Construction Methods for Athletic Apparel Part One: Cut-and-Sew
In our second post of this series, we will discuss the various construction methods and trim options used in the manufacturing of athletic uniforms and apparel.
There are two main techniques for constructing athletic apparel. The first is called "cut-and-sew," the second is dye sublimation. In this post we will focus on the cut-and-sew process. In this age-old method, every area of different color or fabric is a separate sewn-in element. So if a garment has a design where there is a color block or stripes of a different color, it is a separate sewn-in piece of fabric. Another example is side inserts to accommodate lettering or an underarm insert of mesh fabric for ventilation. Also, any trim such as braiding or piping on baseball jerseys or fabric tape trim on hockey jerseys is sewn into the garment.
See figure 1 for an example of a football jersey that uses the cut-and-sew method for creating different color blocks, side inserts and trim and notice where all the seams are.
See figure 2 for an example of using side inserts to accommodate lettering or a design. Without a side insert, the lettering would never line up properly because the fabric is printed before it is sewn. Sometimes a side insert is desired even without a design or lettering, such as the case with football jerseys where having a Spandex side insert makes the jersey more form-fitting.
This is why some garments cost much more than others. The rule of thumb is: the more sewing, the higher the cost. Garment sewing is a highly-skilled, labor-intensive process and there is no automated method for sewing apparel. There are no sewing robots… at least yet! All sewing is done by hand, using sewing machines of course, but there is a person sitting at that sewing machine sewing every garment by hand. A production line has many sewing stations lined up in a row with each station sewing a specific part of the garment. A very general example just to give you the idea, one person sews the left sleeve to the front body panel and passes it down to the next person who sews the right sleeve, to the next person who sews the shoulder panels, etc. until the garment is finished. Some stations are for specialty trim options like piping trim that has to be sewn into the seam when the garment is sewn together.
Garments like football jerseys, hockey and lacrosse jerseys that are used in contact sports need extra reinforcement for durability. That is why all of our football, hockey and lacrosse jerseys come with two-ply (double layer) shoulders and coverstitched seams. Coverstitching is a sewing technique using two or three needles producing either two or three rows of stitches which are looped together with an additional needle on the underside of the garment. This produces a seam with superior strength and stretch tolerance.
In addition to the basic sewing to produce a garment, there are a multitude of trim options that are included on some in-stock apparel which affects the price, and can be added to custom made apparel at the customer's discretion. Some examples of additional trim options are piping and braiding, knitted neck and sleeve trim (also called "rib-knit" trim), v-neck inserts that can accommodate embroidered logos or letters, and a variety of neck styles such as a square v-neck, tapered v-neck, keyhole neck, and a lace-up neck for hockey and lacrosse jerseys.
Braiding and piping can be applied to any seam in the garment. It is usually applied to full button plackets on baseball jerseys, sewn into the sleeve hem at the end of the sleeve, or sewn into the shoulder seam on a variety of jersey styles. The difference between piping and braiding is that piping is a thin 1/8" wide fabric sewn into the seam, and braiding is knitted and can be any width between ¼" and 1" and can be a solid color or multiple stripes. On AK custom apparel the braiding is knit in-house so we can make custom braiding in two, three, four or five stripe patterns, in any color combination.
So there you have some general information of how garments are constructed and the reasons for using different techniques and construction features. You can use this information to gain a better understanding of how the construction and trim options affect the cost of a garment.
As always, your comments and questions are welcome!