Our Artisanal Craftsmanship
We call them master knitters, as we do artisans who have acquired such mastery of their specialty that their know-how has become essential to the profession. These master knitters are heirs to a trade that has existed since the Middle Ages and consists of making knitwear.
Today, production is partly mechanized, but the human know-how of the master knitters is irreplaceable. Saint James's knitting engineers are in charge of one of the largest knitting workshops in Europe, with no less than 75 knitting looms under their direct responsibility.
Master knitters don't just watch the knitting machines, which operate 24 hours a day, six days a week. They start them, feed them with yarn and carry out technical adjustments, which vary according to the garment to be produced and the yarn used. There is no room for error in this process, which requires expertise and constant monitoring.
The pieces of knitted stitches, called panels, are collected and checked by the knitting engineers when they leave the looms. These master knitters are said to have "the Saint James hand": they manage to spot even the smallest flaw and use high-tech machines as simple working tools. Without the human know-how that oversees them, the knitting looms would be of no use.
The experienced and keen eyes of the master knitters are essential to irreproachable manufacture. One thousand five hundred knitting stitches are made in a few hundredths of a second. It takes all the craftsmen's expertise to ensure that the stitch meets the required quality in such a short time. Suppose one of the panels has a defect. It is indicated using a white label that warns the mending workshop (atelier de raccoutrage), which intervenes at the end of the knitting process.
Depending on the material used, size and complexity of the model, and the stitch employed, a panel is knitted between 3 minutes and 1 hour 30 minutes. The Saint James brand was among the first to knit panels to dimension. This technique results in a tighter knit, delivering a stronger, better quality garment with less wasted raw material.
Each month, the master knitters oversee the knitting of 430,000 miles of woolen thread, the equivalent of a round trip to the moon.
In the Saint James workshops, the art of sewing is mainly practiced by women. More than 100 seamstresses work in the clothing workshop, putting their expertise in industrial and manual haute couture at the service of the products every day.
Divided into several autonomous groups, the needleworkers assemble and reverse the garments, using different tailoring techniques. Among these techniques, some are particularly complex:
Covering: it is based on a very elaborate type of stitching and consists of hemming at the end of the sleeves and the bottom of the body of the sweater;
The overlock: once the stitch is cut, the overlock traps the hem, thus avoiding any risk of unraveling;
Quilting: the technique used is as close as possible to the family sewing machine;
The bowl: the assembly of the panels is made with a very thin and discreet seam so that the garment does not lose anything in elegance;
Remeshing: performed stitch by stitch on the needles of a crown. Remeshing is a highly meticulous technique that allows the collar to be attached to the neckline and body of the sweater. The collar is turned down on the crown and sewn with a chain stitch.
This last technique, remeshing or remaillage in French, is specific to the making of Saint James clothing. The knitting remains supple. The garment retains better elasticity when worn without losing its shape or deforming over time.
Between the start and the end of the tailoring process, each Saint James garment benefits from the know-how of 18 pairs of hands. It is knitted, cut, assembled, patched, and ironed by skilled craftsmen and -women and their experienced eyes.
The job of the raccoutreuses, again mostly carried out by women, is a rare and precious profession. This is irreplaceable human know-how, which cannot be mechanized. It is taught not at school, but in Saint James workshops only, after nearly two years of training.
By observing the actions of the mending experts, one could easily imagine them on the quay of a fishing port, concentrated on their task, busy repairing nets. The technique is almost similar, but here it is applied to Saint James garments arriving at the very end of the knitting chain.
The raccoutreuses, fitted with small hooks and illuminating magnifying glasses, watch for the tiniest imperfections. When they spot a defect, however small, in the garment, they must unravel and then re-knit the affected area.
With patience and thoroughness, they remedy the slip stitches, pulled threads, any surplus wool, and proceed with the pinching, i.e., the hunt for foreign fibers, tiny straws, which come from the wool of sheep.
Raccoutreuses are also the only ones who can finish the body of a panel that knitting machines cannot. As such, they intervene after knitting and before assembling.