The walk from the dye house to the factory floor wasn't long but it certainly felt like a world away. If the magic of the dye house was dictated by vats, beakers, and spectrometers, the production of the fabric itself -- the warp and weft -- was a concerto of large, sprawling machinery.
It began with the loading of the cones into the sectional warping machine. From the wracks where the cones lay, single threads meandered their way to the front of the machine with weblike precision, where a technician meticulously checked each one.
The purpose was to bring the individual threads into a coherent structure, one that would form the basic pattern of the finished fabric. Brought together in sections, this structure was loaded onto large cylinders, or beams, in preparation for the "drawing in" process. During this drawing in, yet more technicians checked each of the threads by hand to ensure that each grouping had the requisite uniformity and consistency.
With the basis of the pattern now in place, the beams were than transferred to the looms, which would pass the weft rapidly back and forth through this foundational warp. This would mark the turning point, the first time that the yarn would be transformed into a properly recognizable fabric.
As we made our way to the rows of looms, the steady hum grew louder and louder. With each loom running at slightly different speeds, their separate thump-thump-thump sounds merged into an indistinguishable hum.
While the looms can do nearly six hundred passes per minute, we were told, their speeds vary considerably depending upon the precise structure and delicacy of each fabric. For the finest fabrics, they go far slower to ensure that the intricacy of the weave is properly constructed.
Walking back and forth among the looms we marveled at their precision and at the slow but inexorable output of fabric. At last we could see the final product taking its proper form.
From the looms, the newly constructed fabric was placed onto rolls which were run through yet another quality inspection, this time under bright lights to check the weave for any inconsistencies. Armed with large magnifying glasses a long row of technicians slowly passed the fabric under their careful eyes.
While this didn't mark the absolute end of the process -- the fabric is still considered greige, or loom-state -- the end certainly seemed in sight. From here, the fabric would be passed on to a separate finishing facility where it's natural cotton softness would be recovered after the rigor of the looms. And the color, too, would be enhanced to bring it to its final luster.
As we discussed it later (over a superb lunch at a nearby cafe) we concluded that what made these fabrics special was the rather incongruous blend of old-world craftsmanship and modern, technical sophistication. Each aspect of the process reinforced the other and the result was a fabric that we felt lucky to use as the basis for our Tuckerman shirts.