A lighter-weight denim, so named by the number of weft threads per warp thread. This weave tips the scales at less than 10.5 ounces per square yard.
This is the more traditional weave of denim because it creates a sturdier fabric. 3x1 weave, which weighs more than 10.5 ounces per square yard, refers to the number of weft threads per warp thread.
Usually achieved by washing fabric with pumice stones, the abrasion process boils down to scraping or rubbing denim to create a worn, aged, or vintage feel. Abrasion methods range from rubbing with sandpaper or sand blasting to dragging through gravel, applying a razor (for a honeycomb fade), or our favorite method: daily wear and tear.
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Think: your broken-in weekend denim. Aged fabric looks worn and feels soft to the touch thanks to a wet processing abrasion method.
Welcome to the bustling factory town of Amoskeag, New Hampshire.
Known as the first major source of denim in the States, the town laid claim to Amoskeag Manufacturing Company. The company began in 1838, peaked in 1900 as the world’s biggest textile producer, and closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy in 1935. Once the exclusive denim of industry mainstays Levi’s and Jacob Davis, the now-legendary Amoskeag denim contributed to the fabric’s timeless success. Its other legacy—the Amoskeag XX label.
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Authentic denim is characterized by traditional styling and fabric weaves. These days, the term is tossed around by marketing departments, usually describing jeans with heritage denim qualities.
This marketing technique proclaimed denim types, washes, styles, and sizes—sometimes paired with Western-themed or classic ‘50s imagery—on a small paper or cardboard flap strategically placed on the back right pocket.
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The iconic red tab on the back of Levi's clothing and denim was once emblazoned with an uppercase E. When the letter with replaced a lowercase in 1971, Levi’s insta-vintage “Big E” jeans skyrocketed in value.
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The process of using sunlight or chemicals to lighten an item. Whether applied by sponging, soaking, dabbing, splattering, or spraying, bleaching is used to alter denim's color, remove impurities, or adjust the fades.
Buttons come in three types, but most jeans feature a stud, or tack, button. These metal buttons consist of a grooved tack piece that pushes up through the denim paired with a top button that’s hammered onto the tack.
In weaving, this mechanical process cleans, untangles, and aligns fibers to create a continuous sliver.
This refers to added color tones in the fabric, often added by dyeing. Depending on the dye, denim can have a black, brown, gray, green, red, or yellow cast.
Enzymes are handy for many things ... including removing the indigo color in denim by physically eating away at the cellulose in the fabric. An enzyme wash is one of many methods manufacturers use to give new denim a worn or aged look.
Like anything that adds time and quality to the process, combed yarn is pricier than carded yarn. Combing a yarn’s sliver creates a smoother, stronger, and more compact yarn that’s perfect for weaving.
The combing process can be summed up in two easy steps:
Step 1: “carding” the yarn to separate and untangle the fibers
Step 2: “combing” the yarn with a fine-toothed comb so it runs parallel in the and to remove the short fibers while it’s being spun into yarn
- 1895, Greensboro, North Carolina: The Cone brothers, Moses and Caesar, open the doors at Cone Mills and start making flannel and denim for working men
- 1910: The company starts supplying denim for Levi’s jeans
- 1922: Cone Mills—now one of the world’s largest denim manufacturers—gains the distinction of being the exclusive supplier for the Levi’s 501 jean
- 1952: Union Bleachery buys Cone Mills and gets the first license in the US for “sanforizing.” With 12 plants, the company becomes the largest denim manufacturer in the world
Yarn that is strengthened by being wrapped by a second yarn, often of a strong polyester. In denim, hearty core spun yarn (or polycore) cuts down on the number of broken stitches when sewing seams and hems.
This soft and fluffy staple fiber really is the fabric of our lives. It’s the most popular natural fiber cloth used for clothing, and a whopping 25 million tons are produced around the world each year to support that high demand. The denim industry relies heavily on cotton: most jeans are made with cotton, either entirely or with a cotton blend.
Cotton’s official quality standards for interstate and foreign commerce are determined by:
Color: ranging from white to yellowish, it’s determined by growth conditions like temperature, humidity, and sunlight
Purity: based on the amount (or lack thereof) or foreign matter, such as leaves and seed-coat splinters
Fiber length: impacted by both genetics and environmental conditions
Raw denim aficionados, crocking is the likely-familiar occurrence of dye rubbing off onto your skin or other fabrics. Just one of the many things that gives raw denim its character, crocking is the cause of fades and fabric wear.
This rare type of denim fades into a crisscross pattern. It’s made by weaving uneven yarns in the weft and warp directions.
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Also, denim fanatic. If denim had roadies, denim heads would be first in line. These denim enthusiasts eat, sleep, and breathe denim.
This enzyme rinse softens denim. Science nerds: desizing uses either amylase enzymes, an oxidizing agent, or sulfuric acid to strip the solution that’s added to the fabric during the sizing process.
This is yet another step of the spinning process in which the slivers are teased out after they’re carded and combed. Drawing, or drafting, helps to smooth the unruly slivers before they’re twisted into yarn.
This denim weave uses ring-spun yarn for both the warp and weft threads. The result is a soft, textured fabric—making it pricier and more valuable than open end and regular ring-spun denim.
This cotton cloth, which originated in the Indian village of Dungri, was used by the British to make sails, tents, and, when leftover, clothing. Working men made this fabric popular in the 20th century by wearing overalls: dungarees with a bib and shoulder straps. In some countries, “dungaree” and “denim” are used interchangeably.
The eco-friendly alternative to stone washing, enzyme washing creates a worn look and soft feel in denim without weakening the fabric.
In textiles, these complex proteins break down denim for processes such as desizing and enzyme washing. Eco-friendly bonus: enzymes are recyclable.
Ever heard the southern expression, “feelin’ fair to middlin’”? Meaning okay or average, the phrase also applies to the quality of cotton. This average grade of cotton, which is fleecy, white in color, and mostly devoid of debris, is typically used for denim.
Fiber is the building block of fabric. Natural fibers, such as cotton, fur, hair, silk, and wool, are derived from plants, animals, or minerals. Man-made fibers come in two varieties: regenerated (processed natural fibers, such as viscose rayon) or synthetic (such as polyester, nylon, or acrylic, which are created from chemicals).
One of the final steps in the manufacturing process for most jeans, save raw denim. Finishing is the method of aging denim, whether by way of an enzyme or stone wash or processes such as bleaching, overdying, and sandblasting.
Jeans comes in a variety of fits, or styles, such as slim, skinny, straight, relaxed fit, etc. Prevailing trends determine the fit for some; others select a fit based on what works best for their body type.
Today, nearly every pair of jeans has five riveted pockets: two in the back, two in the front, and a small coin pocket inside the right front pocket. It wasn’t always that way.
1873: Levi’s original prototype has two pockets in front and one in back.
1890: Levi’s adds the watch, or coin, pocket.
1905: The 501XX Levi’s jean adds a fifth pocket to the backside.
We have the trend-setting 19th century Genoese sailors to thank for today’s blue jeans. Though the sailors’ trousers were made of cotton fustian, not denim, the blue fabric was referred to by the French as “bleu de Genes,” and later, just genes.
Jeans were originally made and sold in this bustling Italian port city, circa 1500. Jeans were adopted by the Genoese Navy because the pants could withstand the rigors of ship life. And sailors were hard on their jeans: they washed their pants by dragging them behind the ship in fishing nets, causing the sun and salt water to bleach the fabric over time.
The process of stripping seeds and other debris from the cotton. Harking back to Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in 1794, ginning today involves:
1. Drying the cotton
2. Cleaning it to remove debris such as burs, stems, and leaves
3. Removing the cotton fibers from the seeds with a series of toothy rotating saws
4. Compressing the cotton fibers into 500-pound bales before sending to textile mills
A step above cotton’s average grade, middling. Good middling cotton (or, GM) is the highest grade, meaning it contains less debris than middling. GM cotton is recognized by its creamy white coloring.
Denim that’s first dyed with green sulfur and then with indigo. Greencast denim fades to greenish blue over time as the indigo dye fades.
Fabric is also characterized by its sensory qualities. Hand, or handle, refers to all the tactile aspects of fabric—it’s thickness, smoothness, luster, stiffness, stretch, draping qualities, and more.
Each heddle serves a single-minded purpose: control its warp yarn. These wire loops affix to the loom’s harness to separate and control the warp yarns during weaving. Heddles are situated near the eye that yarns pass on the loom to control the weaving pattern and shed while it’s raised and lowered.
The measurement from crotch to hem of a pant’s inner leg. There are no rules to inseam length: some prefer to show a little sock with a shorter inseam while others prefer a longer inseam to cuff and display their selvedge denim. Some manufacturers' jeans are labeled with waist size and inseam length, although a large number of brands only label the waist size.
This type of yarn combines different fibers to create a super fabric that enhances the individual fibers' pros and plays down their weaknesses. Take a wool/cotton blend: the wool retains warmth and elasticity, while the cotton reduces pilling and adds softness. Recognizable blends include wool/cotton, ramie/polyester, silk/wool, rayon/cotton, and nylon/acetate.
The fading in high-stress and high-exposure fabric regions, such as the knees, seams, and upper thighs. The term comes from the Japanese for “color slips.”
Considered some of the highest quality denim on the market (or, at the very least, Italian denim’s strongest competitor), Japanese denim has a die-hard fan base. Japanese denim arose during the early ‘90s when denim artisans began creating boutique jeans using vintage methods such as shuttle looms, selvedge denim, and ring-spun yarn. Because it’s painstakingly produced in small batches, Japanese denim is usually pricier than other denims.
This is where the finishing magic happens. Denim laundries finish raw or dry denim jeans with processes such as dyeing, stone or enzyme washing, sanding, and bleaching. The most noteworthy denim laundry is Martelli—a laundry founded half a century ago in Bologna, Italy, and hailed as “The Wizard of Colors.” Most laundries can be found in Italy, Japan, and Los Angeles.
The bottom of your jean is the leg opening. It’s not rocket science, people.
Twill weaves create a twist that causes pant legs to twist right or left, depending on the twill type. To avoid the twisting effect in denim, manufacturers skew—or twist in the opposite direction—the fabric before creating jeans or use a broken twill weave.
Levi’s timeless 501 jean entered the market as the XX jean. Named to mean “extra, extra strong,” the XX name spoke to the jean’s utility and working wear status. Levi’s XX were renamed 501 in 1890, but the company honored its roots in 2009 when it brought back the XX name.
This cheaper alternative to the chain stitch "locks" the fabric to form a strong bond, but it doesn't produce quite the same roping effect on the seam. Though less expensive, the lockstitch provides a more durable hem than the chain stitch.
Weaving 101: Fabric is woven on a loom. Warp yarns are stretched vertically across this frame/machine and then weft yarns are threaded horizontally through the warp yarns. Denim is usually woven on shuttle or projectile looms.
This traditional denim-dyeing method takes up less space and results in consistent coloring. To loop dye a material, ropes of yarn are pulled through indigo dye and allowed to oxidize in the open air before being re-submerged in the dye.
Lycra is to spandex fiber as Kleenex is to facial tissue. Dupont developed the world’s most recognized brand of spandex in 1958 as an alternative for rubber in corsets. Some jeans feature fabric with a touch of Lycra to add stretch to the denim.
This versatile rayon material can be made to mimic fabrics such as denim, suede, and wool. Lyocell is the generic name for an eco-friendly, biodegradable, and hardy cellulose fiber made of dissolved wood pulp.
Artificially produced fibers, such as nylon and polyester.
This chemical treatment helps to up cotton’s luster and keep dye from fully bleeding into the fibers while strengthening. Created in 1844 by Mr. Mercer himself, the process entails repeatedly dipping material in a sodium-hydroxide bath to shrink the fibers and smooth the threads. Mercerized cotton is sometimes called pearl cotton, due to its satiny appearance.
Unique to pre-distressed and pre-washed denim, microsanding is a fabric treatment process that creates a soft, raised finish. Microsanding is achieved by pulling the fabric across a group of horizontally arranged cylinders that are coated in abrasive paper or a chemical abrasion agent. It’s especially adept at helping less-expensive fabrics mimic the softer textures of costlier fabric.