Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Semester review, part 3: textiles

Textiles was my favorite class and also the one I found most difficult. After watching students at Minneapolis Community and Technical College struggle through their textiles class I knew it would not be easy, but I was still surprised at how much I had to learn. I thought the class would consist of memorizing many different types of fabrics. I certainly had to do that, but there was so much more. It is not enough to know what fibers a particular piece of fabric is made of, I need to know everything about those fibers.

Each week there were two lectures and one lab. I found the lectures fascinating, but unfortunately a lot of my classmates did not agree with me. I meticulously took detailed notes while others connected with their friends or tended their farms on Facebook. I studied, did all my homework, and got an A in the class. I suspect the farmers did not do quite so well.

The class covered five broad topics: serviceability concepts, fibers, yarns, structures, and finishes. Serviceability concepts use the properties of a fiber, yarn, fabric, or finish to describe a textile product’s suitability for a particular use. I need to be familiar with these concepts and be able to apply them to specific products in order to choose the correct textile for whatever I am making.

We spent nearly half the semester learning about fibers. I learned the properties of many natural, regenerated, and synthetic fibers. With the aid of a microscope and a book of matches I had to be able to determine if a fiber was natural, regenerated, or synthetic. If it was natural I had to be able to identify it, and if it was regenerated I had to be able to tell if it was cellulosic or protein (azlon). As I studied fibers I often thought that the class belonged in the chemistry department rather than apparel design.

Yarns was the shortest, and I thought easiest, part of the class. Yarns are filament or spun, plain or fancy. Identifying fancy yarns was the hardest part of this section, but it was not too difficult.

Fabrics may be one of three structures: weave, knit, or non-woven. I had the most fun learning about weaves. I can visualize how a loom works, and I had no trouble identifying specific weaves. I found knits quite confusing. I learned enough to identify different knits, but I cannot visualize how a knitting machine turns yarns into fabrics. I suspect that if I spent some time with a knitting machine it would make a lot more sense, but looking at diagrams, pictures, and videos of the machines did not help me. I thought non-wovens were boring, but it might have been that we were nearing the end of the semester and I was very busy with projects for other classes. I was mortified to learn that the doll outfits I thought I made out of felt were really made with needle punched fake felt. I have nothing against the fabric itself, I just do not like things that are not labeled truthfully.

Learning about finishes was interesting, but I thought the lab could have been more exciting. Rather than just looking at fabrics to identify the finish I would have liked to have applied a finish or two myself. Studying coloring techniques inspired me to tie-dye the shirt I made for my apparel construction class. Despite numerous warnings that I would be foolish to try it, I am sorely tempted to try combining muslin and lye to make mercerized cotton.

After learning about fibers, yarns, structures, and finishes I had to apply my knowledge to identify fabric samples and use the serviceability concepts to explain how the fabric should be used. Identifying samples was the hardest part of the class for me. I can look at a piece of fabric and tell you its fiber content, yarn type, structure, and finish, but I have a lot of trouble remembering fabric names.

The content of the class will be very useful for me, but it was the professor who made the class so much fun. My classmates at MCTC often complained about their textiles instructor, and they hated their class. I am glad I waited until I got to Stout to take the class. Textiles can be a painfully dull topic, but Dr. Rhee made it fun and exciting. I am looking forward to taking more of her classes.

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