Lesson: Learn about Football Shirts with Lionel Messi

Discover the ingenious ways in which textiles are printed and dyed, and find out how football shirts are made.

Learn about Textiles with Barcelona's Lionel Messi
Revision Notes

The iconic number ‘10’ football shirt worn by Barcelona’s Argentinian legend, Lionel Messi, is one of the most recognisable in the world. Messi’s shirt is the one that all his opponents want to swop for their own at the end of a game. As a result, he has a vast private collection of shirts.

Today, footballers’ shirts are made from polyester mesh, which is ‘breathable’, allowing the player to perspire freely. But they are just the latest in a long line of materials and techniques used in the making of clothing.

Go on a thrilling journey around the world of colour and design to see how we bring exotic colour and superb design to our clothes.

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Test: Textiles

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Lionel Messi

Lionel Andrés Messi Cuccittini was born on June 24th, 1987. He is an Argentinian professional footballer who plays for Spanish club Barcelona and for Argentina, his national team.

Most football fans feel that with his great rival, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, also playing currently, we are living at a time when two of the greatest players ever to play the game are around for us to enjoy.

Messi has won six Ballon d’Or awards and six European Golden Shoes, both a record, and has won 34 trophies, including ten La Liga titles, four UEFA Champions League titles and six Copa del Rey trophies. His goal-scoring records are equally impressive. He has scored over 700 career goals for club and country.


Textile printing is the process of applying colour to materials in patterns or designs. The colour is bonded with the fibre, in order to resist washing and friction. Textile printing is related to dyeing but in dyeing properly the whole fabric is uniformly covered with one colour, while in printing one or more colours are applied to it in certain parts only.

Traditional textile printing techniques may be broadly categorized into four styles:

  • Direct printing, in which colourants containing dyes, thickeners, and the mordants or substances necessary for fixing the colour on the cloth are printed in the desired pattern.
  • The printing of a mordant in the desired pattern prior to dyeing cloth; the colour adheres only where the mordant was printed.
  • Resist Dyeing in which a wax or other substance is printed onto fabric which is subsequently dyed. The waxed areas do not accept the dye, leaving uncoloured patterns against a coloured ground.
  • Discharge printing, in which a bleaching agent is printed onto previously dyed fabrics to remove some or all of the colour.

Modern industrial printing mainly uses direct printing techniques.

The printing process does involve several stages to prepare the fabric and printing paste, and to fix the impression permanently on the fabric:

  • pre-treatment of fabric
  • preparation of colours
  • preparation of printing paste
  • impression of paste on fabric using printing methods
  • drying of fabric
  • fixing the printing with steam or hot air (for pigments)
  • after process treatments

Cloth is prepared by washing and bleaching. For a coloured ground it is then dyed. The cloth has always to be brushed, to free it from loose nap, flocks, and dust that it picks up whilst stored. Frequently, too, it has to be sheared by being passed over rapidly revolving knives arranged spirally around an axle, which rapidly and effectively cuts off all filaments and knots, leaving the cloth perfectly smooth and clean and in a condition fit to receive impressions of the most delicate engraving.

The art of making colours for textile printing demands both chemical knowledge and extensive technical experience, for their ingredients must not only be in proper proportion to each other, but also specially chosen and compounded for the particular style of work in hand.

A mordant is a metallic salt or other substance that combines with the dye to form an insoluble colour, either directly by steaming, or indirectly by dyeing. All printing colours require thickening to enable them to be transferred from colour-box to cloth without running or spreading beyond the limits of the pattern.

Printing thickeners used depend on the printing technique, the fabric, and the particular dyestuff

Hot-water-soluble thickening agents such as native starch are made into pastes by boiling in double or jacketed. The most common are:

Starch paste. Starch paste is made from wheat starch, cold water, and olive oil, then thickened by boiling.

Gums. Gum Arabic and Gum Senegal are both traditional thickenings. They are especially useful thickenings for the light ground colours of soft muslins and sateens.

Gum Tragacanth, or ‘Dragon’, which may be mixed in any proportion with starch or flour, is equally useful for pigment colours and mordant colours. When added to a starch paste it increases its penetrative power and adds to its softness without diminishing its thickness, making it easier to wash out of the fabric.

Albumen. Albumen is both a thickening and a fixing agent for insoluble pigments. Chrome yellow, the ochres, vermilion, and ultramarine are such pigments. Albumen is always dissolved in the cold, a process that takes several days when large quantities are needed. Egg albumen is expensive and only used for the lightest shades. Blood albumen solution is used in cases when very dark colours must be absolutely fast to washing. After printing, albumen thickened colours are exposed to hot steam, which coagulates the albumen and effectually fixes the colours.

Combinations of cold water-soluble carboxymethylated starch, guar gum and tamarind derivatives are most commonly used today in disperse screen printing on polyester.

Formerly, colours were always prepared for printing by boiling the thickening agent, the colouring matter, and solvents, together, then cooling and adding various fixing agents. At the present time, however, concentrated solutions of the colouring matters and other adjuncts are often simply added to the cold thickenings, of which large quantities are kept in stock.

Colours are reduced in shade by simply adding more stock (printing) paste. For example, a dark blue having 4 oz. of methylene blue per gallon may readily be made into a pale shade by adding to it thirty times its bulk of starch paste or gum, as the case may be. The procedure is similar for other colours.

Before printing it is essential to strain or sieve all colours in order to free them from lumps, fine sand, and other impurities, which would inevitably damage the highly polished surface of the engraved rollers and result in bad printing. Every scratch on the surface of a roller prints a fine line on the cloth, and too much care, therefore, cannot be taken to remove, as far as possible, all grit and other hard particles from every colour.

Straining is usually done by squeezing the colour through filter cloths like artisanal fine cotton, silk, or industrial woven nylon. Fine sieves can also be employed for colours that are used hot or are very strongly alkaline or acid.

Textile Dyeing

Textile dyeing is the application of dyes or pigments on textile fibres to achieve the desired colour. Dye molecules are fixed to the fibre by absorption, diffusion, or bonding by temperature. Dyeing and printing are different applications; in printing, colour is applied to a localized area with desired patterns. In dyeing, it is applied to the entire textile.

Historically, the primary source of dye has been nature, animals, or plants. Since the mid-19th century, however, humans have produced artificial dyes to achieve a broader range of colours and to make the dyes more stable to washing and general use. Different classes of dyes are used for different types of fibre and at different stages of the textile production process to complete the garment.

The choice of the right dye is important because not every dye is right for different fibres. For example, indigo dyes have poor wash and rubbing fastness on denim (cotton), so they are used to produce washed-down effects on that fabric. In contrast, vat or reactive dyes are applied on cottons to achieve excellent washing fastness.

Yarn Dyeing. There are many forms of yarn dyeing. The most common forms are the package form and the hanks form. Cotton yarns are mostly dyed at package form, and acrylic or wool yarn are dyed at hanks form. In the continuous filament industry, polyester or polyamide yarns are always dyed at package form, while viscose rayon yarns are partly dyed at hank form because of technology.

The common dyeing process of cotton yarn with reactive dyes at package form is as follows:

  1. The raw yarn is wound on a spring tube to achieve a package suitable for dye penetration.
  2. These softened packages are loaded on a dyeing carrier's spindle one on top of the another.
  3. The packages are pressed up to a desired height to achieve suitable density of packing.
  4. The carrier is loaded on the dyeing machine and the yarn is dyed.
  5. After dyeing, the packages are unloaded from the carrier into a trolley.
  6. Now the trolley is taken to hydro extractor where water is removed.
  7. The packages are hydro extracted to remove the maximum amount of water leaving the desired colour in the raw yarn.
  8. The packages are then dried to achieve the final dyed package.

After this process, the dyed yarn packages are packed and delivered.

Garment dyeing. Garment dyeing is the process of dyeing fully fashioned garments subsequent to manufacturing, as opposed to the conventional method of manufacturing garments from pre-dyed fabrics.

Up until the mid-1970s the method was rarely used for commercial clothing production. It was used domestically, to overdye old, worn, and faded clothes, and by resellers of used or surplus military clothing. The first notable industrial use of the technique was made by Benetton, which garment dyed its Shetland wool knit.

In the mid-1970s the Bologna clothing designer Massimo Osti began experimenting with the garment dyeing technique. His experimentation over the next decade, led to the pioneering of not just the industrial use of traditional garment dyeing (dyeing simple cotton or wool garments) but, more importantly, the technique of ‘complex garment dyeing’ which involved dyeing fully fashioned garments which had been constructed from multiple fabric or fibre types. For example, a jacket made from both nylon and cotton, or linen, nylon, and polyurethane coated cotton in the same bath. Up until its development by Osti, this technique had never been successfully applied.

Beyond the industrial advantages of the technique (purchasing fabric in one colour, white or natural, you may produce as many colours as you wish etc.), the artistic advantages of the technique were considerable and in many ways paved the way for the creation of the clothing style today known as Italian Sportswear. These advantages included:

  • the way in which different fibres absorbed the dye's colour allowed for the creation of incredibly nuanced differences in colour tones and a harmony that is impossible to achieve any other way
  • the garment dyeing process naturally gave the fabric a ‘worn-in’ look allowing for the development of the casual and relaxed version of the classic menswear look which characterizes Italian Sportswear
  • the fact that each fabric and fibre type responds differently to the dye also produces a ‘deconstructed’ effect, whereby the consumer's attention is drawn to the construction techniques of the jacket. For example: a more densely woven fabric absorbs the colour less intensely than a more open weave, the polyester stitching used for a cotton garment does not absorb any dye colour, producing a contrast colour stitch etc.

The disadvantages included:

  • a relatively high failure rate for garments (between 5-10%)
  • the difficulty in achieving a very tailored look due to difficulties in precisely calculating shrinkage rates
  • high research and prototyping costs in order to understand how fabrics will behave in production.
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