Designed to fail21 September 2022
In a special report LCNi’s experts Roger Cawood and Richard Neale reply in detail to a reader’s query about the delamination of an expensive designer suit
Designer suit reveals major problem
This lightweight wool suit is understood to have been cleaned in perchloroethylene solvent on a ‘delicate’ cycle, but on removal from the machine it displayed unsightly bubbling to the jacket fronts, inside the fronts and at the trouser waistband. The cleaner wants to know why this has happened, who is at fault and whether it can it be put right?
This indicates that the garment has been designed to be cleaned in either perchloroethylene or petroleum solvents on a ‘delicate’ cycle. The garment can be finished with a 2-dot iron and there is no particular restriction on the use of steam.
Material content label
This indicated that the outer is 100% virgin wool, and the lining is viscose. This means that the key restriction for the delicate cycle is to limit the amount of moisture in the system to no more than the trace contained in the drycleaning detergent.
The problem here appears to be shrinkage of the interlining which has been bonded to the reverse of the outer fronts of the jacket, extending round to the inner facings and creating the fine, smooth appearance. The same problem is evident on the trouser waistband. The shrinkage probably occurred in the first stage of the drycleaning machine process, the solvent wash. Drycleaning solvent will release the slight stretch set into most fabrics in manufacture and in this garment, the interlining appears to have relaxed by appreciably more than the outer fabric. This has sheared the fusible bond between the interlining and outer material. The bubbles on the surface are caused by the resulting excess of outer fabric in the worst affected areas.
How to avoid the fault occurring
The garment maker can usually prevent this fault by matching the relaxation potentials of the different layers in the fused fronts. Research work presented to the Association of British Suppliers to the Clothing Industry (ASBCI) around 1990 indicated that if the relaxation potentials were matched to within 2%, the risk of the fault occurring was minimal. Other research indicated that it would be further reduced if the peel bond strength of the laminate was at least 2 kgf for a 50mm strip. Most suits now do not display this fault, although it has been a recurring problem for many years, with some garment ranges affected far more than others.
The cleaner can also minimise the risk for this particular garment design by careful control of moisture in the cleaning system, which prevents felting shrinkage of the outer fabric. This is unlikely to have been the problem with this garment, because the cleaner’s photos show no signs of felting and there is an excess of outer fabric to form the bubbles, which indicates no excessive shrinkage of the outer material.
How to identify the cause of the problem when it occurs
There is usually enough of the fused fabric, that has not become bubbled, to enable a peel-bond assessment to be carried out by the cleaner. The seam between the lining and the outer fabric at the bottom of one of the inner fronts should be opened for a few cm. If the interlining to outer fabric laminate is peeled apart, it will quickly become apparent if the bond is firm enough to withstand wear and multiple drycleaning over its life. It is not possible to check whether the relaxation potentials of the different layers were adequately matched on the damaged garment. This can only be done with a new garment or with unbonded samples of the materials used.
If the outer fabric from an area which is not interlined is placed under tension on the cross of the weave, then the cleaner can also check if the control of moisture was correct. A wool fabric which has felted will display an audible crackling noise when stretched close to the ear and the surface of the cloth will be appear ‘hairy’, disguising the pattern of the weave.
Can the fault be rectified?
Unfortunately, there is no permanent rectification possible for an interlined garment which has bubbled in drycleaning. However, the cleaner can sometimes produce a temporary improvement to create a wearable garment, although the fault may well re-appear at the next drycleaning. Finishing skills at Guild of Cleaners and Launderers Advanced Level are needed. This is how to do it:
General principles for finishing this type of garment
Lightweight, high quality, pure wool fabrics require precise finishing techniques to produce the high standards of finish customers expect. These fabrics can emphasise even the slightest imperfection with some faults only becoming noticeable during final inspection. Hygral expansion (a reversible change in dimensions that can occur in wool fabrics as a result of variations in moisture regain and moisture content) can cause problems in finishing, resulting in a cockling, or seersucker effect. Therefore, the use of steam needs to be kept to a minimum. It is important that finishing staff are aware of this little-known property of wool, as they will often instinctively increase the use of steam when they encounter difficulties in finishing.
On a lightweight wool designer suit, it may be necessary to vary the finishing procedure or try different pressing or ironing techniques to produce a good standard of finish. The following techniques will help develop the high skill levels that must be acquired. When ironing, use a Teflon soleplate on the iron, and in the case of electric irons, set the temperature at no more than 150C. Different garments do not always respond in the same way, so you will often need to vary the way you employ the vacuum. It is a prerequisite that ironing tables and presses should be correctly clothed, with no hard or compacted padding.
In our view and in most cases, jackets should be finished on the ironing table. First form the jacket using the minimum steam time consistent with a good pre–finish result. Using the air blower on the ironing table, finish the lining by ironing lightly, again using minimum steam. The vent should then be set and ironed lightly without vacuum. Then use the vacuum to set the vent after ironing, and lightly iron the exterior using minimum pressure and steam. Care is needed in seam areas and pockets to avoid impressions and minimise shine.
The lapels which are a focal point of the finish must be correctly rolled and set, with precise attention to detail. The lapels can either be pressed or ironed face down; this helps to avoid impression marks and shine. The lapels should be then rolled and set, with the roll ending at or just above the top button of the jacket.
Start by ironing the pockets; the trousers can be topped using the ironing table air blower, and then finished on the press or the table, once again using minimum steam. When pressing the centre leg lays, if vacuum marks are to be avoided, it is important that if vacuum is used it should be released before lifting the head and the leg then smoothed and stretched by hand while again applying vacuum.
When finishing the main creases, in order to get these sharp, lift the head with vacuum applied.
Correcting the interlining problem
Lightly steam the affected area and while the fabric is very hot, stretch the area at right angles to the ripples - sometimes you may need help with this. After stretching out the ripples, hold the fabric under tension while applying plenty of vacuum. Then press and vacuum with the head locked (or iron firmly while applying vacuum). It is important to cool the fabric until it is completely cold. To further improve bubbling, try applying a light mist of a good quality hair spray to the affected area before ironing/pressing. This will slightly stiffen the fabric and often enables the finisher to produce a satisfactory result.
Every professional cleaner will almost certainly have encountered rippling and bubbling of fused interlinings and experienced the sinking feeling in the stomach when the designer label indicates a very expensive claim. In this month’s issue we have given sound indications of how to find out the cause and who should be taking responsibility, so that you can discuss this with the customer or with the retailer with knowledge and confidence.
- If you have problems you would like the authors to examine please send with a good quality, high resolution (300dpi/1MB at least) pic of the item to