If I may permitted, I will copy the post on the AA forum, including DeanK's original question and Mr. Kabbaz's (may I call you Alex? We are all pretty informal here on the SF forum after all...) response and copyright information: Dear Mr. Kabbaz: We have heard about the decline of suitings over the years. Has there been a decline in shirting, and if so, can you please explain where things were, and what they have come to. Thanks, Dean I'm not sure that I agree with the hypothesis that we have seen a decline in suitings over the years. Nonetheless, your question addressed shirtings. No, I would not say there has been a decline. There have been many, many changes, however. In my opinion, the majority of those changes have been for the better; some have not. THE WEAVING You cannot understand fabric quality without a basic knowledge of the manner in which it is created. Fabric is made of yarns which run in two directions. In the length, the yarns are known as the warp. The warp is made by rolling up a whole lotta yarns on a metal tube called a warp beam. These yarns are then threaded into the loom. The other yarns run across the fabric and are known as the weft. These yarns are actually (usually) one long yarn on a cone which is fed in sideways through the warp yarns. In broadcloth or popline, the warp yarns are fed over one warp yarn, under the next, over the next, and so on in a 1:1 regular pattern. For other fabrics (i.e., oxfords) the pattern might be over 2, under 1, over 2, under 1, etc. Back in the old days (sounding your age, Kabbaz?) weaving was a much more mechanical process than it is today. In shirtings, this topic centers primarily around the shuttle. The shuttle of old was a wooden device which had points on both ends and a spool of yarn in the middle. It literally flew back and forth across the loom going inbetween the warp yarns. The faster it travelled, the greater the strain on the yarn coming off the spool. If it ran too fast, or came to a weak spot in the yarn, the yarn would break. The loom would have to be stopped, the broken end tied (by hand) back to the yarn it broke from, and the loom restarted. Practical experience netted the realization that about the smallest yarns which could withstand this process were the 120's ... and then only if the loom was run quite slowly. Lo and behold (OMG, Kabbaz) in the last quarter century or so, some smart inventor said, "Why can't I shoot this thread through on a fine jet of high-speed air?" And so the 'air shuttle' was born. Now that the yarns would no longer be broken by the friction of the shuttle, the weavers could use finer ones. Hence the birth of the 2x2 140's, the 160's, the 170's, 180's, 200's, and 200's x 240's. ANSWER #1 Improvements in weaving technology have lead to the greatest and most rapid improvements in shirting quality ever - in the field of cloth fineness. For a chronological measure, the first 170's I remember came from Alumo in 1985; 200's - also from Alumo - about 1996. ANSWER #2 Improvements in weaving technology have lead to the virtual elimination of the Knots discussed above. These were quite numerous in older fabrics. either the cutter used a great deal of extra cloth to cut around them ... or they ended up in your shirt. Needless to say, it is taboo for a cutter to use a lot of extra cloth. So you can kinda guess where the knots went. THE FINISHING Fabric which emanates from a loom and is meant to have a finished width of 60" comes from the loom at a much greater width, usually about 72" or so. It then goes through one or all of a variety of 'finishing' processes. These include dying, sizing, sanforization, and pre-shrinking to name just a few common ones. Side Trip - You've probably heard of the 47 common varieties of Scotch whiskey. One of the primary factors in the variety lies in the water used in the fermenting process. Just as Scotch, water is one of the key components in many of the fabric finishing processes. Not so strangely, many of the fabrics used to be finished in Scotland. Variety in fabric finished was obtained, in part, by the weaver's selection of which of those 47 waters was to be used. Now, thanks to population increases and pollution, that wide variety is no longer available. Now, thanks to environmental regulation, the use of formaldehyde in the finishing process, along with the use of other questionable chemicals, is either discouraged or outlawed. Due to this, certain of the 'antique' fabrics I own which were made back in the 1930's and 1940's, have such a high sheen to them that they appear almost as silk satin. Without the availability of the 'right' waters and the discouraged chemicals, these sheen qualities are no longer possible. ANSWER #3 Due to environmental restrictions, the super high sheen has dissappeared from the surface of shirting fabrics, never to be seen again. LONGEVITY I have a few yards of some 200's x 240's woven for me in the 1990's. In order to do so, the mill had to run the loom at a rate of 35 meters per day. Even so, there were still some broken weft yarns and the requisite knots therein. And that was the fastest they could be run. Loom speed today is measured in the tens of thousands of yards per loom per day. The better shirtings (Italian, Swiss - best mills) are made on looms running from 1000 to 3000 meters daily. And this is what happens: The faster you run the loom, the greater the inherent tension in the yarns of the resulting fabric. Additionally, on the super high-speed looms, microscopic breaks in the yarns are caused. These do not become evident until the tension begins to really relax. This happens when the fabric is wet (in the laundry). As the number of launderings increases, those fabrics begin to degrade rapidly. Fabrics woven on the slower looms - in other words those without the high tension breakage - do not begin to degrade anywhere near as rapidly. This is why I can show you a 2x2 170's shirt made in the mid-1980's and laundered more than 200 times which is perfectly serviceable while a new shirt made of high-speed woven fabric is virtual garbage after 25 washes. ANSWER #4 Better quality fabric is available, albeit expensive. The vast majority or fabrics affordable to the R-T-W trade, however, are of inferior longevity characteristics. DESIGN There exists an adage in the shirting business: Every design pattern will come 'round again in seven years. By and large, this is true. My library dates back to the 1930's. During the last 30 years, I have seen the vast majority of those older patterns come back, exist for awhile, and go 'out' again. But with every year which passes, new designs are created and offered. Therefore, the great library-in-the-sky of shirting designs is forever growing. More and more is available to choose from. Now, you may not like some of the "more" ... you may not even like anything which isn't sky blue or white. Nonetheless, my opinion is that 'more' in the area of available designs is a good thing. ANSWER #5 The quality of available designs, simply by the addition of more and the resulting range of choice, is ever improving. SUMMATION In my personal opinion, the quality and breadth of top-quality shirting fabrics have undergone exponential improvement during the 30 years of my shirtmaking career. At the same time, however, the ability of public relations and marketing campaigns to spin the attributes of an otherwise poor fabric into making it sound like golden threads of gossamer silk have also improved exponentially. Therefore, the phrase caveat emptor has never been so important as it is today in the determination the quality of a specific piece or shirt fabric. Copyright Â© 2004 Alexander S. Kabbaz. All rights reserved. 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