Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fabric quality: A test is not a test is not a test

In my previous posting, what I described was intended to convey a taste of what textile quality management professionals actually do. A key implication is that there is simply no way an end-user or consumer can hope to replicate what professionals do. The training, equipment and knowledge are all lacking.

Clearly, the term "testing" has different meanings to an end user, a tailor or a bona fide textile testing lab. A "pinch test" is widely used and accepted by tailors and some users as a quick and dirty test for quality. As Chicago tailor Despos notes, tailors can use this informal test to infer other properties of a cloth such as its ability to be tailored and constructed. In this qualified context, I tend to agree. An experienced tailor's assessment of a fabric, based on years of tacit and explicit knowledge making up garments, probably correlates pretty well with more objective tests of a fabric's quality.

Now, can we extend that logic to include the average #menswear enthusiast who typically has never sewn, constructed or finished a garment, let alone understand the construction of said fabric from fiber to yarn to cloth? I'm afraid not.

In the end, the gold standard for assessing quality and performance is a formal scientific test, not an informal, less scientific one. In fact, the irony is that the end user is probably in the worst position, from a knowledge and experience standpoint, to make informed assessments about fabric quality.

My advice to most enthusiasts is to play primarily in the aesthetic sandbox - namely, color, pattern, weave and hand feel. Of course, it's very helpful to understand the general properties of the major natural and synthetic yarns and optimize against your expected end use. But for most consumers, the process is as simple as selecting a fabric from the known mills that meets your aesthetic and functional needs, listen to your highly experienced tailor, have the fabric made up and then enjoy!

A more cynical reading of my advice would be the following - if you're an end user, it's a waste of time to compare relative quality of fabrics, particularly if you're choosing from a known universe of quality mills. Instead, the cynic would say to choose a fabric based on the aesthetics and end use but don't bother poking a finger, literally and figuratively, into parameters that you simply cannot measure properly.

However, since this will hardly satisfy some of my readers, I am planning to offer a few practical tips if you are serious about assessing quality in a common sensical way. Look out for a posting in the near future.

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