One of the blogs i read religiously is Kathleen Fasanella's Fashion Incubator
; she covers all kinds of fascinating topics from a sustainable fashion patternmaking perspective, from waste reduction to reviews of brands of cutting shears to "pattern puzzle" quizzes. It was from one of her posts that i learned about the 2010 SPESA Expo
, held this past week in Atlanta, GA.
SPESA stands for Sewn Product Equipment and Suppliers of the Americas
, and their conferences showcase everything related to the production of sewn products, from machinery and equipment to material goods to software systems to supply chain information. Anyone can pre-register to attend the Expo for free, provided you do so in advance online. Free registration plus downtime at work plus location in a neighboring state...I had to go check it out!
The Expo was held in the Georgia World Congress Center, an enormous convention center in downtown Atlanta. Despite the vast venue and huge number of attendees, i found the entire area around the center completely navigable and very easy to find affordable parking in. (Color me impressed.) Inside the Center, there were literally miles of exhibitors on the exposition floor. Glad i wore my walking shoes! I systematically went down every aisle, browsing every booth, and picking up literature from any that seemed potentially relevant to professional theatrical costume production, and from these, i'm passing the info on to y'all as my readership.
Much of the expo featured exhibitors that were fascinating in a larger sense but not applicable to costume production--the software and equipment priced in tens of thousands of dollars for companies who produce runs of 10,000 of a single garment style, for example, or the manufacturers of bulletproof body armor for military and police. Attending the conference was kind of like going to an antique mall with a shopping list--everything's worth looking at and probably cool, but only a few dozen are actually something you might pick up. Photography was prohibited on the expo floor, so i have no images of what it looked like or anything that i saw.
Because there was such a vast amount of stuff to look at and learn about, i'm going to have to break up my conference reporting into a series of posts covering specific topics. This first one is a focus on tools and equipment. There was so much to see in this area that i felt like a kid in a candy store! Almost all of it was applicable to costuming, too, since whether you are making one of a kind of 230948203948 of a style, you have to sew on an industrial machine. There were also vendors of shears and rotary cutters and various machine tables and measuring devices and you name it. Every vendor was offering conference discounts, too, so if i'd been in the market for new industrial machines, the Expo would have been a great opportunity to try out a bunch of different brands, get demos and price quotes from representatives of the companies, and walk away with a new machine at a reduced cost. Every major brand was represented--Juki, Consew, Bernina, SunStar, Durkopp, and dozens more.
So without further ado, here's what i collected in terms of literature on standout products that I'd love to see some day in my own shop.ToolsWolff
had a small booth with all of their scissors and shears styles out for display, and were showing off how they cut through various materials and media. I know costumers are big Gingher advocates, but their high-leverage shears and bent-handle and ball-tip styles looked like tools i want to add to my arsenal of things-that-cut.Storage EquipmentVidir Machine Inc.
had a cool display booth showing their fabric roll carousels
, tall motorized storage towers on which heavy rolls can be stored, and are operated by a single operator pushing a button. The rolls rotate around on a track to be easily accessible. Currently in our shop we have a wall rack constructed from steel rods that holds six large rolls of staples like different weights of muslin, butcher paper, dotty paper, and so forth. It's always a PITA to access the rolls that are located at the top and bottom of the rack, and one of these would not only solve that problem but also would quadruple the number of rolls we could have accessible in that location. Unfortunately, no one was there to tell me a price quote, but it's clear that you can request one on their website. Something to put on the dream list for the future, perhaps. Specialized Machines and Sewing Equipment
One of the main things i was looking for but was somewhat disappointed at the difficulty in finding, was a single-needle chain stitch hat-stitching machine. These machines have either a post bed or a long narrow arm and an extreme arch to the machine itself, so you can get inside a hat and stitch in a grosgrain, or sculpturally build a spiral-braid hat right on the machine with ease. You can find these secondhand (Singer made all the ones i've ever seen, but i'm sure other brands made them as well), but i was hoping to find someone vending modern ones. Here is a photo of an antique one, for reference:( picture )
The closest i came, i think, was Collier Equipment Parts
who had a big display of several machines they carried by the Chinese brand SunStar, include the entire production line of cap-stitching machines, one of which was a post bed machine with a high arch billed as a sweatband-installer. Perfect! Except they didn't have one on the floor to look at in person, and there didn't seem to be anybody there who could tell me much about it beyond how it functioned in a cap production line. They took my name and info and are hopefully going to send me a price quote and spec sheet on the machine, but i sure wish someone had been on-hand that was able to give me a ballpark price or answer questions about it outside of the pitchbook for industrial cap assembly lines. Southeast Sewing
had an enormous Consew booth, showing all their models of pretty much everything, and they also had a single needle post bed machine that would work for hat stitching. It was advertised as intended for construction of structured bras, corsetry, and shoe vamps, but it's not much of a stretch between the fiddly shapes of those to the geometry of millinery structures. I couldn't find the salesman who'd helped me earlier to get a quote on it, but i suspect the machine falls in the $2000 range based on the others they were selling.
Which brings me to their Consew brand industrial patcher machine. My god, y'all, i wish i could have taken a picture of myself kissing it. A patcher is a crafts artisan's savior when it comes to theatrical footwear projects--I've posted about mine
, an antique Singer that is literally 100 years old and still going. My shoe-focus grad student, Samantha Coles, also owns an ancient one. In fact, every shop i've worked in that had a patcher, it was one of these old black enamel antique jobs. The crafts shop at the Utah Shakespearean Festival has an old patcher like these, which only two of us in the shop could ever really get to work; the crafts supervisor at the time had a challenge trying to locate a vendor for a new patcher and the machine they ended up with, made by the brand Artisan, has a shorter, thicker arm and no oscillating shuttle. (I haven't been back to that shop since so it is possible they replaced or exchanged it for something more effective in the interim.)
These Southeast Sewing
folks had a brand new Consew patcher machine on display and gave me the whole pitch on what's new in the realm of patchers: 12" and 18" arm length options (the 18" being for knee-high boots), and the option for a large bobbin! If you have ever used one of the old patchers with the miniature bobbin sizes, you know how exciting that is, the potential to sew longer without changing bobbins. The mini-size bobbin allows for a narrower bed at the end of the arm, which enables you to get into smaller spaces, but boy, is it frustrating to run out of bobbin so fast.
The salesman who helped me quoted prices on these of $1900 for the 12" arm and $2200 for the 18" arm, with a $300 discount plus no shipping costs for orders placed at the conference. That's not official or guaranteed, me quoting that here, i'm just citing it so you have an idea of what they cost--so, if you want to add a patcher to your shop, that's the ballpark you want to budget for, and if you are located close enough that it makes sense to wait and buy at a future SPESA Expo, it's well worth it for the conference discount and the shipping savings.
Not so much an equipment vendor, per se, but another really impressive machine-related booth was a fully operational and staffed TSS (Toyota Sewing System) unit. This is a way of setting up a shop and cross-training your employees so that garments can be produced faster. Machines are arranged in a U shape and set up to do each task in assembly, so if you are making a pair of jeans in this system, there is a machine for each step in the process, with the right weight needles and threads for the given seam and denim thicknesses, free arm machine bed to go up a pant leg if it's the hemming station, and so forth.
Operators stand at their station, do their task and hand the garment off to the next person right beside them around the U, so the jeans are a pile of pieces at one end of the U and become a fully assembled garment when the come out the other end. All operators know how to use all machines and do all steps, too, so if someone is sick they can all swap out doing that missing person's step, and the whole thing is choreographed so that if one person has a time consuming station, other people cover two steps each so that person with the longer task doesn't get swamped and clog the assembly line.
The most interesting element of it, from a costume shop perspective, is the standing machine convention. In crafts shops, many times we have a stand-up set-up--rivet setters and grommet presses are stand-to-use equipment, and our millinery and shoe sewing machines are often on standing-use tables. I actually prefer sewing standing up after years of having my machines on that height of tables, and it adds to my efficiency since i just walk up and start using them instead of sitting and getting situated just for a quick few sewing steps. It was exciting to watch these TSS operators move through their sewing pod and bang out trousers in record time. Something to consider...
Well, that's it for this topic. I have a big pile of literature yet to cover on software systems and notions suppliers, but that'll have to wait for another day. Maybe tomorrow!