Textile fabric may be defined as the flexible assembly of fibers or yarns, either natural or manmade. It may be produced by a number of techniques, the most common of which are weaving, knitting, bonding, felting or tufting. Specification and performance for fabric, and other raw materials used in garment manufacturing, can be categorised into two groups: properties of fabrics and fabric characteristics.
A fabric property represents physical dimensions like yards, pounds, etc., whereas a fabric characteristic refers to the response of the fabric when an external force is applied to it like elongation, elasticity, shrinkage, seam strength, etc. These are measures of reactions to dynamic conditions. Characteristics are physical or chemical changes in the fabric resulting from the application of outside forces. Stress and strain properties are another term used to denote characteristics.
There are three perspectives for specifying the fabric requirements:
- The consumer’s viewpoint
- The fabric producer’s viewpoint
- The garment producer’s viewpoint
The consumer’s importance lies exclusively in the visual appearance, aesthetics and wearability properties of the fabric; the durability, utility and style values. The garment manufacturer is concerned with the garment production working characteristics of the fabric, and the cost of manufacturing a garment. If the garment manufacturer is a job worker or manufacturer who retails the garment directly or indirectly to consumers, then he will be concerned with all the consumer values. If the garment manufacturer is a contractor, then he is only concerned with the production cost. In case of a fabric manufacturer, he is concerned with the garment production work characteristics.
Fabric is the basic raw material for garment manufacturing. Right fabric selection is very important task for apparel manufacturing. Fabric quality influences not only the quality of the garment but also the ease with which a shell structure can be produced out with flat fabric. The selection of the right type of fabric for a particular garment type is the most difficult task for the manufacturers. Hence, understanding the fabric properties that affect the manufacturing process and the final garment quality is essential. Setting the right quality for fabrics is a very important part of range building. Setting the quality too high and using fabrics that can account for at least 50% of the overall garment cost will be too expensive. Set the standard too low and you will risk a high percentage of complaints and lose customer loyalty.
Technologists and technical designers from a pattern and sewing background will probably have a basic knowledge of fabric construction and properties. If the fabric quality and testing come under your responsibility, you need to know about setting standards and the testing that should be done.
Our first test of a fabric is often to check if we like the feel, the handle, and the appearance and to see how it will look and drape in the finished garment. A good-quality fabric from natural fibers such as wool, silk, linen, and cotton will usually always feel and drape well, but price might be prohibitive for your target market, and they might only be dry cleaned, which then limits the customers you can sell to. There are many options of synthetic or blends of synthetic and natural fibers, which are suitable cheaper alternatives. Once we have found a suitable base fabric, we need to establish that the garment will not fall into pieces when worn or when put through the laundering process. This may sound extreme, but I have seen seams coming apart with a simple tug or fabric so badly constructed that it tears under slight pressure. Minimum fabric performance have now been adopted by most companies and are an established procedure for selecting fabrics.
The fabric performance specification refers to the durability of the fabric when made into a garment; it defines any changes to the fabric during washing or dry cleaning and how robust the fabric and seams will be during wear. The type of fabric we choose is also determined by the end use.
For example, school clothing and work wear need fabric and seams that are strong and stand up to continuous hard wear and therefore the yarn needs to be strong and the warp and weft weaved tightly together. A fashion wool jacket is likely to be the opposite in structure, designed to have an open weave and raised surface detail and to be classified more as a decorative fabric and would not be a hard wear.
There are no specific international standards for any fabric quality or performance, as this is for you to decide what is suitable for your products, but there are recognized adopted standards for general apparel. Internationally recognized tests refer to the method of checking that the fabrics meet your requirements.
Factories specialize in particular products. For example, a trouser manufacturer will have a range of different fabrics suitable for trousers to show a buyer from mills that they regularly source from. A good supplier will know the quality of the fabrics and help the buyer choose what is suitable for their business, and many buyers gain extensive knowledge on fabrics for ranges that they specialize in buying. That said, it is still necessary to record the fabric details and have it tested to see that it meets your required standard and the fiber composition and construction are as declared.
When a new fabric has been selected, the mill or factory should supply you with as much technical information as possible about the fabric construction, composition, stability to washing, and dye fastness, as these are formulated during the making and finishing of the fabric.
It is important that the suppliers commit themselves to the quality of the fabric that they intend to supply. The supplier has to be specific about the technical details, which should always be readily available. If we don’t insist on specifics, we could be supplied with a poorer variation of what we expected. For instance, if you are buying a poly/cotton blend, there are many different options, and you may start with a 75% cotton and 25% polyester blend and eventually finish with a 50/50 blend. Suppliers, if possible, try to keep their options open, and if, for example, the price of cotton goes up, they could take the easy option and buy an alternative blend with more polyester. In some instances, you may have no choice, but the supplier has to be upfront with you and explain why he wants to substitute a different fabric and send to you the new fabric details. The new details from the supplier will then be declared to the laboratory when the fabric is sent for testing. The supplier needs to be aware that you are constantly monitoring all fabric and trims and that nothing can be substituted without your approval.
Start as you mean to go on, you must be in control of your production, and letting the supplier make substitutes without your knowledge is a slippery slope to poor quality.
Suppliers should be encouraged to compile and send you a sample book with all examples of locally obtainable fabrics that they use or are likely to use, giving as much technical detail as possible, including the following:
- Fiber composition
- Yarn count
The buyer, where possible, can then quote a fabric quality when selecting a range or a garment, enabling the supplier to give a more accurate costing when preparing to make samples.
First, the composition and construction for the base fabric are specified and laboratories will analyze the fiber composition and check the yarn count and fabric weight. If these are not correct, then there is little point of continuing testing.
The second part of the specification concerns the fabric performance. It is usual to state what test you want and then the method and the result you require.
Finally, we state the suggested laundering instructions, and the lab will use those for testing stability and color fastness.
You may have a number of garments styles with the same base fabric and performance standards or with different base fabrics, where the same performance standards will be applicable. Over a period of time, you will create a library of core proven fabric performance and specifications that buyers will take with them when visiting suppliers sourcing new styles, and they will be able to give the factory either the exact fabric specification or one very similar, which will save much time further down the supply chain.
- The Fundamentals of Quality Assurance in the Textile Industry by Stanley Bernard Brahams
- Apparel Manufacturing Technology By T. Karthik, P. Ganesan and D. Gopalakrishnan
- Textile Engineering – An Introduction Edited by Yasir Nawab
- Garment Manufacturing Technology Edited by Rajkishore Nayak and Rajiv Padhye
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Founder & Editor of Textile Learner. He is a Textile Consultant, Blogger & Entrepreneur. He is working as a textile consultant in several local and international companies. He is also a contributor of Wikipedia.