When asked about the most important aspect of men’s clothing, most people will say FIT. While it is true that fit is immensely important, FABRIC comes before fit because without the cloth, there is no fit.
But what exactly is fabric and how is it made? That’s exactly the questions we will answer in today’s guide.
Why should you care about fabric?
- It has a huge impact on how comfortable you feel in terms of feel, touch and breathability.
- Good fabric drapes better and makes you look more handsome.
- A well-made fabric will outlast a cheap cloth and protects your investment.
Ready to understand how the material is made that makes you feel like a million bucks when wearing your suit? Let’s go!
I had the true pleasure to visit the Vitale Barberis Canonico mill, and I was amazed to see so much hi-tech they put into their fabric production.
How Fabric Is Made
1. Sheep & Wool
First, it starts with the raw material. For men’s suiting wool is the most important raw material and it is derived from sheep. The finest and best wool qualities come from Australia and New Zealand today, and Vitale Barberis Canonico is not only the largest buyer of quality wool for menswear fabrics in the world, but it is also invested in farms and incentivizes sheep farmer to produce finer and finer qualities. Of course, cashmere or mohair is also used in menswear but most often as a blend with wool. The same principles apply when making those fine materials into fabric.
What’s the difference between Womenswear & Menswear Fabrics?
While men often enjoy suits made of fine fabrics in refined patterns for decades, the womenswear market is driven by seasonal designs. As such most women’s garments, today are tailored of fabric that will not last much more than one season. On the other hand, menswear fabric will have to last much longer and so pilling after a year would be unacceptable.
Therefore, it is important to use long-staple wool for menswear fabrics.
Sheep bred for wool are often referred to as flocks. In order for the wool to be of high quality, it’s important for the flocks to be happy and comfortable. The Australian hills provide the right climate and a constant supply of green grass, which allows the flocks to grow the best material.
When it gets warm, the flocks are gathered and sheared about once a year. Generally, one sheep yields between 6 to 18 lbs of wool, although more wool does not automatically equal better.
Once the wool is sheared, it is graded, grouped and packed into bundles which are then ready to be shipped to the mill. Interestingly, the quality is most impacted by the breed as well as the area the sheep grazed in. That’s why wool from Australia and New Zealand is known for their quality.
3. Scouring & Combing
At this stage, the raw wool contains dirt, sweat, lanolin and impurities. To rid the wool of these, it must be thoroughly washed, carded and combed. Dirt along with short fibres, and the wool grease lanolin get discarded, and the fine, off-white product is referred to as wool sliver.
Before the wool can be spun into yarn, it is combed once again to align the fibers in parallels. The wool in this stage is often called roving.
Subsequently, the roving is spun into yarn. During this process, the wool is twisted and drawn thus reducing the diameter to the desired thickness. Because of these forces, wool has a tendency to curl up, which is why the yarn gets stabilized with steam which helps to keep it straight.
The dyeing can actually take place at different production stages. Moreover, you will find three main dyeing techniques
- Top Dyeing: Top refers to wool fibres from which the short fibres have been removed. This process takes place after the gilling stage but before the yarn is being spun! It’s the most common way to dye fabric on a large scale. It is time-consuming, requires specific know-how and extended drying periods. By mixing different top dye lots together, the final fabric can achieve a heather effect. Instead of dyeing everything in the same color, only parts of the wool can be printed, which is also known as the Vigoureux process, which is used for that stunning marble effect you know from woolen flannel.
- Yarn Dyeing: This dyeing process takes place after the yarn has been spun, but before it is woven into fabric. This method is most often used for fabrics with stripes, plaids or checks or utilized for small samples runs or projects where time is of the essence. Basically, there are many forms of yarn-dyeing, but the intricacies of those processes could be subject for an entire article.
- Piece Dyeing: As the name implies, this dyeing process takes place after the fabric has been woven, but before it is made into garments. It can work well for solids, but expert knowledge is required to reach the optimal color intensity and consistency.
Warping is a very important step that requires attention to detail because an error in just one out of 1,000 parallelly aligned yarns can render the fabric unusable.Technically, warping is the parallel winding of warp ends from many different places (the
Technically, warping is the parallel winding of warp ends from many different places (the cones) to one place, the so-called warp beam.
Traditionally this process was carried out one section at a time, which made it rather slow. Instead, modern mills like Vitale Barberis Canonico use hi-tech warping machines that are equipped with laser sensors that ensure that thousands of threads are accurately positioned around the gigantic, cylindrical beam.
Once the beam has been carefully prepared, it goes to the loom to be woven. The warp threads from the beam are raised or lowered according to the desired pattern, while the weft threads pass through at lighting speed back and forth at a 90º angle. Today, the raising and the lowering of the warp, as well as the weft movements, are all checked electronically. Therefore, fabric can be woven at much higher speeds than before.
A hundred years ago, loom was much less sophisticated, and thus slower. As a consequence, the cost of a suit depended largely on the cost of the fabric. On the other hand, today, the cost of a bespoke suit is usually determined by the handwork or the tailor and less by the cost of the fabric simply because the looms have become so sophisticated and fast.
Once the fabric has been woven, it’s time for the finishing process. Just like with the looms, the finishing processes are much more advanced now than they were 50 years ago.
For example, winter fabrics are washed in warm water and milled reducing the size of the fabric by up to a third. At the same time, this creates a fuller, heavier fabric with a matter surface.
On the other hand, summer fabrics are heat treated to remove any surface fluff which gives them a crisp hand. These are just two exemplary techniques of many that really enhance the fabric for its desired purpose.
10. Inspecting & Mending
Once the cloth is finished, trained workers with expert eyes inspect the moving fabric over large, light tables which reveal every minuscule irregularity. Once an error is spotted it is marked right away and when a bale is finished, it is handed over the mending department where skilled people with fine handy skills and loupes make sure to correct any imperfections.
VBC operates a highly automized fabric facility that is vertically integrated and utilizes robots and machines wherever possible to guarantee the highest possible quality. However, the inspection and mending department only consists of loads of skilled people who expertly ensure that the final product deserves the Vitale Barberis Canonico – Made in Italy seal.
Compared to other weavers who just receive the wool, Vitale Barberis Canonico can have an impact on the quality of the raw material which gives the company an edge.
What really surprised me was the number of different cloth labels I saw being woven inside the VBC mill. They included well-known brands that advertise their Made in England and Made in Italy fabrics, yet they were woven right there in the factory. So, if you are looking for quality menswear fabric, chances are you end up with VBC even though the label indicates something else, I guess private label production is not just limited to finished garments but also extends to fabrics.
For a more detailed look at the VBC factory take a look at this video!