Making the Willow – Part 1, Fabric
The Willow began at a New York City trade show in January 2020 (more about fabric trade shows coming soon). I was there for my job at the time and was visiting the usual venues – Premiere Vision and Texworld. These are huge trade shows with hundreds of vendors showcasing nearly everything you could imagine - and while there you walk literally miles of booths filled with buttons, zippers, fabric swatches, and more. Once I finished my work, I had a couple hours left before dinner, so out of curiosity I googled other fabric trade shows that might be going on to make the most of my time in the city. Up came the Japan Textile Salon. It only had 16 vendors, a tiny amount compared to the hundreds at PV and Texworld, but Japan has a reputation for quality fabrics so I figured, why not take a look?
The Japan Textile Salon turned out to be worth the time and more. Situated in the back left against the wall was Fujisaki Textiles with their US agent, New Power Generation Co. Their booth wasn’t eye catching from afar, but once I felt their fabrics – that was something different. There I found a Merino French terry – the only one I’d seen in my entire trip.
Merino wool is a fiber famous for being extremely soft, breathable, anti-odor, anti-bacterial, and temperature regulating (keep an eye out for a blog post in the future on some of the benefits of Merino). As if all that wasn’t magical enough, Merino is also completely sustainable and environmentally friendly. But, the old adage ‘you get what you pay for’ is true. Merino is expensive, so it usually appears in simpler fabric structures that are more economical to produce, like jerseys or plainweaves.
Now, I’ve seen plenty of wonderful Merino jerseys and plainweaves. I have never seen a 100% Merino used in a French terry fabric construction. A little about French terrys, a favorite for sweats and loungewear: they have a slight amount of stretch due to their knit structure, a smooth face on the outside, thousands of tiny little loops on the inside that trap air to regulate temperature, and they are surprisingly light given their thickness. A French terry, no matter the fiber used, is a cushy, plush fabric and a delight in it’s own right. But, like Merino fibers, French terry fabrics are not the most economical to produce – those cute mini loops take a bit longer to make, and slow down the knitting process. In many cases the increased fabric production cost is often balanced out with the use of less expensive fibers – blends, poly, etc.
Somewhere, though, some daring person in Japan disregarded the cost of Merino, ignored the price to manufacture French terrys, and joined the two together. The result is amazing – cozy wonder fiber Merino + cozy French terry = exponential coziness.
After I my last day at my old job (another story for another time), the first thing I did was reach out to New Power Generation Co regarding their Merino French terry. (As a side note, many overseas mills are represented in the U.S. by third parties, which help connect the mill with potential customers. Such is the relationship between Fujisaki Textiles (the mill in Japan), and their agent, New Power Generation Co.) I didn’t know if they’d remember me, or if they’d even respond to an individual (versus corporate) request. Anyway, I couldn’t get the fabric out of my mind, so I sent a standard email inquiry along the lines of:
To my surprise, I heard back an enthusiastic response on the same day. The price was high - $43.68/yd not including shipping (nearly 10x more expensive than the fabrics I was sourcing at my old job), but then again, this was a fabric I’d never seen before. In my opinion, this was a fabric that needed to be shared with the world.
There were some other benefits with this fabric too – it was made of non-mulesed Merino wool from New Zealand, machine washable, sample yardage was available in a variety of colors, and Fujisaki could work with my extremely small order quantity of a few hundred yards. I was sold.
I ordered 9 yards to start with, enough to make a few garment samples (as to what that sample would be, I was still working on that part). Having a bit of a background in quality assurance though, I was still wary – the fabric looked and felt spectacular, but would it hold up to the wear and tear of life?
My package arrived from Japan and I immediately ran the first test, shrinkage. It’s one of the most important thresholds to pass – nobody wants a garment that becomes 3 sizes too small in the wash – and an easy one to do at home. Draw two squares of equal size on the fabric, cut one out, wash it, and compare to the unwashed square. Find the difference in the length of the washed square compared to the unwashed, then divide that by the unwashed length and you get your percent shrinkage in length. Do the same with the width, and there’s your percent shrinkage widthwise. (This is the quick and easy ‘at home’ shrinkage test; there are professional third parties that follow strict testing guidelines that will provide more accurate results).
I machine washed a small fabric swatch with my usual laundry, on the regular cycle with cold water. So far so good, my swatch didn’t turn into felt in the washer. I kept on with my laundry, and dried the swatch on regular heat. Still unfelted, I compared my washed and dried swatch to the original – with relief, it was still nearly the same size with only a minor increase in fuzziness (which suggests this fabric could possibly take machine drying, but more on that later). This incredible Merino French terry passed its first test. There were many more tests to do, but those would be done in garment form.
Next week, I’ll explain the next stage of making the Willow – the garment itself.