiss loom with is slow rhythm that results in a weave that is tight;
almost impermeable to rain, but still possessing considerable stretch.
For a looser weave, Saint James uses a German loom, which works more quickly
and has a different effect.
Like other factories that I have visited, there is a distinct gender divide. The men are
the machinists, and the women the seamstresses.
Saint James works in a somewhat radical way compared to other clothing ateliers.
One person will be responsible for making a batch of jumpers from start to finish.
The wool will come in, woven and ready to be made up. Then it will be steamed,
pre-shrinking the garment. The wool is cut on lethal-looking band saws, then the
accessories are attached (hems, cuffs, internal securing sections.) The jumpers
and the maker move together from station to station, creating a sense of
responsibility and ownership. It means that everyone uses each machine,
varying the work.
In this way, Saint James puts quality firmly above speed, and worker satisfaction
At midday sharp the bell sounds for lunch and the space drains of people.
I have never said "Bonjour" quite so many times.