Ha, no, not that. The other day, I woke up obsessed with doom. We all know the sun is going to go red giant sooner or later, enveloping the earth in its outer corona and frying all life on the surface of the planet. Long before that, of course, other problem will make themselves felt. And there’s some sort of economic crash thingie underway right now.
On a number of blogs (even the HBB) I’ve seen a fairly similar set of discussions about how manufacturing prosperity (goods manufactured, profits & income earned, etc) is the main ingredient in any meaningful economic recovery .. and how we won’t have any recovery until we’re again making and selling things of value, to use JHK’s phrase.
Just to keep those doom-y thoughts at bay, I seized upon the loose threads of another obsession (sewing) and got to thinking about what’s up in the world of fabric retail sales. Things there are horrible now. My favorite nearby store (a place so special that it catered to folks who make clothing – stores like that are rare because the sewing market is dominated by the uber-rich SAHM yuppie types with the $5K Berninas who dabble in quilting, then by the bridal set, then by the window treatment set) has gone out of business and I haven’t been able to find a replacement. There are places in Lowell MA and Manchester NH I’ll have to check out, but for the moment it seems the leftover options are Chinatown (in Boston) and then the NYC garment district.
For the stores I really really like, it’s clear that they get their best fabrics as remnants and stubs of bolts from the clothiers of NYC. They had someone driving a truck down there every so often to pick out the likely-selling stuff. The fashion places in NYC typically buy the fabric from the Middle East or Africa. A lot of it is made in places like Pakistan or India on old power looms that are probably 50+ years old. They are close to the yarn/thread suppliers there, of course, and the market economics are better than for here. What weaving operations we’ve still got in Massachusetts tend to be only the high-tech things like specialty kevlar fabrics or other Apollo-era crap. Malden Mills was one of the last operations of that type, and they’re down to specializing in Polartec fleece.
The non-funny thing, of course, is that global commerce is crashing right as we’re watching it, so of course I wonder what’s going to happen when those Pakistani spinning & weaving operations are not running all the time, making low profits selling fabric to the west where it gets resold at much higher prices. What happens when those NYC clothiers stop ordering thousands of yards of specialty fabric?
Knowing a little about how most people tend to do business here in the UPL, I had to wonder if all those closed former weaving mills had unions in them (likely) and if the companies did business the Apollo-era way. Did they put up lots of bright lights and safety rails around the machines? Did they have a thick manual, put out by management, detailing the exact steps needed to clean the place? Did they buy the expensive equipment new, on credit, then spend a portion of their profits paying off the rental fees (aka interest) for the money later? Did they have spiffy new furniture in their conference room? Did they have high-flying CEOs earning hundreds or thousands the levels of the grunt workers?
Anyway I was very touched to see one commenter on the HBB who mentioned that there are people out there who might, if they were so inclined, put their resources to sensible use by starting up their own small-scale businesses. That’s more like it!
So I started wondering exactly what it takes to get some sort of minimum weaving operation going. I haven’t yet learned the full supply stream for the thread/yarn side of the business, but I spent enough time researching the weaving end to learn the basics of power looms and how they work. I’m kicking around the idea of making a little 1/1-weave hand-cranked loom just for turning knitting yarn into scarves. The trick is the self-cocking flying shuttle and getting the draw beam to advance at a regular rate so as to be consistent in the piling-up of warp threads. I measured all my sewing patterns and found it’s not necessary to have more than 28” fabric width for the biggest of them.
Amusingly, there are ultra-expensive hand looms available out there (see Leclerc and its competitors) but they seem designed for the SAHM craft/quilt crowd who’ve got mega free time on their hands. Those things are so slow that the fabric on them would have to be priced ridiculously high just to cover the labor costs, even if the weaver is getting only minimum wage, and it won’t have much in the way of tension/thread count stability on either the warp or the weft.
I also learned that denim is a relatively simple 3/1 weave of the twill family, which includes canvas and duck.
An interesting sentiment to see (in the world of powered weaving) was the preference to make all new looms as jacquard looms, so that the machine is not later limited in the types of weaves that can be made on it. A jacquard machine is rather special because it has fine control over which of the weft threads are raised (to form the “shed”) as the shuttle is passed across the warp. By changing the pattern of the weft threads, you can make anything from denim to towels to brocade to satin on the same machine.
So, there ya go, I kept doom-y thoughts at bay for part of the weekend by getting obsessed about what it would require to set up a minimum weaving line done as a cottage industry. If the economy does in fact crash hard, one thing I am certain about is that the cheap-assed manufactured clothing being worn by everyone these days is not going to last very long into the long emergency. It’s basically crap that falls apart all too quickly or after too many cycles through the washer. I give the stuff 2 year tops before everyone’s got holes in their clothing, and not the trendy kind of holes either.
Is anyone else out there thinking “Got business plan?” :)
(SAHM = stay at home mommy, usually with large SUV and willing to run over anyone in order to get precious little Bratleigh to riding lessons after school