Constructing Quality Part 1: Textiles

Garment quality is a constant topic of discussion in my work. It's something I place a lot of importance on in the garments I produce. For many consumers, defining quality is difficult in a market saturated with inexpensive clothing. In this multi-post series, we'll evaluate some of the factors that characterize the garment quality spectrum. We'll start with the textile doozy:

Determining fabric quality in a finished garment is complex. While synthetic fibers generally cost less than their natural counterparts, context of their application is what matters. Feel, longevity, and appearance are all ingredients in the recipe. Some manufactures create astounding blends that bring out the best qualities of each fiber used. Others use blends strictly to bring cost down, or to address fit issues in woven garments.

Here's a good example: I don't like the feeling of fabrics with a high percentage of spandex, but you'd better believe I want a little of it my yoga pants, lest they stretch out and not recover their original shape (BLECH). However I don't want a trace of it in tailored garments that are pressed repeatedly. The heat and steam required to get a crisp dress shirt can wreak havoc on a spandex-infused cotton. Ever had a shriveled hem or seam that just won't press out?

Make it Stop!

Make it Stop!

Touch can be a great indicator of textile quality when comparing fabrics of the same weight and weave or knit. It became the most important factor when I sourced silk chiffon for a project a few years ago. Silk is spun from silkworm cocoon fibers, which undergo a process called 'degumming' to remove the sticky substance (sericin) that keeps the cocoon together. Chiffon is a fine, sheer weave with a soft drape and slightly rough texture. Too much sericin left in the fibers can exacerbate the rough texture and bring an undesirable, papery quality to the drape.

That's bug spit for you.

The takeaway is that each fiber has its own set of advantages and disadvantages. My advice: understand the qualities of what's available, read clothing labels, and figure out what works for you.

Blouse and the Beast (Part 2/2)

Happy Friday! Welcome to the second installment of my kimono sleeve conundrum. Last week we discussed the pattern issues. Now we'll tackle the sewing.

I decided to bind the edges, turn the binding inside the garment and top-stitch it down. This creates a clean appearance with just the right amount of structure.

Materials are Important

I started with the easiest approach to making the binding. I bought it! Run-of-the-mill, poly/cotton blend binding that you can purchase from any fabric store. While having many great applications, this blouse was not one of them. Compared to the silk charmeuse (soft, flowing), the binding had too much structure and exaggerated the belling problem.

After some experimenting with materials and size, I went with a binding made from the same material as the blouse, which I had to create by cutting and pressing bias strips. Success!

The Process

I've outlined the steps in photos below. The overview:

  • Stitch the binding to the neckline and press it
  • Clip the seam allowance to remove bulk and let the curves relax
  • Under-stitch the binding to prevent it from peaking out over the neckline
  • Top-stitch the binding to the neck to secure it and hide the raw edges of the seam
Binding stitched to neckline

Binding stitched to neckline

Binding seam pressed

Binding seam pressed

Seam allowance trimmed

Seam allowance trimmed

Under-stitched binding to seam allowance (right side)

Under-stitched binding to seam allowance (right side)

Under-stitched binding to seam allowance (wrong side)

Under-stitched binding to seam allowance (wrong side)

Binding pressed to wrong side of blouse

Binding pressed to wrong side of blouse

Top-stitched binding at neckline

Top-stitched binding at neckline

Voilà

Big takeaways:

  • Measurement accuracy at every step is important
  • Pressing is even more important
  • No, seriously it's like half the job
  • PRESSING

It's worth it! What do you think?

Thank you Velouria for the photo!

Thank you Velouria for the photo!

Blouse and the Beast (Part 1/2)

This is my first two-part blog entry! I'll explore a significant challenge I faced in producing my basic silk blouse. First, a high-level primer on perfecting patterns:

  • Create a base pattern
  • Cut and sew a rough sample of the base pattern in muslin
  • Try it on a model and mark any necessary adjustments
  • Alter the base pattern to reflect said adjustments
  • Rinse and repeat until arriving at the proper fit and proportion

This is one of many processes in bringing a garment to market. The steps can also vary significantly depending on how big of an operation it takes place in. Oh and each one of the bullet points above has anywhere from 2 to 5,000 sub-bullets. Now that I've obliterated any romantic notions you may have held about being a fashion designer...

BLAH

BLAH

The work is far from over once the fit is perfected. A production sample of the garment is created to evaluate all the trims and finishes used in the final product. The photo of my first production sample highlights the the initial problem that sent me packing back to the pattern making process. Doh!

It's hard to miss. That bell in the sleeve is a no-go. I want the hem to lay flat on the arm. After some anguish, consultations with other designers, and many samples, here's what I determined:

  • The problem is endemic to this style of blouse (there isn't a true sleeve, just an extended shoulder seam)
  • An internet search shows that other designers with this type of kimono/mock-sleeve (and their consumers) don't care about this as much as I do. There, I said it!
  • There is no cost-effective way to completely eliminate it, only minimize it
  • The solution requires both pattern and sewing technique adjustments

I'll cover the sewing fix in the second post. For now - check out the pattern fix:

Snip Snip Snip

Snip Snip Snip

The dotted line indicates where I trimmed the pattern, removing excess fabric at the trouble spot. While this looks simple enough, it's a delicate fix. If not enough is trimmed, the same problem results (just smaller). Trim too much or too far past the shoulder point toward the neck and significantly restrict the movement of the wearer (and possibly change the fit elsewhere). This is a prime example of complexity and balance in quality pattern making.

Stay tuned for next week where I give you an inside look at the sewing component! Got a comment or question? Drop it in the box below!

Under Pressure: My Love of an Iron

I had an exciting opportunity around the new year to work alongside a tailor I trained with during my fashion education. We cut and sewed an small collection for another designer and the result was fantastic! 

We worked in the tailor's studio so that I could press the fabric, cut the work, and pass it off for sewing. And that's how I fell in love with (and eventually purchased) this:

Not a Time Machine

Not a Time Machine

This is a boiler unit. Its only job is to produce steam under exceptionally high pressure and feed it to the iron unit:

Pressing Issues at Hand

Pressing Issues at Hand

The steam is pressurized at about fifty pounds per square inch and there's a LOT of it. Since the moisture builds up quickly, it needs to live somewhere besides the work:

It Really Sucks

It Really Sucks

This is a vacuum board. It draws the moisture from the work into a heated chamber where it can evaporate. The suction also helps keep light- and medium-weight fabrics pinned to the board. Whoa!

Though my love of sewing gadgetry factored into the purchase, there many other reasons why this system makes a big difference in how I produce work:

  • Dry Steam: Yes that's a thing. Home irons and industrial gravity feed irons have a heavy plate inside. It gets hot, water drips onto it, and that produces steam. The lower the plate temperature, the 'wetter' the steam. For garment-making, you want the driest steam possible to relax the fibers. Not soak them. HOT TIP - if you want your home iron to last a long time, only use distilled water. Over time, minerals will build up on the plate, eventually causing the iron to splatter water all over your precious garments.
     
  • Unblemished Fabric: I work with fine silk. In order to produce steam over a long period of time (like ironing an entire bolt of fabric to prepare it for cutting), that plate has to be kept very hot. If the temperature drops to much and water sputters onto the silk, it will leave a spot. Unfortunately, the iron being super hot means you can also burn or change the textile finish. Not good!
     
  • Health: That plate is also heavy! My old iron weighed 5 lbs. This one weighs 3 since the iron unit doesn't generate the steam. That's a big difference since I am cutting, pressing, and sewing all of my products. Here's to reducing my potential for carpal tunnel!
     
  • Time: A light iron means nimble movement. The faster I can press, the faster I can get to the sewing machine. In production, time truly equals money.

Have a look at it in action below:

And that's how it runs! I hope you enjoyed this little trek into my studio.

A Remedy for the Garment Labeling Headache

Forewarning: I'm making brand recommendations here of my own volition. I received no compensation from the companies mentioned. I just love their stuff! Back to our scheduled programming...

Garment labeling is complex! You have to meet government requirements, establish layouts, and find a label manufacturer with low minimums and reasonable prices.

The complicating factor for my business is that I'm using found fabrics from all over the world. I may make a limited run of a dress in wool, and then another limited run in the same style, but in silk. For size labels, a dress would use a number format, but a blouse would rely on the 'S-M-L' format.

It would be easy to spend a lot of money to meet the needs of all these variables, so I got creative to save some dough. Create label templates using stamps and a base ribbon!

I started with the latter and purchased a luxurious cotton satin ribbon from Lawrence Schiff Silk Mills, Inc. Great product, excellent customer service. They weave the ribbon in the USA, though I'm not sure where the cotton comes from...

So soft!

So soft!

To the stamps! I went with a manufacturer called The StampMaker. I cannot express how much I love this company. They are friendly, fair-priced, and have lightning-fast turnaround time even for custom products. They are also certified as a woman-owned business by the WBENC and NWBOC!

I decided to place the logo and size on the same label since the first things I want to know about a garment are who made it and what size it is. For the care labels, I decided on three textile situations most likely to apply to my products. Washables (linen or cotton), unlined dry-clean only (silk blouses), and lined dry-clean only (skirts, suits, and... CAPES).

Logo and Size Template

Logo and Size Template

Fabrication Templates

Fabrication Templates

Last - durable inks to impress upon the ribbon. I chose Memories Dye Ink from Stewart Superior Corporation and a Fabrico Pen from Tsukineko.

Stampin' Time!

Stampin' Time!

For Filling in the Blanks!

For Filling in the Blanks!

TaDa!

TaDa!

Put them all together and you get an inexpensive, durable, personal, and beautiful labeling solution! Do you have a label solution that works for you? Leave a comment and tell me all about it!

Made in the USA

I ruminate over everything. Conversations I've had over the past week, an embarrassing moment in a debate competition sixteen years ago, and more recently how my business fits into ethical consumerism.

The last one sent me into a tailspin. The supply chain in fashion alone is mind boggling. So much content is already available on the subject. You can start here and here. I'm writing this after reading an op-ed exploring the 'reshoring' of garment manufacturing in the UK, which was a response to an op-ed about the feasibility of 'reshoring' garment manufacturing in the US. I'm grasping for a reason to use the phrase 'op ed' once more. 

Anytown, Earth

Anytown, Earth

This brought me to three conclusions:

1. It is difficult, if not impossible, for anybody in a developed nation to remove themselves from unethical consumerism. But we're not powerless to change the dynamic. I can commit to using high-quality found textiles long removed from the supply chain to create my garments. When that's not an option, I'll commit to sourcing materials as responsibly as possible. 

2. 'Made in the USA' is misleading. What's made in the USA? Is it assembled here from imported fabrics? If you build a brand around the phrase, but you can't tell the story of the garments from seed to first-wear, you're experiencing cognitive dissonance.

3. The consumer psychology behind 'Made in ____' is nuanced. It begs an entire rumination session on its own. I'm still examining if the 'reshoring' effort has more to do with sound economic principles or nationalism. For now I'll say that since the global supply chain is near-inescapable, I'll do my best to be honest about it and level the playing field for all people behind the processes. Humanity is where our ethical chickens come home to roost.

Welcome to My World

Hi! My name is Casey and I'm the guy behind this website. I am so happy you made it here! If you're looking for the story behind what I'm doing, check out this page.

I decided to create this blog so that I could better market my fashion products. And then I realized that a verbalized extension of a web store is boring for both you and me. I started to ruminate on my beginnings in sewing. How has experience shaped my view of the fashion industry? Are my positions informed? Can I turn my hard work into a good read?

Me thinking about placing my opinions online

Me thinking about placing my opinions online

Asking these questions led to a lot of discomfort. The thought of answering them in the form of blog content was worse! The lack of decorum often seen in online discourse perturbs me. Enough to become a digital hermit just to prevent the possibility of toxic engagement. And yes, I understand how irrational that sounds reading it aloud. Still, topics I'll cover here are industry hot button issues, which frightens me. Scintillating, no?

I suppose that answers the question about a good read.

Exploring this anxiety further, I concluded that blogging is like designing. My creative work already undergoes critique just by existing. I have the discipline to engage in tactful, constructive debate surrounding my work. Now I just need to apply it to this digital medium.

So kind readers, I resolve to bring you new content on the weekly! Expect to see exposés on other designers, aesthetics, manufacturing, ethics, and events! Are there other topics you'd like to hear about? Sewing techniques you're dying to know? Leave a comment!

Yours,

Casey