By Jamie Swedberg
Some innovations in narrow fabrics have little to do with the width of the webbing. For example, the development of electroluminescent tapes mirrors similar capabilities in the larger technical textile world. Companies such as Safe Lites of Edina, Minn., and BondCote Corp. of Pulaski, Va., can make high-quality wide EL panels, so it stands to reason that they can also plug in a different loom and make narrow fabrics that glow.
Often, new wide-width textiles create a demand for matching narrow fabrics. One recent example is in military apparel. The camouflage soldiers wear has two simultaneous purposes: breaking up their outline in daylight, and also helping them blend into the background when they’re viewed in the infrared spectrum through night vision goggles. Until recently, webbing has been the most visible part of the soldiers’ kit. It was solid colored, so it stuck out.
“That meant it was easily visualized by the enemy,” explains Clare King, owner of Propel LLC, a small textile development company in Providence, R.I. “So we developed the first webbing that blended into the camouflage the soldiers wear. And it was not only important that it match the shade and pattern of the camouflage, but it also had to match its infrared reflectivity so that it would break up and blend into the background at night as well.”
How exactly do they do that? King is understandably cagey, since the process is proprietary. But she will say that it has to do with the process and with the chemistry of the inks. Apparently it’s difficult to create solution-dyed yarns that consistently fall within the desired IR range, so Propel has instead developed an alternate method that involves printing the finished webbing.
The resulting camouflage webbing is used extensively on the tactical ballistic vest, and a matching edge tape that Propel developed is incorporated in other parts of the uniform.
As so often happens, this high-tech development is beginning to trickle down into mass markets.
“We’re starting to see interest in it in the commercial world,” King says. “For example, in luggage and those kinds of applications, it has a lot of appeal. It’s not that they need it for any particular purpose—it’s just that we can do prints onto webbing, and it looks neat.”