Stefan Roller-Assfalg visits Madeira’s German manufacturing plant to investigate the complex process of producing a simple embroidery thread, and how the company is balancing customers’ demands for both high-quality and ecologically-sound products
“It’s just a thread!” For many embroiderers it’s all too easy to take embroidery thread for granted. Most people remain blissfully unaware of the complex processes a manufacturer must perform, and the many challenges it must overcome, to ensure that every cone of thread is ‘perfect’. Likewise, today’s embroiderers demand – and rightly expect – that thread colours are 100% identical, while simultaneously requiring the threads to be entirely ‘clean’ from an ecological point of view. Yet how many people have paused to consider how a thread manufacturer is supposed to reduce its energy consumption while using specialised colouring processes that can only take place at high temperatures?
“These and many other issues force us to keep adapting our production processes, and to continue modernising our technologies,” explains Jürgen Korge, who is responsible for marketing, communication and production management at German thread producer Madeira Garnfabrik Rudolf Schmidt KG.
A must-not-happen event
Jürgen adds that seemingly simple changes to processes can have huge consequences. “If the Oeko-Tex Standard 100 testing system should forbid the use of a certain substance in the dyeing of a thread, or a chemical manufacturer should alter the composition of an ingredient even subtly, then the resulting thread colour might not exactly match that of the previous thread batches,” he explains. “This is an absolute disaster and a must-not-happen event for any thread producer. The colours of our threads always have to be the same in the end; there must be absolutely no deviation.”
That’s why Madeira controls the colour mixing process so carefully. The machines which process and mix the colour recipes are all controlled by dedicated software and the resulting dye mixtures are delivered via recently installed, state-of-the-art systems. The two newest dyeing tanks at Madeira’s plant have space for an impressive 288 dyeing tubes, and while 36 litres of liquid per kilogram were needed a few years ago, that has been reduced to just 21 litres today, thanks to the company’s investment in new technology.
“We are able to save a lot of water and energy, and the wastewater from the thread colouring department can now run into the normal wastewater cycle,” explains Jürgen. “We use natural gas to generate the high temperatures needed for the dyeing process, and we then use the heat to dry our threads. We have significantly reduced our energy consumption thanks to enormous investments into these new processes.”
It is telling that most of the employees at Madeira work in either the production or the quality management departments, reflecting the complexity of the thread production process and the high standards Madeira insists upon. Jürgen explains that the dyeing process for one batch of thread can take up to seven hours, depending on the colour, and drying takes yet more time. Rayon threads, for instance, are dried in a 90ºC oven for two and a half hours after they have been centrifuged to remove moisture from the material. (Polyester dries more easily, requiring only a drying cabinet, which is heated by the exhaust heat generated by the dyeing department.)
Throughout the entire thread manufacturing process the yarn is exposed to many chemical, thermal and mechanical demands. Maintaining absolutely consistent thread colour and thread size throughout this process, as well as making sure the yarn remains washfast when an embroidered textile is laundered, are just a few of the issues that tax Stefanie Weiner, head of Madeira’s quality management department, and her team throughout the production process.
Thread testing is crucial and Madeira subjects its products to a battery of procedures, including tests of tensile strength, prolongation and yarn count. As temperature and moisture can have a profound influence on thread quality, especially as far as rayon is concerned, some testing is carried out in the company’s climatic chamber to ensure the threads are scrutinised under standardised conditions.
To check possible deviations in colour, yarns are also visually inspected under various types and qualities of light and Madeira even knits the yarns to allow the team to evaluate the colours more accurately. Finally, the yarns are processed on several embroidery machines to test their running characteristics and tensile strength.
And the tests don’t stop there. Madeira tests the products for compliance with the Oeko-Tex Standard, as well as for wash-, light- and rub-fastness, and resistance to water, saliva and sweat. “Just think of toddlers who might suck on an embroidery,” says Stefanie. “No dye or other substance can be allowed to dissolve there.”
Finally, if the product complies with all the test criteria, the goods are cleared for sale. And if a production batch shows any defects? “The worst case scenario is that the entire batch quantity must be disposed of,” confirms Stefanie. “In the case of colour deviations, we have the option to after-treat the yarn to a limited extent. That does not occur very often though,” she adds, which will come as good news to Madeira customers in more than 60 countries worldwide.
FULLY AUTOMATED PACKAGING
One look at Madeira’s packaging department and it is clear where the company has focused much of its major investment over the past few years. Once the threads have been cleared for sale, they are packaged using a fully automated process. They are loaded either on to small mini snap cones (MSC) or large cones, before being heat-sealed, packed, labelled and prepared for transportation, whether that’s by ship, plane or lorry.
“For a few years now, the entire packaging process has been IT-supported and fully-automated,” Jürgen reveals. “That way, a five-figure number of both small and large cones leaves our company every day. Around 80% of that production is exported all over the world, where it is distributed by subsidiary companies and independent sales companies in more than 60 countries.”
In spite of the scale of the business, quality and consistency are maintained at all times and at all stages of the manufacturing and marketing process, as Jürgen explains: “Thanks to imprinted codes, all the products can be traced back, which gives us and, most importantly, our customers great security and reliability.”
MADEIRA’S LATEST THREAD INNOVATIONS
In the last year, Madeira has introduced a raft of new product innovations, as well as launching a significant expansion of its thread colour range. The highlights include:
Burmilana CO The finely spun Burmilana No. 12 embroidery thread range, which is available in 147 colours and made of a mixture of real wool and acrylic, has been extended to include Burmilana CO, a cotton-acrylic mixture available in 72 colours.
Frosted Matt The Frosted Matt polyester thread, which is claimed to be the world’s first truly matt and lightfast embroidery thread, is now available in 28 colours, bringing the total number of colours to 189.
Classic The Classic range of viscose yarns has also been further extended, with the standard thread size no. 40 now available in 422 colours, 35 of which are in ombré, multicolour and astro shades.
Classic 30, a somewhat thicker version, now comes in 178 single colours, while fine details and smaller fonts can be embroidered in 85 colours with Classic 60.
Somewhat appropriately, the thickest viscose thread – Classic 12, which is perfect for voluminous embroideries and classier decorative stitching – has seen 12 colours added to its range.
Jürgen advises that Madeira updated the conversion list for Pantone colours in co-operation with Pantone when introducing these new colours.