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Textile Trivia: 31 Things You Never Knew About “Unmeasurable” Materials

These days, shoppers are used to seeing the latest trends go from the runway to their local mall in record time. But the average consumer doesn’t think about how it all happens so fast.

Brands and textile mills, however, know the magic ingredients well: Digital color management tools: Spectrophotometers for digitally measuring the color of a material, quality control software, and lightboxes for evaluating colors under different light sources all lead to a more objective, less expensive and faster process.

… for solid colors, anyway.

More than half of all materials—things like patterns, lace, yarn and trim (zippers, buttons, etc.)—don’t get this special treatment. The color accuracy of this material group (referred to as the “unmeasurables”) relies on a color team’s eyesight. And trained as these color experts may be, we all see color differently—not just person to person, but day to day and hour to hour.

So, you can probably understand why we’re so excited about the launch of SpectraVision, our answer to measuring the “unmeasurables”. In honor of their transition into the “measurable” category, we rounded up some of the most fascinating facts about these tricky materials. But first, here’s a video that explains why SpectraVision is such a big deal:

Textile Trivia: Patterns

facts about patterns, lace, trim, yarn, zippers

1. On their website, famed New York City fabric store Mood Fabrics names nine different types of plaid.

2. Back in 1978, archeologists found a Celtic man’s mummified body in a Chinese cemetery. He was wearing a twill top and tartan leggings. They estimated that he died about 1000 BCE—back then, you could probably count the types of plaid on one hand.

3. Have you heard of Buffalo Check Plaid before? Woolrich Woolen Mills, a Pennsylvania company, started producing it in the mid-1900s. Rumor has it, the person who designed it had a herd of buffalo. Hence the name.

4. Unmeasurables in space: When the Apollo 12 flew to the moon in 1969, one of the astronauts, Alan Bean, brought along some extra baggage: a half yard of his family’s tartan fabric.

5. You’d be hard-pressed to find a pre-industrial polka dot garment. That’s because these patterns relied on machines to perfectly space the dots. Our eyes hurt thinking about what it would take to do this manually.

6. Bet you didn’t know that Minnie Mouse was such a trendsetter. We owe the polka dot’s long-lasting popularity to Walt Disney, who outfitted the iconic mouse in a dress with red polka dots.

7. Barbie made her debut in stripes. A black and white striped swimsuit, to be exact.

8. What’s known as “liberty prints” today started in the 1920s at Liberty, a London department store. The store produced miniature paisley, floral and abstract designs.

9. Speaking of paisley, this design goes back much further than 1920s London. It actually got its start in ancient Persia.

10. A fishy pattern naming: The herringbone pattern got its name because it looks like a herring fish skeleton.

[Tell Me More About Digitally Measuring Patterns!]

Textile Trivia: Lace

facts about patterns, lace, trim, yarn, zippers

11. Lace used to be made with gold, silver, linen or silk threads. Today, cotton is the most predominant, but you can still find lace made from linen and silk.

12. No one is 100 percent sure when lace was invented, but it’s likely this intricate fabric got its start in the early sixteenth century.

13. Lace was first made by a machine at the end of the eighteenth century. But if you tried to cut wide net lace fabric before 1809, it would unravel in the process. That’s the year a man named John Heathcoat stopped lace fabric (and people’s nerves) from unraveling by producing a more stable version of the fabric.

[Tell Me More About Digitally Measuring Lace!]

Textile Trivia: Yarn 

facts about patterns, lace, trim, yarn, zippers

14. How old is the oldest yarn? Samples found in Switzerland were estimated to be almost 7,000 years old.

15. Tripping hazard: When is five hours, 48 minutes and 27 seconds a winning marathon time? When someone knits a scarf at the same time. That’s the feat that earned a runner named David Babcock a Guinness World Record at the Kansas City marathon. He crossed the finish line with a 12-foot-long scarf.

16. Meanwhile, London’s Royal Albert Hall is home to another world record: most people knitting at the same time in the same place. This knitting party had 3,083 attendees.

17. Yarn might seem simple on the surface, but it takes about 15 different fiber types to make this knit-worthy textile—a mix of synthetic and natural. No wonder it’s so hard to measure the color!

18. To make matters more complicated, yarn also comes in varieties like heathered or tweed (flecks of different colors), ombre (light and dark shades of one color) or marled (different yarn strands twisted together)

19. Looking for something a bit different? People have made yarn with camel fur, seaweed, sugar cane and even pet fur.

[Tell Me More About Digitally Measuring Yarn!]

Textile Trivia: Trim (Zippers, Buttons, etc.)

facts about patterns, lace, trim, yarn, zippers

20. Zippers are everywhere. The global zipper market is expected to reach $11.7 billion this year.

21. One company, YKK, holds 46 percent of that market. YKK produces enough of them every 365 days to wrap the world in zippers 50 times (a total distance of 1.2 million miles).

22. In the United States alone, 4.5 billion zippers are used in garments (and other wearables) every year.

23. The zipper didn’t always look like it does today. Back in 1851, Elias Howe (who also invented the sewing machine) patented what he called an “automatic, continuous clothing closure.”

24. Things got a little more advanced when a man named Whitcomb Judson created something called a “clasp locker” and debuted it at the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893.

25. Finally, Gideon Sunback improved upon those past designs in 1913. His version was so useful that the military used the “separable fastener” for money belts and flying suits.

26. Twenty years later, the zipper made its way onto a pair of boots thanks to the company B.F. Goodrich. Talk about a footwear game-changer.

27. So how did we go from the phrase “separable fastener” to “zipper”? That’s apparently the work of B.F. Goodrich, too. As the story goes, an executive used the phrase “zip ‘er up,” inspired by the sound of, well, zipping up a zipper. The name stuck.

28. Buttons have truly stood the test of time. The earliest ones are from prehistoric times.

29. Garments didn’t actually have holes for buttons until the 13 century, though.

30. In 13 century Paris, button materials included gold, silver, bone, wood and brass.

31. Today, you don’t have to look far to find a plastic button, but in 1930, they were just becoming popular. Back then, it was easier to find shirt buttons made of materials like seashells.

[Tell Me More About Digitally Measuring Trim!]

For all the culture and history associated with patterns, lace, yarn and trim, it’s about time we brought them into the world of digital color management—and to the closets of eager consumers faster.

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