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Now, Fashion woos military clothing
Jan '08
When you think about clothing designers, you probably think of a favorite designer or perhaps a favorite store. The U.S. military is probably not something you think about. However, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) has a number of clothing designers who work on designs, development and improvement of military clothing and equipment.

"We work with our customer's requirements to design what is needed," said Heather Cumming-Rowell, team leader of the Design, Pattern and Prototype Team (DPPT). "We may be tasked to design a uniform, or we may be asked to make a change to an existing item."

The team makes patterns and fabricates prototypes. Cumming-Rowell mentioned that the DPPT has customized machinery that enables them to do this type of work.

In addition to all types of sewing machines and various presses, an additional item that aids the designers in their work is an automated cutter. "The cutter can create cut patterns either of fabric or of oak tag," she said, "which reduces design time significantly. Previously, someone would have to cut the patterns and fabric all by hand."

Another item that the team uses is a pattern scanner. This scanner allows the designers to digitize their hard patterns, and can digitize multiple patterns simultaneously. Once digitized, the patterns are able to be stored and can be shared between requestor and designer for easy changes or later access. This can help expedite the fabrication of clothing or equipment prototypes.

The DPPT is also taking advantage of newer technology. The team worked with pattern design software and members of NSRDEC's anthropometric team to create a 3-D avatar. This avatar is definitely different than those of the video game world. Where those avatars are often designed to be an alter ego for the player, this avatar is designed to represent a realistic, virtual, central-sized Soldier.

"Although the measurements were slightly different between the software and the anthropometrists, we took all the basic measurements and incorporated them to create the avatar," said Christine Reffel, clothing designer. Having the avatar gives the DPPT the capability of viewing fit based on fabric, pattern and texture, before a design gets too far along.

Annette LaFleur, also a clothing designer in the DPPT, mentioned that the team has the ability to create custom technical drawings. "Even with a pattern, the design may still be confusing to those not familiar with the item," she said, "and a drawing clarifies a lot."

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