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Inspecting Garments for Quality

(July 2004) posted on Mon Aug 02, 2004

Review common garment defects and describes why you need to identify them before you print


By Rick Davis

Ever since I started my own company, some of the manufacturers I've had a great deal of confidence in over the years have let me down. At the same time, those that I've had little confidence in have happily surprised me with the quality of their garments. When you purchase garments from your favorite manufacturer or supplier, do you have a reasonable amount of confidence in the quality of the garments you will receive?

The level of garment quality from any given manufacturer is only as good as the processes and procedures it has in place to create the product, inspect its work, and determine the goods to be first quality. In the manufacturers' defense, no process or inspector is perfect. Occasionally, garments that should have been downgraded in quality are shipped as firsts. After all, it is the human element that controls this aspect of the process. The same quality philosophy applies to the garment screen-printing process as well. The more control you have built into your process, the greater the amount of control you'll have over the finished product.

Your first line of defense

The textile screen printer has the ability to inspect a blank garment shipment prior to sending the goods to inventory or to press. The issue here is having the staffing or resources, as well as the time, to conduct audits on incoming goods. Typically, only larger organizations have such resources. The advantage here is that having such resources allows you to catch potential quality issues and return faulty products to the manufacturer for credit. Once the goods are printed, the manufacturer is far less likely to accept a return, regardless of the defect.

Many facilities rely on their press operators to look over the garments during the loading process. The drawback to this procedure is that when a defective garment is found, the press operator most likely will have to stop the press to inspect the rest of the stack or order for similar defects. These stops result in lost productivity.

What to look for

Keep in mind that suppliers and distributors rarely--if ever--conduct quality audits on the incoming goods from garment mills. Their job is to keep their inventory sufficiently stocked and supplied to the printer or end user in a more efficient fashion than the manufacturer is capable of handling. There are numerous defects that can result in the downgrading of a first-quality garment. Let's explore the most common issues that you can look for when you inspect manufacturer/supplier shipments.

Mill scrap This can include pieces of fabric, collar remnants, strings, and excessive lint from hem material. Many printers either ignore mill scrap or are not aware of it until the end of the day when the press operator finds himself six inches deep in the stuff. Press operators are very efficient at removing such materials from the image area of the garment, because it saves them from the trouble of having to stop the press when a loose thread obstructs the print.

The greatest issue that adversely affects the textile screen-printing process is excessive lint accompanying the goods. From the standpoint of printing alone, excessive lint contaminates inks, promotes build-up, and requires excessive screen wiping during print production. Manufacturers go to great lengths to minimize the amount of excessive lint that makes its way into cartons of finished goods. The solutions they use range from filtered air-circulation systems to in-floor air vents that draw the excess lint down and away from the knitting equipment. But regardless of the measures taken, some lint will always make it through the cracks in the system.

Oil stains A majority of oil-stained garment pieces or finished products are found and pulled in either the sewing or finishing/inspection processes during manufacturing. The oil stains actually come from the sewing process. Sewing machines typically require large amounts of oil to support their continual use and minimize lint's ability to bog down their moving parts. The degree to which an oil stain will be visible will be partially determined by the color of the fabric that the stain is on. Black garments, in particular, make it hard to identify an oil stain during a quick inspection. But I was shocked once to find that one third of a recent order of 100%-cotton forest-green T-shirts was stained with oil. Even more surprising was the fact that the stains were more than slightly obvious. An oil stain screams out on a shade like forest green.

Holes Holes are the easiest defect to identify on a garment's surface, especially during the loading process. Needle cuts, bad seams, skipped stitches, and weak yarns generate holes. In most cases, smaller holes are generated by needle cuts in the knitting process. Once a yarn is broken during the sewing process, the hole will only grow.

Sewing inconsistencies Sewing inconsistencies that get by many in-house inspections are typically located in the hems, sleeves, and collars--always where two pieces of fabric meet. The greatest danger here is that if the problem is not identified prior to shipping, it will grow much like a hole in the fabric. Although some garment screen-printing facilities have the in-house capability to repair such defects, most inconsistencies get through to the consumers. This leaves customers with a low opinion of that garment manufacturer or you, the printer, for not finding the issue before shipping the goods.

What you won't see

One of the greater issues you won't see is the finish on the fabric. Most garments undergo a finishing process--optical brighteners and stain resistance, for example--and should be thoroughly rinsed to remove any residual chemicals that do not belong on the fabric. Should a lot of fabric be processed and not properly rinsed, the residual chemical on the surface of the fabric can have adverse effects on the quality of the printed garment. I had a recent run of heather-gray garments that printed and cured without incident from the XLs through the mediums. However, the finish left on the surface of the fabric caused the small-sized garments to scorch terribly when they went through the dryer. Fortunately, I only lost 10 pieces, as the change was obvious coming out of the dryer. In situations such as this, you should have little problem getting the garments replaced.

Always inspect your garments

Having the resources to inspect your incoming garments can save you considerable expense by identifying problems before garments are printed and shipped. Although the up-front cost may seem high for spotting inconsistencies that should have been identified previously, the investment will pay for itself through continued satisfaction from your customers.


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