By and  on July 13, 2005

In what is probably a first, Portuguese manufacturer Petratex is constructing activewear for Nike using only fused seams and no thread.

The three-quarter-inch seams are overlapped and, depending on the fabric, bonded with ultrasound or a combination of glue and heat.

The main advantage of the process is that it produces seams that will not break, a benefit in activewear. The fused seams are slightly bigger than sewn ones, but they are not stiff or thick. What's more, they can stretch and retain their shape.

"You can rip either side of the fabric," said 38-year-old Petratex managing director Sérgio Neto, demonstrating with a torn polyester material. "But the seams remain intact."

Although Petratex is currently using the process for activewear, Neto says he believes the technique can be applied to fashion, including eveningwear.

The process has been in development for three years and is now in production at Petratex headquarters in Paços de Ferreira, Portugal. As of June, the factory was turning out 1,000 "no sew" garments a day using patented machines that Neto created. The items include jackets, tops, dresses, pants, skirts and shorts.

Sixty percent of that production is for Nike; Petratex declined to name the other brands. Nike's first all-fused garments will reach stores in spring 2006, Petratex said.

The company did not invent ultrasonic or adhesive bonding, although it appears to be the first to use fused seams in activewear to create entire garments. The company is in the process of patenting its technique in countries on four continents.

Sonic bonding has been in use since at least the Sixties, said Ian Butler, director of market research and statistics for the Association of the Nonwoven Fabrics Industry, based in Cary, N.C. Typical applications include attaching quilt backings and assembling surgical gowns. Sonic bonding works only on synthetic fabrics, and it is faster than glue because it doesn't have to dry, he said.

The ultrasonic vibrations are so fast that they create heat and melt the plastic fibers together, said Jud Early, chief technology officer for [TC]2, a nonprofit apparel and technology organization also based in Cary.

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