Military Clothing Designers on Cutting Edge
Annette LaFleur, clothing designer for the Design, Pattern and Prototype Team at the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center, evaluates uniform materials. The DPPT works on designs, development and improvement of military clothing and equipment.

NATICK, Mass. (Army News Service, Jan. 14, 2008) - When you think about clothing designers, you may think of a favorite brand or store, but not immediately about the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center. Natick, though, has clothing designers who develop and improve 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. "We may be tasked to design a uniform, or we may be asked to make a change to an existing item."

The team has worked on various clothing items such as uniforms, dress clothing, chemical/biological protective ensembles, body armor items, and cooling garments.

"The expertise of our designers combined with the specialized equipment truly make our facility unique," said Cumming-Rowell.

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, the automated cutter also aids the designers in their work.

"The cutter can create cut patterns either of fabric or of oak tag, which reduces design time significantly," she said. "Previously, someone would have to cut the patterns and fabric all by hand."

Another item that the team uses is a pattern scanner, which allows the designers to digitize their hard patterns, and can digitize multiple patterns simultaneously. It can also store the patterns and share them 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. While video-game avatars are often an alter ego for the player, this avatar represents 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 clothing designer Christine Reffel. 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, another clothing designer, mentioned that the team also 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."

Drawings are done freehand with pen and ink and then scanned into the computer where a state-of-the-art computer apparel design illustrator system is used to add design details, color, and text.

Team-lead Heather Cumming-Rowell mentioned that recently the team had a design for an extraction harness and people didn't understand how it attached to the inside of a coverall. LaFleur made a drawing that showed the harness on a three-dimensional body so that personnel could see how and where the strap should be routed and attached.

The team often works with experimental designs, such as an operational combat sleeve. The idea behind the sleeve is to have a modular version of deltoid body armor. The designers are looking at various designs and materials that could accomplish this.

An embroidery machine is an additional piece of equipment that sees a lot of use. Diane Kessinger creates name tapes, insignia, military emblems, logos and other custom embroidery designs which are digitized and stitched on the embroidery machine.

Reverse engineering is an additional team strength. If an item is manufactured outside NSRDEC, the designers here can make and/or modify the pattern before it goes out for contract.

"We also have the capability to research experimental fabrics," said Cumming-Rowell. "If someone comes to us with an idea, we are able to find out if it is something that can be done."

To see if the DPPT can assist you with your projects, please contact them via email at:

(Patty Welsh works in the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center Public Affairs Office.)

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16