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Haute couture by computer

A new simulation program transforms dress patterns into digital garments at lightning speed. It enables the clothing industry to dispense with the elaborate cutting and sewing of prototypes, and speeds up the creation of new fashion collections.


Clothing manufacturers have long relied on the aid of computers. Today’s new clothes are sketched on the computer. Fashion designers use CAD (Computer-Aided Design) programs to transform their new collections into dressmaking patterns and transmit the data to cutting machines that automatically cut out the pieces. The rest is usually done by hand. Not until dressmakers have sewn the separate parts together is it possible to tell whether the design will fit correctly. The CAD design often has to be modified several times before the model is perfect: a time-consuming procedure, since a new prototype has to be sewn every time something is changed.

Software engineers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics Research IGD in Darmstadt can greatly speed up the design process. Working with Germany’s largest CAD/CAM manufacturer for the clothing industry, Assyst GmbH of Aschheim-Dornach, the scientists have developed a software program that can display the two-dimensional digital pattern pieces in three dimensions at the push of a button. Clothes come into being on the computer screen. “Programs that can display clothes in 3-D have been around for quite a while,” admits IGD head of department Dr.-Ing. Jörn Kohlhammer, “but they have to perform time-consuming calculations before we can find out whether or not a new design will be a perfect fit.” The novel IGD software has no such problems – it is interactive. Using the cursor, the garment can be tweaked into shape on the body of a virtual wearer, just like a dressmaker at a real-life fitting session. And this is not the only new feature: Changes to the two-dimensional pattern are reflected immediately in the 3-D image. This significantly reduces the number of prototypes that actually have to be sewn.

The new simulation software includes a database of clothing materials. The physical properties of the fabrics are described on the basis of numerous parameters – for instance the rub of the material against the wearer’s skin (friction), the way it hangs (the effect of gravity), or how easily the fabric loses its shape. The software visualizes how the selected parameters affect the behavior of the fabric when worn as an item of clothing. The simulation even shows places where the garment pinches its wearer, and whether it is a loose or a tight fit. Assyst GmbH is now about to enhance its popular two-dimensional CAD programs to include the new 3-D function.


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Monika Weiner (Mrs)

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