The Technology

‘A Stitch in Time’ Exhibition

The Technology

The garment trade, which emerged as a cottage industry in the late 1800s, had transformed by the 1920s into an elaborate entity that employed a labour force drawn from all parts of the globe and encompassed manufacturing and distribution of products. The industry adapted technological innovations to meet its needs and satisfy demands that reached beyond local consumption. In the early 1900s, the introduction of minimally labour saving devices and the principles of scientific management reduced production to simple, elemental tasks that would eliminate all but the most desired motions. These efforts contributed to the de-skilling of labour, essentially reducing the worker to an appendage of the machine. Such developments were driven by the competitive nature of the industry that made it necessary to increase productivity and lower costs. The result was often higher profit, but competition made businesses fail, too.

With greater emphasis in recent years on manufacturing offshore to utilize cheap labour from less developed countries, there has been a technological shift from increased mechanization to increased on-line communication via email and Skype between domestic manufacturers and off–shore contractors. This allows for faster product ordering and distribution and for efficient relaying of design information. Some firms have sought to maintain domestic operations by investing in new technologies. By the 1990s, many local manufacturers were using CAD (computer–assisted design) software for design, pattern-making, and marker-making. In the production phase of spreading/cutting, some of the larger firms have introduced automated spreaders and cutters; what have may at one time required ten workers now need only two workers, one to operate each machine. In use also are machines that automatically embroider, and measure, cut, and sew elastic waistbands, back pockets, and labels.

The shift to off-shore production and the introduction of more sophisticated technology have resulted in the deskilling of sewing machine operators and a dramatic decrease in the labour force of Winnipeg’s garment industry since 1995. Much of the pre-production manufacturing phase has remained in Winnipeg. However, because of relatively low pay compared to other industries, the garment industry has had a difficult time in attracting and keeping workers able to do pre-production.

The Old Craft of the Cutting Room

Step 1. The pattern maker uses cardboard master patterns, “blocks”, representing standard garments such as “ladies blouse with set-in-sleeve”. The design sketch is adapted, and a complete pattern on thin card is made for the garment and is accompanied by detailed patterns for each component of the garment: sleeve, cuff etc.

Step 2. Using “grading rules” codified in a set of written tables based on the understanding of human anatomy, the grader adapts the standard pattern to the full range of sizes, i.e., a person’s being a centimetre taller doesn’t mean the person is a centimetre wider. For each size and component, separate patterns are made: or each of the garment component: collars, cuffs etc. As many as a hundred parts may be created.

Step 3. The marker or lay-maker lays out the parts like a jig-saw puzzle on a table perhaps 30m long. The marker’s job is to maximize the utilization of a bolt of cloth while observing certain constraints such as the direction of the pattern or the weave. This job has key economic importance: on average, fabric costs amount to 50% of the costs of making a garment.

The New Craft of Computer Aided Design (CAD)

Step 1. The master patterns/blocks and a list of pattern parts for that block are stored digitally. With the use of a light pen, each part can be brought up and enlarged on the computer monitor. This job requires computer literacy and an understanding of. With interactive graphics the pattern maker can now adjust each part to match the designer’s concept.

Step 2. The grading technique, developed by graders over many years in the form of tables, has been entered and saved digitally, so that grading is now automated.

Step 3. Layout or marking is done at the computer. At each step of the process, the operator is supplied with a computed ratio of “cloth used” to “cloth wasted.” The technique incorporates the revisions as a rule base. Consequently, each time the program is used it accomplishes its task more rapidly leaving fewer calculating tasks to the operator.