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SSC-Natick Press Release

U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Public Affairs Office

Date: January 9, 2008
No: 08-01

Military clothing designers on cutting edge

Annette LaFleur, clothing designer for the Design, Pattern and Prototype Team (DPPT) 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. (Photo by Sarah Underhill.)
Click for Larger Photo

NATICK, Mass. -- When you think about clothing designers, you probably think of a favorite designer or perhaps a favorite store. The U.S. military is probably not something you think about. However, the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center (NSRDEC) has a number of clothing designers who work on designs, development and improvement of 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 (DPPT). "We may be tasked to design a uniform, or we may be asked to make a change to an existing item."

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, an additional item that aids the designers in their work is an automated cutter. "The cutter can create cut patterns either of fabric or of oak tag," she said, "which reduces design time significantly. Previously, someone would have to cut the patterns and fabric all by hand."

Another item that the team uses is a pattern scanner. This scanner allows the designers to digitize their hard patterns, and can digitize multiple patterns simultaneously. Once digitized, the patterns are able to be stored and can be shared 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. This avatar is definitely different than those of the video game world. Where those avatars are often designed to be an alter ego for the player, this avatar is designed to represent 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 Christine Reffel, clothing designer. Having 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, also a clothing designer in the DPPT, mentioned that the team 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.

"The drawings are used in technical data packages and can also aid in manufacturing," Cumming-Rowell said. "Some designs can be pretty intricate and the drawing gives the manufacturer clarification."

Other areas where the drawings are helpful include showing off new concepts, for user instructions, to show finished dimensions, where to measure for specification, and construction.

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. An operational combat sleeve is one design concept that is part of the team's current efforts. The idea behind the sleeve is to have a version of deltoid body armor that could be modular. 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. Another clothing designer, 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 added strength that the team has. If an item is manufactured outside the 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."

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.

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

This page last updated on 10 May 2006.