Following on from our Briefing for Bespoke: Fabric post I felt that it would be useful to highlight some of the things you should take into account when selecting a fabric. These will determine whether or not it is fit for purpose, giving consistent performance throughout a garment’s intended lifetime.
There are three sets of factors to think about:
- the inherent properties of the fabric
- wear and tear
The properties of a fabric fall into seven different categories.
Cover is the first, and it relates to how well, or little, a fabric embraces a figure for either concealment or warmth. The more crimp in a fibre the better its covering properties, and as crimped fibres tend to cover more area, in the manufacturing process less raw product can be used which makes for a lighter weight fabric with less bulk. The next category is colour fastness. Quite a critical issue as over a period of time hue and intensity can fade as a result of exposure to sunlight or overly rigorous cleaning processes.
The outward surface of a fabric is known as the face and this is determined by the fibre length, fibre crimp, yarn structure, method of manufacture and finishing. All of these influence whether or not the final result will be crisp and well defined, or something much softer. Feltability is the way in which wool fibres matt together and it gives woolen fabrics body , firmness and stability. The down side for felted fabrics is that they need extra care in their maintenance.
Different fabrics react to heat in different ways and this can produce alarming results particularly during the pressing process. Heat sensitivity is something you should bear in mind particularly with man-made fabrics. Interestingly, one of the ways in which we tell the difference between man-made and natural fabrics is to burn a small sample with a match and the resulting smell will give you an immediate indication of its composition. With modern manufacturing processes man-made fabrics can mimic their natural counterparts so accurately that this test is not so out of place as it might first seem.
Luster refers to the amount of light that reflects from the strands of the yarn and this can be affected by the length of the fibre, its cross-section, crimp and structure. Fibres can be combined to give a hard gloss, soft luster, or dull matte appearance. The finish on a fabric can also affect the luster.
The last category is a fabric’s drape or stiffness. This determines the degree of flow you require in a garment and whether or not you want to create something more structured or relaxed.
Comfort concerns not only to the physical contact a fabric makes with the body, the feel, but also to the stretch which allows the wearer go move freely. Two additional factors which are rarely considered are how a fabric reacts to moisture, and its electrical conductivity.
Their are three ways for assessing how a fabric might react to moisture. Porosity, absorbency and wicking.
Porosity relates to the ability for air or moisture to pass through a fabric and is determined by the tightness of the weave. Ventile, a fabric originally developed for RAF pilots in WWII to improve their chance of survival when forced to ‘ditch’ in Arctic seas during convoy duty, was also used by Sir Edmond Hillary’s Everest expedition. Its construction was such that when the fabric becomes damp the fibres swell and tighten up preventing moisture penetration.
Absorbency is governed more by the chemical and physical structures of the fibres and governs affecting how a fabric deals with matters such as perspiration, water repellency, colour fastness, shrinkage, spotting and static build-up. Wicking is the way in which a fibre transfers moisture along its surface. This has particular applications in sportwear by taking moisture away from the body to the outside of the garment where it more easily evaporates.
With electrical conductivity, although this can be influenced by the context in which the garment is worn, one of most uncomfortable experiences for the wearer is to find that their diaphonous gown has suddenly become figure hugging, and they they are both the recipient and giver of electrical shocks. (If this is the case and you don’t have an anti-static shift to hand, rush for the body lotion and apply it to your undergarments!)
Wear and Tear
Finally, wear and tear. This is caused largely by abrasion or over-stretching. As a rule of thumb the stiffer the fabric the less able it is to withstand rubbing or chaffing. Snagging is also a form of abrasion where individual yarns are caught and pulled from the main body of the fabric. The ability for a garment to return to its original shape as its elasticity diminshies also limits its life. This can be caused by general use, or by the effect of chemicals or overheating during the cleaning process which can also affect both colour and composition.
For the next post we shall look forward to a brighter note with some tips for taking better care of your wardrobe
Photo: thanks to ChorLeoni & Everest News