ABQFI Production

Earlier this month, I went back to New Mexico to participate in the production phase of the ABQ Fashion Incubator volunteer program. The goal of this event was to produce children’s winter coats for charitable donation to a community in need. I wrote a quick blog entry about the pre-production phase in July. This time, I spent 5 days at the sewing factory with approximately 25 other volunteers.

The first day, we got to work plotting the marker, spreading the fabric, and cutting. The cutting took about 3 days. The fabrics we used included a wool melton coating and kasha satin lining. We spread the fabric 15 plies thick, and cut enough fabric for 60 coats across a total of 4 sizes. Watching the spreading was very interesting to me, because I have long wondered how factories control the grainline and how they handle flaws in the textiles.

To reduce grainline problems, the textile mills work to minimize torqueing of the fabric during production so that the grainline isn’t skewed. With a good quality roll, the sewing factory can spread the fabric without concern about the grain. Of course, the fabric quality can vary, so the quality of a roll should be verified by the recipient factory. To ensure that the fabric was straight during spreading, a distance was measured from the straight edge of the table, and the fabric selvedge was aligned to it.

To remove flaws in the fabric, the fabric was spliced, which is simply cutting the fabric to remove the section with the flaw and continuing to spread. The marker was designed so that sizes were grouped together and splice lines were predetermined to avoid splitting up pieces of a size. This was so that the pieces were not impacted by potential shade changes.

Immediately after cutting, the pieces were notched and shade marked using a numbered sticker system. The numbers on the stickers indicated the size of the piece and the ply. This was to ensure that the size 5, 10th ply sleeves got sewn to the corresponding size 5, 10th ply front and back pieces. The ply is important so that the shade variations in the fabric yardage don’t cause a visually noticeable color difference within the finished garment.

Electric knife

After notching and shade marking, the pieces were checked for quality. This quality control function was my primary role for the first 2 1/2 days of the event. To check the cutting accuracy, we verified that the cut fabric pieces matched the cut paper pattern, and we verified that the notches were present and accurate. Almost immediately, we started noticing quality discrepancies. The wool fabric was shifting during cutting. We audited the cut pieces to flag problems so that solutions could be determined and communicated to the stitchers. For serious issues, some pieces needed trimmed/reshaped.

The quality control experience really emphasized the importance of checking for problems early in the process. This principle of quality control can be applied throughout a project (not just cutting) to help identify issues that need correction, resulting in less frustration and troubleshooting later.

Another application of quality control is to check your seam allowances after you’ve sewn them. If you need a certain part of the garment to line up perfectly, and you know the pieces were cut accurately, then also sewing the seam allowances accurately should result in perfect alignment. Personally, learning to check my seam allowances as I sew was a very valuable concept I learned from ABQFI that I will use consistently. Learning to sew without pins during pre-production was also a very valuable lesson for me.

Before sewing, the fabric pieces were fused to interfacing using the fusing machine in the photos below. The fusing machine applied heat and pressure while the fabric moved through the machine on a conveyor system.

I got to sew for the last 2 days of the event. I sewed the coats for a while, but as the coats became more assembled, there were fewer sewing operations that could be worked on at once; therefore, fewer stitchers were needed for the coats. This is when we began also sewing some side projects, including duffel bags for refugees and cat beds for an animal TNR organization. For the cat beds, I got to use a machine with a walking foot for the first time!

Sewing rigilene boning with a walking foot

We were still assembling the coats when we ran out of time and the volunteer event came to a close. The coats were in different stages of completion, but I believe some of the coats were nearly finished. As for our side projects, which were much simpler to sew, we completed 39 cat beds and approximately 30 duffel bags. Our goal was ambitious, and we came close to it, but I think the issues we ran into during cutting slowed us down. The coats will eventually be completed.

Volunteering with ABQFI was a great experience! It was not only fun, but I also learned new things about the apparel production process and picked up some skills I can use in home sewing. It was lovely to meet so many talented people with a common interest, and having seen the operations at Kathleen’s factory, I have an even greater appreciation and understanding of the factories I work with at my job. I’m very grateful I had the opportunity to participate at ABQFI!

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