Fabric Finishing - An Overview
What Do We Mean By Fabric Finishing?
Fabric finishing is a series of mechanical and chemical processes that are performed on woven and knitted fabrics to improve the overall quality and essentially make them presentable to market.
Raw Yarn Dyed Woven Cotton (the yarns are dyed before the fabric is woven) has a pretty undesirable hand feel and isn’t something you would want to wear, it’s coarse, lacks movement and wouldn’t last very long.
There is a vast amount of finishing processes and treatments and we’ll outline some of them below. An important note is that the different processes vastly change raw woven or spun fabric to make them workable for the textile market. A big focus for fabric finishing is around colour, texture (in the fashion industry this is often referred to as “hand feel” and more recently a fabric’s properties and performance relating to things like UV resistance, antibacterial qualities and anti-static to name a few.
The Different Processes & Stages
Below is examples and explanations of the different stages and processes a fabric must go through in order to be ready for market, the schedule can vary between mills and fabric types.
Singeing – this is a mechanical process that provides a smooth uniform fabric surface by burning off loose fiber ends. Cellulose fabrics like cotton or linen are easily signed while man made fibers can melt and harden under the heat.
Washing - The fabric is cleaned and treatments are used to remove impurities, oils, any lint or sizing that are applied on warp yarns to enable weaving, sometimes you will see this called scouring in relation to natural fabrics.
Desizing – A chemical treatment that breaks down the “size” of the warp yarn and helps with absorbability, dyeing and printing ability in woven fabrics. The size refers to an agent that is applied at the weaving stage to improve weaving productivity, this agent acts as a resist toward dye and chemicals in the future processes you’ll see below and therefore must be removed.
Bleaching – A chemical process to remove the “natural” fiber colour which is usually a yellow tone (think of calico) it is often required to increase whiteness or to prepare for colour application
Mercerizing – This chemical treatment increases the fabrics smoothness, sheen and absorbability of things like dye. Mercerizing can also be carried out at the yarn stage (before the fabric is woven to become a fabric.)
Drying - Textiles may be dried several times throughout the finishing process, using air or heat to reduce wetness and remove excess moisture. The actual process will differ depending on fabric type but utilises specialised equipment and machinery with the conditions closely monitored.
Stabilising - Fabric undergoes physical actions like the application of tension, pressure and/or heat to achieve a desired outcome. It's stabilized to prevent shrinkage and ensure the best possible condition for dyeing and printing.
Enhancing The Feel Or Properties of Fabrics
Further finishes are added to fabrics to make them feel or enhance their properties, since there’s lots of different treatments we'll highlight a common one for natural fabrics and one for synthetic fabrics.
Natural Fabric such as Cotton- A mechanical finish called peaching is often used to make cottons have a softer more appealable hand feel. The fabric is sanded slightly, often using automated machinery that have rollers with abrasive bristles. The peaching finish is also possible with certain chemicals or laundry abrasion.
-This video gives a good insight into a few different mechanical processes including peaching.
Synthetic Fibres such as Polyester – Chemical treatments can be applied to give the fabric anti-microbial finishes by using different methods such as exhaust, pad-dry-cure, coating, spray and foam techniques. The substances can also be applied, by directly adding into the fiber spinning dope.
-This video gives some good motion diagrams of these different application methods.
As you can probably tell from this article, fabric finishing is very complex and involves a lot of different processing to transform raw fabric into the different fabric qualities we have all come to love. An important message I’d love for you to consider from this is how crucial our understanding of fabric manufacturing is and the methods we continue to utilise as we move towards a more sustainable fashion future. After all, if all our fashion products start out with fabric, then the sustainability and methods of this fabric production is an extremely important element, it’s another reason why upcycling and repurposing the current textiles we have in circulation is so key, if a fabric has had to go through many of the above processes to become workable for the fashion market then it should be used to it's absolute full potential and that means reusing over and over again until it gets to a point it is no longer in tact enough to use as is, it can then be put back into the system through recycling and given yet another life.
Why not have a look at our upcycled and repurposed collections to see how we give new life to unused garments and fabrics utilising them to their full potential to create unique and one-off pieces that can be treasured and past down generations.
And if you'd like to read the rest of our fabric blog series head to Part 1, The Basics of Fabric which gives you an insight into how fabric is made and where it comes from and Part 2, The Basics of Fabric Dyeing which gives you an insight into the types and stages of dyeing used in the fashion industry.