A ‘piece’ is the continuous length of fabric available and ready for sale once the printing, dying, weaving and finishing processes are completed. A piece tends to be between 40 and 100 metres long, and this length always corresponds either, to length the loom can manage, the length that can be cut between major flaws, or the length of the base cloth – which in itself is largely dependent on the fibre connect.
There is no real conformity to the size of a ‘piece,’ although for instance machine woven and most printed textiles, interlinings and linings come in pieces of between 50- 80 metres. Each textile supplier will agree a minimum length for their ‘piece’, usually at around 40 – 50 metres, at which point the per metre price drops, sometimes substantially.
Hand printed lengths and special orders can be worked on smaller lengths of cloth, so short runs can be printed with a minimum order length of around 7- 10 metres. This works especially well for the printer with a complex pattern where mistakes can be made and for the customer when the metre price itself is costly and the fabric needs to be just enough for a single chair, or screen or bedcover for example. The high setting up costs for short runs are reflected in the end price, and there is still a better ‘piece’ price for a full run.
As commercial machine printing produces such vast lengths of material, each individual order needs to be of high value, with enough metreage to make the print run worthwhile. Even so, as printing is done in batches for technical reasons, there will always be a number of pieces from each printing batch – or run. A run of 500 metres or more still needs to be managed with a table or loom that can only accommodate 100, so the dyes are mixed and applied to several pieces of the same ground cloth. The processes will be consecutive and produce anything from 5- 10 pieces of the same batch in varying lengths. In most cases each piece will be virtually identical but however well calibrated the machinery, or keen the craftsman’s ‘eye’, there will undoubtedly be slight variations between batches. Many factors can affect, but the most usual are either a slight difference in the dye colouring or a variation in the pattern repeat.
Large quantities must where possible be bought as a piece, and then if more than one piece is needed, they must have the same batch number. Or if there is no time to wait for a new run, the best match from several batches of the existing stock.
The benefit of buying a whole piece is twofold, one is that the base cloth and the dye batches will be the same, the other is that it costs less – the supplier will always pass on the cost saving of not having to cut smaller lengths for several different orders.