A well finished garment helps to increase customer satisfaction. The right equipment, knowledge of how different materials perform and of the right techniques to use for the different garment types all play a part in achieving a good result.

Jackets and trousers can account for up to 70% of the work handled by drycleaners, so this article will concentrate on the techniques needed for these two items.

The conscientious cleaner must develop an “eye” for what a well-finished garment looks like. What we should be aiming to achieve is a standard of finish approximating that of a new garment – subject to the effects of wear and tear.

First, a note about materials. I have frequently been asked about finishing linen garments.

Cellulosic textiles normally require high temperatures in finishing – around 200C (three-dot iron setting).

Under normal production conditions Hoffman presses and steam-heated irons seldom reach more than 120C, it is therefore not surprising that difficulties are sometimes encountered.

However, cleaners should also note that many new linen garments have a distressed appearance and this is a feature of the fabric, so they should be aware of the standard of finish actually required.

Better finish

Several years ago I was asked by a mail order company to advise their refurbishment department on how to improve the finish on a range of linen jackets. I asked to see examples of their new stock for comparison and found that the refinished jackets were as good as, if not better than, the new stock.

When buying equipment, the cleaner must understand how it will perform in a production environment and whether the type and specification meets the needs and requirements of the business.

Ironing tables provide a classic example of why the working area must be considered. Today, tables are available in a variety of sizes, with a choice of irons, and with various options such as air blowing and water sprays.

A fundamental mistake that is often made, even by experienced cleaners, is the purchase of an ironing table that can only be used from one side. If a table is to be fully versatile in terms of finishing a wide range of garments, the finisher must be able to choose, at will, from which side to operate the equipment.

On a Hoffman press it is almost irrelevant if the finisher is right- or left-handed. On ironing equipment designed to be used from one side it will be obvious that left-handed staff may be at a considerable disadvantage. In addition, experienced staff will usually elect to operate the equipment from one side or the other depending on garment type.

Cleaners that are contemplating the purchase of equipment are strongly advised to seek advice from independent experts before confirming an order.

Remember that suppliers are very rarely finishing experts and do not understand production performance requirements in detail. As a result they can, quite inadvertently, sell the cleaner equipment that is less than appropriate.

In my experience of quality assessment throughout the UK, there are many finishers using methods and techniques which produce some significant and obvious faults.

This particularly applies to trouser finishing. The ironing method that is often taught today frequently leads to the main creases being incorrectly positioned. This is because each crease is ironed separately with the trouser leg being moved before each crease is ironed.

Wrong place

Where this method is used I have often found around 20% of the creases to be in the wrong place – in one case in a supplier’s training unit I found that 25% of the creases were out.

No competent Hoffman presser would miss out the centre leg lay, as one of its main functions is to establish the main creases in the correct position relative to each other on the same leg, It is therefore not surprising that faults are generated when centre leg lays do not form part of the ironing method – perhaps this omission is due to the fact it’s a difficult lay or the fact ironing table is not wide enough. However, I regard this as a very serious issue as trousers can form over 35% of a cleaner’s work.

Soft creases and creases which vary between soft and firm are also a common fault on trousers. This applies equally to trousers that have been finished on a press or on an ironing table.

On a press these faults can often be attributed to methods and techniques: insufficient use of steam, insufficient use of vacuum, or incorrect pressing/ironing technique.

They can also be due to equipment faults – incorrect locking pressure, worn out press clothing or poor vacuum.

Finishing equipment performance

criteria has been covered in a previous article (LCN August 2001), so I will deal here with the operation of the press or ironing table.

The steam times for each lay should be around 2.5seconds, subject to the fibre/fabric type. To this must be added the steam response time of the press.

The vacuum times should be at least as long as the steam times. If the fabric has not cooled before the garment is moved to the next lay, the pressed/ironed finish will relax.

Incorrect pressing/ironing technique is often responsible for soft creases. Typical errors include using steam and vacuum simultaneously on a press and poor positioning of main crease lays.

On ironing equipment the most common faults are ironing the creases too quickly and failing to ensure that the point of the iron accurately follows the crease from top to bottom.

Jacket requirements

Without doubt, the most common finishing faults on jackets are puckered and/or incorrectly set lapels. Because the lapel and front edge areas on a jacket are a focal point of the finish, any imperfections here will detract from the overall appearance, irrespective of how well the rest of the garment is finished.

It is therefore critical that staff are aware of the correct standards of finish for the lapels. In the majority of cases the lapels and front edges should be smooth, free from any wrinkling or puckering and the lapels should be rolled, terminating at, or just above the top button of the jacket.

In my experience, many cleaners fail to appreciate the importance of a really good finish on the lapels and the way it enhances the appearance of the garment.

Failure to set the collar (where required) can also seriously detract from an otherwise good standard of finish. Inspection staff should always make a point of looking at the back of the jacket and checking that the melton is not exposed below the collar.

In some cases retained wear creases can be a problem on both jacket sleeves and on trouser legs. These can often be removed by careful ironing. Iron first to bring up the temperature before applying the vacuum.

On woven materials, where the lapels and front edges are puckered, it will be necessary to steam the fabric, stretch it to remove the puckering and then apply the vacuum while maintaining the tension.

When the fabric has cooled it should be pressed or ironed from the reverse using an appropriate technique. Pressing or ironing from the reverse side of the lapel helps to avoid the risk of glazing or embossing the face side. After pressing/ironing, vacuum the lapel but while the fabric is still warm turn it over and set and roll it down to the top button smoothing and applying pressure with the fingers where the collar leads into the lapel. A really good finish in the front edge and lapel areas will transform the appearance of your jackets.

If you are serious about improving your quality, first take a look at your equipment clothing.

Press clothing must be resilient to ensure that when the head is locked, the pressure is applied evenly over the surface of the fabric allowing varying fabric thicknesses to be accommodated within the clothing structure.

Resilient clothing is also important on ironing equipment to allow for the absorption of moisture and the penetration of steam, vacuum and air.

Make sure that your finishing equipment is working properly, that it is correctly adjusted, that your production area is clean and well lit and finally that your staff are well trained and fully aware of the required standards.