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Do you think you know narrow fabrics?

July 10th, 2015 / By: / My Take

It’s not hard to picture a “narrow fabric.” After all, the name describes it.

Well, that’s true to a point. Although ribbons, ropes, straps, slings, elastics and webbing are all narrow, for those who make high performance products for particularly demanding markets, that’s just the beginning. (See “Narrow fabrics’ widening markets.”)

It is a part of the textile business that’s been around at least since manufactured lace first graced ladies’ lingerie. Today’s narrow fabrics suppliers still make lace—and ribbons, tapes and webbings—but there’s a much longer list and more complex descriptions of what narrow fabrics can do today.

In brief, a narrow fabric has to perform up to the same standards as the textile in any application: high strength, fire retardant, chemical resistant, launderable—whatever it is. Consider the importance of strength and durability, for example, in the harnesses and belts on a safety rigging for construction workers. The flame resistance textile garments worn by industrial workers in proximity to a forge will likely also have narrow fabrics, and they better be just as flame resistant as the rest of the garment.

The innovations in narrow fabrics are accelerating along with the larger textiles market, with new materials being developed all the time. Composites are particularly interesting for their versatility in uses and markets. (Again, see “Narrow fabrics’ widening markets.”)

There are also highly specialized narrow fabrics used in biomedical applications. These are narrow and small indeed, in order to fit precisely where they are needed inside the human body. And they are no ordinary fabrics. It has even been necessary to adapt machinery to address the needs of this increasingly important market. (See “Smaller, ‘smarter’ and versatile,” which will run later this month.)

I have to admit that my familiarity with narrow fabrics before joining the textiles industry as an editor stopped at the straps on my soft luggage, the halters for my horses and the bias tape my mother used when she made us clothes. I’ve since learned quite a bit more about how complex and varied this part of the textiles industry is—and how much more it might offer in the future.