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Fabric treatments

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Contemporary marine fabrics are complex combinations of treatments, coatings and laminations. The combined products possess both the original fabric’s characteristics and those of the additive process. For example, solution-dyed acrylic fabric resists fading and UV degradation. When woven, it’s breathable but not waterproof. Treated, it becomes water repellent; coated, it becomes waterproof. Adding desirable characteristics, treatments, coatings and laminations expands a fabric’s range of possible applications and further complicates the fabricator’s selection process. The following information describes treatments, coatings and laminations and their differences.

Treatment: The application of a chemical substance that changes the surface behavior of the material. Treatments are used to add qualities, such as fire retardance, water repellence, stain resistance, mold/mildew resistance and UV resistance. They are applied to the fabric at the end of the manufacturing process. Some treatments can wear off from use or during cleaning, but they can be reapplied according to the fabric manufacturer’s recommendations.

Coating: The application of a liquid or semi-liquid material to one or both sides of a textile material. Once the coating has dried, it forms a bond with the fabric. Coatings change the underlying fabric’s attributes: color, hand, strength, abrasion resistance, weight, water resistance—even waterproofness. Coatings can rub off if they are not protected with rub patches. Coated fabrics work well for waterproof applications, but are prone to mildew unless treated to become mold and mildew resistant. The best end use depends on the type of coating: acrylic coated for improved color retention; vinyl coated for waterproofing.

Laminate: A fabric containing two or more layers of textile joined together to form one ply. Laminating combines layers in a semi-permanent state with either a mechanical or chemical bond, both of which can be broken with extreme temperature changes or stress. There is no change to any individual layer’s qualities, but the resulting fabric has different characteristics than the individual pieces. Laminated fabrics can crack and peel when exposed to extreme temperature changes, rough handling or stress. They are generally lightweight and lower-cost and can be used successfully on many applications, given the right conditions.

Tom Koster, marine products manager at Tri Vantage, provides this analogy: “Laminated fabrics are like a bologna sandwich: You’ve got a bottom layer, you have a substrate, which is a mesh that gives it strength and stability, you’ve got a layer of glue on either side and you’ve got a top fabric. So think of it in terms of piece of bread, mustard, bologna, mustard, piece of bread. A coated fabric is like a peanut butter sandwich. It gets right into the pores and acts as a bond.”

Mary Jo Morris previously owned and operated Berkeley Marine Canvas in Berkeley, Calif. She and her husband, Jim, live in Point Richmond, Calif., and sail on San Francisco Bay.

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