We’re all familiar with the screen printing process of burning screens and pulling squeegees. But how much do you know about how your blankwear garments are made? Whether you’re a decorator who simply has a curiosity for how their blanks are knitted and sewed or a printer who is thinking of switching to locally-sourced or eco-friendly blanks, the manufacturing process is an interesting and helpful one to know. We speak to a blankwear specialist, Anthony Corsano, who takes us through the manufacturing journey of how a small cotton boll transforms into the t-shirts you print on every day.
Starting from just a seed
All shirts begin in a cotton field. Cotton seeds are planted together for a variety of textiles, eventually blooming into soft and fluffy bolls, which are then plucked and harvested.
From cotton to yarn
Once the cotton is gathered, it’s sent to a gin (a machine for separating cotton from its seeds) where it’s cleaned and bailed. These bails are then sent to yarn-spinning facilities that spin two different types: open-end yarn, which is generally used in opening price point products and ring spun yarn which is softer and finer and usually associated with a higher quality product.
Yarn then makes its way to a textile facility where it is knitted into one large piece of fabric, usually in a tubular fashion. The vast majority of t-shirts are made tubular, which means they’re cut from round tube-shaped pieces of fabric, in the appropriate sizes for a Small, Medium and Large. Other t-shirts may be made with a side-seam and contoured silhouette instead of a tubular style, in which case it will usually still be cut from a larger tubular fabric that is spread out and panel-cut.
After the knitting process, the fabric is taken to a Dye-beck to get dyed. After dying, the fabric is sent to the pad machine where the excess water is removed, and a softener is applied. The next step is the drying process and the last step is the compactor where the fabric is compacted ensuring less shrinkage, proper weight and correct width.
Cut to size
The fabric is fed in through one end of the automatic cutting machine, usually laid down in a stack depending on the weight of the fabric, then the body and sleeves will be cut from it. Collars are cut on a different machine but for color consistency dyed with the body and sleeves. These separate pieces will always be bundled together so that the sleeves and body from the same roll of fabric end up on the same shirt so that there are no shade variances.
Stitched and seamed
They’ll then be sent to a sew facility in big lots and the matching bodies, sleeves and collars will be sewn together in an assembly line. Generally, each person in the line will have a dedicated skill, such as sewing bottom hems or attaching the collars to allow for maximum efficiency and quality. A basic t-shirt can take as little as 3-5 minutes to sew together.
During the whole process, there’ll be quality checks, but all shirts will go through a dedicated quality control audit before they’re packed. People will check every single shirt to make sure they’re sewn well, have matching components, and are sized correctly. They’ll be then packed into crates - folded and generally packed in 6 bundles of 12 pieces of the same style, color and size - ready for the screen printer on the other side.
Time to ship
Finally, the finished shirts are sent to distribution centers for each brand, and then passed on to blank and sportswear distributors across the country. From here, decorators place their orders for the exact shirts they need, ready to ship out the next day and become new screen-printed creations.