Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bringing Something New To The Cutting Table

The Thoth Radio Telescope in Algonquin Park

About ten years ago, one of my interlining suppliers showed me a new product they were developing. At the time there were concerns (principally in Europe, where this company was located) about the health effects of cellphone radiation. There are still such concerns, as reports continue to surface about exposure to wireless devices. This new product was meant to protect from such radiation. I, however, had another idea about it.

My mother may have taught me to sew, but my father taught me to be curious about things. An engineer at the National Research Council of Canada, my parents were living in the wilderness at the site of the Algonquin Radio Observatory around the time I was born. They moved to Ottawa where my father worked at their primary research campus and on family days I would go visit him at a wind tunnel or a wave tank or other such facility. To my very young self it seemed the coolest thing that my father got to do what seemed like playing giant games and push flashing buttons at work all day. So even though my artistic side won over my scientific side when it came to studies and career paths, I was still familiar with and highly curious about the inner and outer workings of things, and had a basic understanding of things like wireless signals and frequencies.

So when the supplier showed me his product, a cloth with a copper mesh woven into it, I asked him to go back to the lab in Germany to see if the size of the mesh were sufficient to block certain types of frequency. He later confirmed that it could so I explained my idea to him.

Merchants had been introducing mobile payment systems, the PayPass type of thing where you would wave a key fob near a reader on a gas pump or a credit card terminal and your payment information would be transmitted automatically. Powered by Radio Frequency Identification, or RFID, these key fobs and credit cards used the same technology as many remote car keys, enhanced drivers licenses, passports and security access cards. I knew that it was a fairly simple and inexpensive thing to build a skimmer which would allow a criminal to collect data from these devices merely by passing close to a person carrying one. David Beckham later made the news when his armor-plated BMW X-5 was stolen by thieves using a skimming device. It's become more and more common these days, as instructions for building skimmers are available on the internet, and some cel phones can also be used to surreptitiously collect this data.

My idea was that this new material, when properly applied, could be used to create a shielding pocket which would block RFID skimming. I suggested it to my boss at the time, but the RFID-enabled payment systems were still too new and he didn't get it. Over subsequent years I would bring it up again from time to time, usually to the same quizzical looks. Clothing people are not always the most technologically-savvy people. But now Apple Pay has entered the arena, and other mobile-payment technologies like LoopPay, and while the companies supplying these technologies tell us the data is encrypted and secure, the recent hacks at Target, Home Depot, and Neiman Marcus, etc. have shown that things may not be quite as secure and encrypted as they really should be. The only way to really be sure that nobody can collect your personal data from your phone and credit cards is to enclose them a shielding device. One which is, in this case, soft and fully dry-cleanable.

So now that people are more aware of potential risks of wireless identity theft, and I also have a much freer hand to experiment with things at work, I am finally going to be able to bring this idea to market. Some of my Fall 2015 garments will be equipped with a pocket that will be lined with the shielding material and closed with a special zipper that we can only get in Japan so that cards and other devices can be shielded form skimming, but also so that you can zip up all your stuff in a pocket when you chuck your jacket in the x-ray bin at the airport or when traveling through crowded, pickpocket-prone areas. The labs in Germany are now working on other interesting new textile solutions like heated fibers and silver anti-microbial treatments (which have the added bonus of protecting against vampires!) so I am converting part of our design process into an experimental lab to see how some of these developments can be applied in the real world.

My job just got that much more interesting.

Shielding test data on our new copper mesh textile

Monday, January 19, 2015

Shears, continued...

The shears being made in Italy have been cast and are ready for grinding. Then they will be tempered, then the holes drilled for the adjustment screw, then tuning, sharpening, plating, and final assembly. Of course, they are behind schedule, but some things are worth waiting for. Good shears are one of those things.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Padded lapels by machine

These days I'm working on a big project, converting a men's suit factory from an entirely fused construction to a half-canvas construction. In fact, to be more technically correct, it should really be called a 2/3 canvas since the coat front we will be using is pretty much identical to a full canvas front but the lower 1/3 of the canvas is omitted. To do this conversion, and generally to bring the factory up to date, we have planned our capital expenditure budget over three years- the very first round of spending being around a million and a half US dollars.

New basters, new sleeve setting machines, new felling machines, new plotters, new pressing equipment, new software, new cloth, new trim, new fits, new patterns... nothing is being left untouched.

While many of the machines have already started arriving so we have begun training people on the new methods, one special set of machines is being made for us in Germany so won't be in for at least another month. The Strobel KA-ED single thread rollpadding machine is a pretty neat piece of equipment. To hand padstitch a lapel the traditional way takes up to an hour per pair, one left and one right. You roll the canvas portion of the lapel over the cloth, invisibly stitching the canvas into place while maintaining the rolled shape, so that the shape will be permanent. A fused lapel has none of this rolling so the shape is pretty limp and lifeless, and has a tendency to curl away from the chest. These machines, however, can execute a similar action, rolling the canvas over the cloth while stitching invisibly, but do so in about a minute. The machines come in pairs, one for the left side and one for the right, and the operator places the coat on the machine, lining up a guide with the roll line of the coat. The machine has sensors which see the start and finish of the cloth, so it knows where to start stitching, and knows where to stop. Beginning at the roll line, it sews a line of invisible stitching, stopping at the top of the lapel, then like a typewriter carriage, stops, returns to the beginning, and rolls the lapel, advancing a row, ready to start the next row of stitching. The operator can place one coat, then forget it, setting up the next machine while the first is sewing. A good operator can run two pairs of machines, or four sewing heads, rotating between each so that one is being set up while three are sewing. In an eight hour day one person could easily do eight to nine hundred coats this way, compared to the six to ten coats you could do if doing them by hand. It comes at a price, though. Each pair of machines costs almost one hundred thousand US dollars.

Padding by hand

Padstitching from Jeffery D on Vimeo.

Grabbed this video from the internet, I think it comes from a Turkish factory, showing an older model of the Strobel machine in action.


Josch of Pattern Design Analyst asked how we will do the shoulder construction. We are changing pretty much every single step of the coat construction, going from a two-shell construction back to a modified open coat construction.

Currently the sleeve head is attached to the sleeve with a shirring machine, then the sleeve is set to the coat, going through the chest piece. Obviously the seam can not be opened so you get a rope shoulder effect which they then attempt to press down. This will all change.

We will have two basic shoulder constructions- one for most of our production and then a softer variant. The basic one be done as follows-

When shaping the fronts we will also measure and trim the canvas in the armhole, leaving the armhole free from the canvas.
Attach shoulder pad to the chest piece with a jump baster.
Later, set sleeve through the coat only, then press the seam open.
Baste the armhole into the chest and shoulder pad from the outside.
Baste the lining around the armhole, then set sleeve head and trim armhole.
Close armhole lining.

For the softer shoulder we will do something similar to a spalla camicia shirt sleeve- set the sleeve as above, sew in a 3/4" bias strip of silesia at the top of the sleeve, and press the sleeve and armhole seam allowances toward the coat.
Baste the armhole into the chest from the outside- the silesia will be used to secure the top of the armhole into the canvas. The rest is the same, but using only a very fine sleeve head (or none at all, depending)

So far we have had decent results. We got in new Durkopp sleeve setting machines yesterday and we like them a lot. We also got a series of finish pressing machines which we will install next week.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Pattern Design Analyst- a new blog worth checking out

Just as some of my favorite internet reading is being wound down (RJdM will be sorely missed, until he finds a new home), a new and worthwhile appearance in the blogosphere:

Written by a senior member of one of the most recognized menswear teams in the world, and someone I have known for almost 20 years, he will offer a fresh new perspective on the discussion of the technical side of menswear, beginning with an examination of the development and use of different types of shoulder pad.

Bookmark it now.