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The Fine Art of Efficient Finishing

Everett Childers |

If we think of ourselves only as drycleaners, we limit our capabilities and ourselves. Think instead of being (or becoming) a “textile-cleaning professional” — a person who is knowledgeable and proficient in the field of garment renovation and restoration.
After we accept garments and send them on their journey through the plant, we have lots of time with them to do everything necessary. Eventually, they will make their way to the finishing, inspection, assembly, bagging and storage areas.
Finishing begins when the garment is marked in, however. The normal practice in many plants is to staple a tag to the garment’s care label or attach it with a safety pin. Others may also be included — “do over,” “special” or a tag designating a drop store. These tags hamper finishing because pressers often ignore them. Pressed in, they will leave large marks, creases and wrinkled areas.
As the garments go on to the assembly area, they get disturbed as the assembler looks for the tag. The garment may get dropped in the process and get distorted, or hang on its hanger crookedly.
A more efficient way to attach tags is to use a Dennison-type gun with plastic strings to hold the tag, just like they do in department stores. The tags can be attached to the same side of the garment on all garments except pants. For jackets, shirts, blouses, dresses and any other “top-half” garment, they can be attached at the bottom of a sleeve or armhole.
To attach the tags, hold the doubled-over tag in one hand, and insert a needle through the tag and then the garment at a seam area. There is no need to double the plastic string, but you should make sure the string is inserted.
This simple procedure eliminates problems with the plastic tangling, preventing it from coming out of the garments. Trousers can be tagged on the inside of the fly or through a belt loop. Try to put all tags on the assembler’s right-hand.
This may sound obvious, but when garments enter the finishing area, they should be ready for finishing. No additional treatment should be necessary—no aerosol spray sizings, starches or other additives. These should have been applied during cleaning procedures.
Sizing can be added to the drycleaning machine by injection or as a charge in the base tank. Generally, ½ ounce of sizing for every 10 pounds of clothing is sufficient for a charge machine. You may wish to raise the amount of sizing on summer garments to about ¾ ounce per 10 pounds cleaned.
A small amount of sizing allows garments to be finished approximately 10% faster than garments without sizing. Another advantage is that sizing doesn’t let staining materials penetrate as thoroughly into fabrics.
When pressed, sizing helps a garment hold its shape better, and this makes a better impression on customers. If using an injection process for detergent, use half as much sizing as you do detergent. Too much sizing isn’t recommended.
A conventional silk finishing station should have the correct pieces of equipment, proper tools and adequate lighting. The garment will usually go to a steam/air finisher first for preconditioning. Finishing goes faster when the unit is tensioned properly.
Steam time is usually five or six seconds at a pressure of 75-80 psi; air, 15-20 seconds. The object is to have steam relax the fibers without wetting them. With the proper dampness in the garment during steaming, it should be completely dry by the end of the air cycle.
The steam will relaxes fibers, and the air will stretch them just enough to remove most of the wrinkles and dry the garment in wrinkle-free condition. Proper use of the steam/air finisher can do wonders for production efficiency and the finished garment’s appearance. Only a touch-up may now be necessary at the seams and collar.
A conventional trouser station consists of an automatic topper and a single-lay legger with a steam iron attached. The first finishing operation is to place the trousers on the topper. Steam them, then straighten the pockets and roll the pleats so they align perfectly with the creases they are supposed to meet. Start the automatic cycle.
For the best results, have a good pad on the topper. A hard or poorly installed pad can actually cause wrinkles in the garment being finished.
After removing the trousers from the topper, place them on the press buck with the front crease lined up with the pleats. If you are pressing flat-front trousers, straighten the front crease and place the pants on the buck so the crease stops near the bottom of the crotch.
Hold the leg down by applying the vacuum. After removing any wrinkles, bring the head down, release the vacuum and start the automatic cycle. The cycle should apply three to five seconds of head steam, following up with about 10-12 seconds of vacuum.
When the vacuum stops, the press head should rise; the vacuum will return for four or five seconds to supply a final drying for the trousers. There should be no vacuum from the press buck at this point, or the press will produce a long wrinkle that requires resteaming. If you get a moiré on thin trouser legs, it’s because you applied steam and vacuum at the same time.
Don’t let the steam stay on long enough to touch the top of the trousers not covered by the press head; this causes wrinkling on the pockets and sides of pants. If you can see steam coming from around the press head, there’s too much steam — reduce it.
It goes without saying that cotton, linen and ramie trousers shouldn’t be steamed on a conventional automatic topper, then mashed hard with a legger. This produces a very unprofessional-looking garment with wrinkles at the top.
Linen, ramie and many cottons will need a light water mist before pressing, and the waists of the trousers will need hand-ironing with a water spray. Steam alone will not remove wrinkles on cotton, linen or ramie garments adequately.
Avoid using a steam iron on a finished garment except in extreme cases. Steam from the iron will relax the fibers and make the garment look good—only long enough to be bagged. As the fabric dries, it will probably wrinkle badly.
If the garment is properly steamed and dried with vacuum and heat from the metal press head, there should be no reason to use an iron. If it’s necessary to use a steam iron, leave the vacuum on until the fabric is completely dry.ON TO ASSEMBLY
After leaving the finishing station, a garment should glide smoothly down the slick rail on its journey to the inspection station. When it arrives at the (well lighted) inspection station, the tagging described earlier will pay off. There will be no hunting for the tag, so plenty of time will be available for a thorough, methodical inspection of the garment.
The inspector should check the garment’s overall appearance; it should be hanging on the hanger correctly and evenly. He or she should then examine the garment’s front for discolored areas that might denote color loss, spots, stains or soiling.
Creases should be checked for sharpness, continuity and evenness. Underarm areas should be checked for discoloration and odor. Whatever your plant’s inspection entails, it should be the same for every like garment, day in and day out. The three worst things to let pass are (1) spots, stains, streaks or swales; (2) double creases, wrinkles or badly rolled lapels; and (3) shine or seam impressions.
After inspection, mate the garments with their original invoices; an invoice is complete when all items are assembled together. Next is bagging and storage.EUROPEAN TENSIONING
European finishing consists of aN up-air/vacuum board, a tensioning multiform and a tensioning pant topper. Tensioning toppers and forms remove wrinkles from garments by forcing steam and hot air through the fabric, leaving them about 95% finished.
Any additional finishing necessary can be done on the up-air/vacuum board. Place the garment on the table and reverse the vacuum to fill the area with heated air. Then, brush the hand iron gently across the fabric while steaming; the air dries the garment immediately.
Form creases with the board’s strong vacuum setting. Since you now only need to press the creases in, side-seam wrinkles will be history — they are removed in topping. Just slide the iron up a leg to form the crease with steam, then down without steam. Repeat with the other leg; the pants are perfectly pressed.
That’s about as difficult as it gets. “European” equipment takes up less floorspace, runs cooler, is easier to operate and cut utility demands. It takes about an hour to train a new operator.
Virtually any top-half garment can be finished on a tensioning form. Instead of using a sleever that allows steam to escape at various point on a garment, use the ones that look like small, plastic bowling pins cut in half. These keep the steam inside the garment, forcing it through the fabric to remove wrinkles.
Smaller units can finish small blouses or shirts beautifully with little touch-up. In summer, they can produce a “hand-finished” shirt or blouse effortlessly in about two minutes.
As always, the entire plant should be “hospital clean,” with no fuzzballs hanging around, sparkling floors and leak-free equipment. Lighting should be bright — if production people can’t see what they’re working on, they can’t do their jobs properly.
Likewise, equipment should be maintained regularly to promote easy operation. Press pads should be installed correctly, kept clean and changed when necessary. But the most important thing in the whole operation is your staff — without them, you can’t take orders. Let them do their jobs, and let them do their jobs well.

About the author

Everett Childers

Childers & Associates

Industry Consultant and Educator

Longtime industry consultant and educator Everett Childers is the author of the Master Drycleaners Notebook.

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