JPL’s Dressmaker

Did you read the recent story about JPL “dressmaker” Lien Pham who makes thermal blankets for spacecraft? The materials, methods, and techniques are an amazing combination of traditional and very techy.

“What kind of materials go into a thermal blanket?

We use multiple layers of Mylar films with Dacron netting to separate them. For the outermost surface, we use Kapton film or Beta cloth, which resist temperature change.

We also use gold Kapton, which is good for conducting electricity. There’s a black material called carbon field Kapton. That’s for a charged environment, with a lot of electricity. It dissipates the charge.

What Kind of tools do you use?

We use commercial sewing machines designed for thick material such as denim. It has a walking feed that pulls in the material and cuts our sewing thread automatically. We also use a variety of hand tools like a measuring scale, scissors, surgical scalpels, hole punches, a heat gun, leather punch and weight scale.”

BBC.com article on Lian Pham and the JPL seamstresses explains

“Nasa hires women with sewing experience for a reason. When engineers couldn’t figure out how to work with Teflon – the non-stick material that coats many saucepans – they were at a loss.

Lien suggested folding the edge of the material and sewing it like a hem, as she would with a shirt at home.

It worked.”

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