The ubiquity of lasers in the textile industry, both for joining and cutting applications, widens their potential appeal as a platform for other textile modifications. TWI has successfully demonstrated their application in textile joining over the last two decades. The use of a flexible tool such as a laser provides the ability to target specific locations in a controlled fashion.
To investigate the capability of laser processing to selectively alter the elastic modulus of stretch fabrics and develop a demonstrator garment.
As part of a PhD studentship, a demonstration swimsuit was produced in conjunction with Speedo, using slightly modified commercial laser equipment, similar to laser cutters already fully adopted and in widespread use throughout the garment industry supply chain. The laser was used to selectively treat both single-layer and multi-layer materials, which were then subject to testing.
The developed process uses a high-speed laser of the type found in existing fabric laser cutting equipment to create patterns of localised spot melting of the thermoplastic fibre in a stretch fabric, which was found to lock the elastic fibre. With careful selection of parameters, stretch and compression can be modified in multiple directions with little reduction in strength of the base fabric. This provides the capability to tailor the elastic modulus of stock fabric in all directions, without additional materials, and is expected to find utility in sports, fashion and medical garments, gloves, footwear and wherever else stretch/compression fabric is used. The process can be used following manufacture of a base garment, to produce batches or even individually customised or bespoke garments using, for example, the result of 3D body scanning and tailored fitting. The process lends itself to reduced manual handling and high repeatability when compared to existing techniques, leading to projected lower cost and higher throughput. The reduction in materials mixing enables easier product recyclability. Since no additional materials or panels are required, there are no seams, adhesives or tapes required and an incredibly smooth transition between different zones of compression can be achieved. Modification pattern form and orientation can be used to control body movement, posture and apply pressure to targeted muscle groups. This gives an enhanced ability to target specific areas of the body accurately.