August 18, 2021

When the lines don't match up

When the lines don't match up
At the TOM BIHN factory, “perfect” is a concept — a goal for which we strive. Our trajectory is by definition asymptotic: we strive, we push, we aim, and we never arrive. Thankfully, the ways in which we miss our mark are generally not of much consequence, and more often than not, apparent only to us. 
Our Halcyon fabric is made of a nylon base fabric, which accepts dye, with a 6mm / .25” ripstop grid of ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene — UHMWPE — which doesn’t accept dye and remains either white or grey. Originally, white was the only option — we worked with the mill in Japan that produces our Halcyon to create a version of our exterior-weight 400d Halcyon with a dark grey grid to offer you all a different look. (That, by the way, took over a year of development and testing — sometimes we forget to brag about those parts, the patience required to pull off something new and do it well.)

To successfully weave UHMWPE it must be woven at a slight bias or angle: thus the ripstop grid is never quite straight or square. Additionally, the 6mm grid is of a size to be particularly problematic: large enough to be functionally a ripstop (i.e., stopping a rip from spreading) and to be visually appealing, but small enough to be beyond precisely controlling in production. Though we cut and sew to the highest tolerances in the industry, given the skewed weave and the size of the grid, it is simply impossible to “match” or “line-up” the grid at seams or across a zipper. Again, it’s impossible. (When something is impossible, we must tell ourselves that over and over; we’re not the kind who easily accept “impossible.”)

How well that grid lines up or doesn’t is more apparent than some designs than others. If the above photo of the Paragon in Original Halcyon gave you the no-like shivers, we're sorry! And we’ll gladly rejoice along with you if its optical illusion prompted a mystical realization.

When the lines of Halcyon don't match up, we can see them as perfectly imperfect (just like you and us too. Aw.) And because it’s impossible to line up the grid of the Halcyon, it’s well, not going to be lined up. The effect may be visually jarring to those of us who like things to be perfect — it also creates some optical illusions: that one end of the flap above the horizontal zippered pocket might appear to be shorter than the other, for example. On the bright side, it means each bag is ever-so-slightly unique in a way that’s more obvious than the usual imperceptible slight variances created by the fact that humans cut and sew these bags. How all of this lands for you is up to you — we just want you to know about this when it comes time to choose the right fabric for you.  

Our brains evolved to like order; our hearts open in chaos. We’d argue this needn’t be a polarization — rather, it’s an opportunity to brace both/and. And when we venture into the world of both/and, there’s an opportunity to fully embrace our humanness. All of our production is very hands-on — we’re humans making stuff. If you like to imagine a “factory” as some giant machine, staffed by a few technicians, well, dream on. Certainly there are such factories, but in the world of sewing they are rare. T-shirt manufacturing, for example, can be relatively automated. But especially for a small operation like ours, making limited quantities of a large variety of highly sophisticated items, human hands are sine qua non.

In that, there is a greater story of human endeavor and challenge, of gainful employment and the honing of time-honored skills, of a collective aspiration to do good work. Sorry if we wax poetic here, but this is what we do, and what we love doing. We’ve been fortunate that you all appreciate what we make — that makes it all even more fulfilling.

— Written by Tom (who gets annoyed by Halcyon) and Darcy (who loves Halcyon).

No comments

Leave a Comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

We're the TOM BIHN crew: we design bags, make bags, ship bags, and answer questions about bags. Oh, and we collaborate on blog posts, too.