National Clothesline
National Clothesline
Training is the difference-maker
It has been a while now, perhaps a dozen years, since Sankosha introduced the sleeve pleater device on its shirt units.
It was pretty cool, so decisively better than anything on the market that you could easily tell when a shirt was pressed on a Sankosha unit with merely a cursory inspection.
Years ago, shirts were pressed on three-piece units: a machine for the sleeves only, another machine for the collars and cuffs and a third machine for the rest of the shirt — the body and the yoke.
If you’re over 70 years old, you might know that there was a fourth machine. Until the early ’60s, when the shirt hanger was introduced, the last step was folding the shirt. Yep, every shirt unit also had a folder as the fourth piece. But that’s just a historical tidbit.
During the latter days of the sleeve press, I concluded that a large majority of pressing defects were caused by that machine. The operator could do all sorts of bad things that would adversely affect the press quality.
If the sleeve measuring device was misadjusted, ignored or used improperly, the sleeve would be over-pressed or under-pressed. If the cuff clamp was broken (so many of them were), the sleeve gusset would be unsightly, perhaps the cuffs would be deformed as well.
And let’s not forget that the sleeves were often pressed first, then the collar and cuffs. This meant that the still-hot, freshly-pressed sleeves had to be scrunched up on the collar/cuff press. It really was the dirty little secret of the shirt business. Nobody complained about it. Luckily.
Then along came the blown-sleeve unit. The first ones hit the US market in the mid-’80s and were little more than a Suzy with a more powerful blower.
It took me a decade or two to embrace the idea because I had to become confident that the machine was durable, the concept sound and the shirt quality had to be a cut above. If not, the idea of a blown sleeve unit could have been little more than a way for manufacturers to cut costs or a way for them to offer something avant garde.
These did not turn out to be valid concerns. In fact 2 1⁄2 years ago I wrote a column called “Funeral for a Friend” (January 2011), which was essentially a eulogy for the sleeve press. It was a fond farewell to not only the machine itself, but also the pressing defects that we knew all too well.
Or was it?
Now, virtually all shirt units feature blown sleeves and sleeve pleat presses and even back pulls. I believe all of these quality features originated in Japan and have since been tweaked, stolen, modified or enhanced by every manufacturer of shirt units in the world.
But did we eliminate touch-up forever? ‘Fraid not.
The secret to doing a good job with a sleeve press was proper training, follow-up and management. And the secret to doing a good job now, is (still!) proper training, follow-up and management.
In fact, when you misuse a sleeve pleater now, you can easily make as big a mess of a shirt as any sleever could do. Improper dressing of a shirt unit will always produce a substandard product.
Take a look at Photo 1. Because the sleeve was not properly laid out on the cuff press, this shirt is ugly. The presser did not bother to neatly lay out the sleeve pleats. Instead, the pleats were left in haphazard disarray. Then the press smashed them into permanence. It doesn’t help that this is my shirt.
It is unquestionably more difficult to get nice sleeve pleats when the sleeve press is on the body press rather than on the collar/cuff press.
In the latter case, it takes some effort to lay the shirt out carefully and correctly. But in the event of a the now familiar sleeve press on the body press, as seen in Photo 2, the operator can still do a bunch of things wrong.
The cuff was carelessly placed into this cuff clamp mechanism and therefore only inferior quality will result. The cuff is uneven, misplaced, misaligned and placed in such a way that a great deal of air will escape through that hole by the cuff.
This is valuable super-heated air that is needed to thoroughly dry the sleeve. Instead we blast it into the atmosphere. The sleeve pleats on this shirt are a mess. And sometimes the cuff is twisted a bit. This causes what you see in Photo 3. There is no reason for this!
It hurts my eyes to look at this! It’s just too easy to do it right. But lackadaisical management allows this to happen by failing to see it and correct it.
The reality is that you have the equipment to do a great job. It’s the training, the management and the follow-up that we so often forget about. Now take a look at Photo 4
Isn’t this what you want your sleeves to look like? (Pssst… Same day, same plant, same presser. Just add training!)
If you want to download these photos and post them near your shirt unit, just scan the QR code below or email me at
“If you do what you always did, you'll get what you always got!”
Don Desrosiers has been in the drycleaning and shirt laundering