Our clothes are one of those things we don't give much thought once we wear them. We don't consider where they come from or how they're made, even as we might find ourselves spending hours agonizing over pink or salmon would go better with those shoes. Here's a hint: neither one works and you want to go with a bolder scarlet.
The process that goes into making your clothes, from your shirts to the fancy dress you wear to the retirement party of that colleague you absolutely despise but has the office you want, is rather fascinating. It's not just a matter of putting textiles and fabrics into a machine and waiting for it to process. It's a little more involved than that.
Setting the Pattern
The initial stage is setting a pattern, which can happen either on paper or digitally. At this point, there is a design set and that needs to be fed into the computers and machines so they know how to make it. This information is the basis and will be what determines how the machines work.
Some fashion designers still work on paper patterns, but working off a digital pattern is used by most of the industry. There are two conveniences to this. The first is that you can see the changes you make in real-time, allowing for faster adjustments before production.
The second is that there's no need to digitize the pattern, which can be a time-consuming process for more complicated attire. Digital patterns also make it much simpler to adjust the clothes for larger sizes.
After this, there is the lay-plan. This involved laying out the pattern blocks in the right order, factoring in details like roll width, production quantity, and length of fabric. These are used to determine the optimal layout of individual components for the quantities to be produced, allowing any single circular knitting machine to work at top efficiency.
Before feeding any fabric into a machine, you need to make a few choices. Ideally, you know what the fabric of choice for each part will be. If there is a "core" to the garment, what is it made of? If there are parts that should be made of something else, what are those? Beyond this, a range of colors and dyes will also be considered.
Measurements of the required amount of fabric are also taken. Some clothes take up much more fabric than others, especially complicated and multi-part designs. If there are other relevant materials like wires meant to support design elements, these are also considered and their installation during the production process considered.
With the pattern in place, the computer knows how to adjust the settings and parameters of the equipment. Just feed it the right materials and watch it start working on putting together the individual parts. Some clothing is simple and a single machine can put it together without much trouble, though it might not have as much output if all it made were individual parts. However, some patterns are more complex and you'll need to assign one part to one machine.
The Test Product
For new designs or patterns, factories often have a test run of a few samples. These aren't meant for sale, but instead to work out any errors that might have slipped through the previous parts of the process. Adjustments are made until the test batches come out correctly. At this point, the pattern can be revised or the settings input into the machines can be changed.
At this stage, there is also the concern of whether or not the machines need their physical settings altered. Some fabrics might be sensitive to the kind of pulling and pressures used by the equipment. A test will determine if the process causes tears or damage, which would then require some tweaking. Features like the texture of the textile, how well the color remains on the product, and the like are also checked at this point.
Once all known errors are corrected, the factory can make another test batch. This process repeats until the test products meet standards. After all, no point in wasting fabric on a full batch if you're not sure that they'll all be exactly as you want them to be, right? Once all requirements are met, production truly begins.
After the machines are done, there is the sewing stage. At this point, multiple things can happen. Some fine details on the clothing are sewn by hand. If the patterns were complicated, the individual parts might be sewn together at this stage, using a baseline to indicate how and where the stitching happens. This, along with quality control, will usually be the final step before packaging and shipping.
Clothing isn't that difficult to make, once you have a design you can feed into the machine. From there, the equipment of the clothing and textile industry can produce almost anything that is made out of fabric. The average factory can produce thousands in a single day, especially if they have multiple machines carrying out the work.