A good pair of jeans has been a wardrobe staple since 1873. Whether it’s date night or casual Friday, we reach to our favorite pair for comfort and style. Denim has a rich history and a precise manufacturing process that brings it from raw cotton to your bedroom closet.
Where did denim come from? How is it made? Take the time to appreciate your favorite pair of jeans and learn the fascinating facts about denim!
Who Invented Denim?
Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss, of the famous Levi brand, are often credited with inventing denim in 1873. They were inspired by a cotton corduroy fabric called “Serge de Nimes” that originated in Nimes, France.
“Waist overalls,” as jeans were known at the time, were very popular with miners during the Gold Rush. With the sturdy twill fabric and metal rivets at points of strain, their pants could withstand tough conditions. They were also popular with factory workers, farmers, soldiers, mechanics, and carpenters.
Over time, denim moved away from its blue collar origins. Pop culture icons like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe made the pants fashionable and the world never looked back.
How is Denim Made?
By the Industrial Revolution, machinery had been developed for faster production of denim on electric looms. The indigo dye is now created synthetically to reduce costs and make the material more accessible than ever before.
Today, denim is made with the following process:
- Step One: Cotton is gathered and put into machines where it’s detangled and spun together into strong threads.
- Step Two: The threads are dipped several times into tubs of synthetic indigo dye.
- Step Three: The indigo threads are woven together either through selvage or warp and weft.
- Step Four: The denim is then sanforized, which means it’s stretched, heated, and shrunk down.
- Step Five: The denim is ready to be shipped to stores!
Prepare the Cotton
Cotton is gathered from fields all over the world and undergoes a process called carding where it’s put through machines that contain brushes with bent wire teeth (cards). At this point, each fiber (known as silvers) are detangled, cleaned, and spun together to create thicker pieces of thread.
Dye the Yarn
The threads are dipped into tubs full of synthetic indigo dye before being woven together. Large balls of yarn called ball warps are dipped into the dye several times to retain the color. Eventually, the dye loses its vibrancy, which is why denim fades in color after being repeatedly washed. However, a small amount of sulfur is used to stabilize the layers of dye ensuring that a good amount of blue will still be visible in the end product.
Weave the Yarn
The indigo yarn is woven together through two different methods. First is the most common process known as the 3-by-1. The blue threads forming the warp (long, vertical threads) are combined with white threads forming the weft (shorter, horizontal threads).
During this process, more warp (blue) threads are used than weft (white) giving denim its vibrant color. The other method of weaving is through a process called selvage. This is when the denim is created the original way on old looms dating back to the 1950s. Production speed is much slower, reducing the tension on the yarns and creating a softer, more durable fabric. Due to the costs and need for skilled workers, selvage weaving is only done in Japan and Italy.
Finish the Denim
To prevent the fabric from twisting, the denim is sanforized, which means it’s softened, stretched, heated, and shrunk. This ensures the fabric retains its size and durability. The denim is also brushed down to remove any loose threads and lint and washed to give it a faded look. Denim manufacturers take quality control very seriously and monitor any defects or variations in color.
Ready to Wear!
After being shipped to retailers across the country, the denim is ready to be sold and added to your closet!
What Are the Different Types of Denim?
Everyone has a unique style, which is why it’s important to have variety of denim. There is a mix of many different styles that range in price and accessibility.
The different types of denim include:
- 100% Cotton
- Polyester Blends
- Waxed Reverse
- Acid Wash/Marble
A majority of denim is classified as 100% cotton or cotton serge. This fabric is very durable and versatile making it a staple of every person’s wardrobe.
Also known as unsanforized, this is when the denim isn’t washed after being dyed with the indigo color. The result is a distressed look that’s perfect for every rebel and rabble-rouser.
This style of denim is the softest feeling, making it extra comfortable and smooth. It is a favorite for business casual workwear since it looks polished and professional.
The denim is processed without being shrunk down after washing. The end result is a timeless, classic look for any occasion.
Denim fabric can be treated with dyes other than indigo. This allows jeans, jackets, and other garments to be every color under the sun!
Lycra, a synthetic fiber, is added to the denim to give it the feeling of spandex. Go with this style if you plan on eating a big meal with friends.
This refers to denim with edges finished in a colored thread of green, white, brown, yellow, orange, or most commonly, red. It’s a higher-end style of jeans, so reserve it for your fancy parties.
Crushed denim is weaved in a manner that makes the end result look wrinkled. It’s a style that’s best for weekend days spent running errands.
If you plan on going scuba diving in your jeans, this is the fabric for you! This style has a coating of wax on the reverse side for water resistance.
The washed look is achieved using a pumice stone soaked in chlorine. This is a popular style with younger crowds due to its modern appearance.
When your denim isn’t feeling blue, it’s classified as ecru! In other words, the denim hasn’t undergone the process of receiving the indigo dye.
Denim that has undergone the typical 3-by-1 process for weaving the twill is classified as bull. This style is typically used for upholstery and home décor.
This style is made with 100% organic cotton, which excludes any chemicals. It’s a perfect denim for those who want to go green and save our planet.
Ramie denim is blended with cotton, polyester, and spandex. The mix of fabrics significantly reduces wrinkling and helps the fabric keep its shape.
In a world of blue jeans, sometimes denim needs a special touch to make it stand apart. Printed patterns and shapes create an unexpected and exciting look.
During the summer, we reach to bubblegum denim to stay cool. This stretchy style is widely used to make women’s shorts or capris.
This style of denim is woven using uneven yarn for both the warp and weft threads. It’s extremely rare, making it an awesome gift for any fashion enthusiast.
Why Do We Love Denim?
For over 100 years, people have been turning to denim for style and comfort. In fact, the global denim industry is worth roughly $56.2 billion. From cotton to acid wash and everything in between, we’ll always turn to this durable fabric.
The Bottom Line
Creating denim involves a precise attention to detail. Manufacturers use a particular weaving pattern to achieve the final look, and as a result, each stitch is added with love. No matter what, denim is a jean-ious addition to every closet!