Denim is a sturdy cotton warp-faced textile in which the weft passes under two or more warp threads. This twill weaving produces a diagonal ribbing that distinguishes it from cotton duck. While a denim predecessor known as dungaree has been produced in India for hundreds of years, denim itself was first produced in the French city of Nîmes under the name “serge de Nîmes”.
The most common denim is indigo denim, in which the warp thread is dyed, while the weft thread is left white. As a result of the warp-faced twill weaving, one side of the textile is dominated by the blue warp threads and the other side is dominated by the white weft threads. This causes blue jeans to be white on the inside. The indigo dyeing process, in which the core of the warp threads remains white, creates denim's signature fading characteristics.
Etymology and origin
Denim was traditionally colored blue with indigo dye to make blue jeans, although "jean" formerly denoted a different, lighter, cotton fabric. The contemporary use of the word "jeans" comes from the French word for Genoa, Italy (Gênes),
Denim has been used in the United States since the mid 19th century. Denim initially gained popularity in 1873 when Jacob W. Davis, a tailor from Nevada, manufactured the first pair of rivet-reinforced denim pants. At this time, clothes for Western labourers, such as teamsters, surveyors, and miners, were not very durable. His concept for making reinforced jeans was inspired when a female customer requested a pair of durable and strong pants for her husband to chop wood. When Davis was about to finish making the denim jeans, he saw some copper rivets lying on a table and used the rivets to fasten the pockets. Soon, the popularity of denim jeans began to spread rapidly and Davis was overwhelmed with requests. He soon sold 200 pairs to workers in need of heavy work clothing. Nevertheless, because of the production capacity in his small shop, Davis was struggling to keep up with the demand. He then wrote a proposal to dry goods wholesaler Levi Strauss & Co. that had been supplying Davis with bolts of denim fabric. Davis's proposal was to patent the design of the rivet-reinforced denim pant, with Davis listed as inventor, in exchange for certain rights of manufacture. Levi Strauss & Co. was so impressed by the possibilities for profit in the manufacture of the garment that they then hired Davis to be in charge of the mass production in San Francisco.
How denim is made
All denim goes through generally the same process to creation.
- Cotton is harvested by hand or machine.
- A cotton gin separates the cotton fiber from the seeds.
- The fiber is put into bales. A bale weighs around 550 pounds and can make around 400 pairs of jeans.
- The cotton fiber is then spun into yarn.
- The yarn is dyed giving it color such as the classic denim blue.
- The yarn is then woven in a shuttle loom or projectile loom into denim.
- The denim is then sent to manufacturer for use.
Dry or raw denim (contrasted with "washed denim") is denim that is not washed after having been dyed during production.
Over time dry denim will fade, considered fashionable in some circumstances. During the process of wear, fading will usually occur on those parts of the article that receive the most stress. On a pair of jeans, this includes the upper thighs, the ankles, and the areas behind the knees.
After being made into an article of clothing, most denim articles are washed to make them softer and to reduce or eliminate shrinkage (which could cause the article to not fit properly after its owner washes it). This process is known as sanforization. In addition to being sanforized, "washed denim" is sometimes artificially distressed to produce a "worn" look. Much of the appeal of artificially distressed denim is that it resembles dry denim which has faded. In jeans made from dry denim, such fading is affected by the body of the person who wears them and by the activities of their daily life. This process creates what many enthusiasts feel to be a look more "natural" than artificially distressed denim.
To facilitate the natural distressing process, some wearers of dry denim will abstain from washing their jeans for more than six months. Most dry denim is made with 100% cotton and comes from several different countries. In particular, the United States, Zimbabwe and Japan are popular sources of cotton for making raw denim.
Dry denim also varies in weight, typically measured in by the weight of a yard of denim in ounces. 12 oz. or less is considered light denim, 12 oz. to 16 oz. is considered mid-weight, and over 16 oz. is considered heavyweight. Heavier denim is much more rigid and resistant to wear, but can also take a larger number of wears to break in and feel comfortable.
Patterns of fading in jeans caused by prolonged periods of wearing them without washing are a way of "personalizing" the garment.
These patterns have specific names:
- combs or honeycombs – meshes of faded line-segments that form behind the knees
- whiskers – faded streaks that form radially from the crotch area
- stacks – irregular bands of fading above the ankle caused by according of the fabric due to contact with the foot or shoe
- train tracks – fading along the out-seams due to abrasion
Selvedge denim refers to a unique type of selvedge that is made by passing one continuous cross-yarn (the weft) back and forth through the vertical warp beams. This is traditionally finished at both edges with a contrasting warp (most commonly red); that is why this type of denim is sometimes referred to as "red selvedge." This method of weaving the selvage is possible only when using a shuttle loom.
Shuttle looms weave a narrower 30-inch fabric, which is on average half the width of modern shuttleless Sulzer looms. Consequently, a longer piece of fabric is required to make a pair of jeans from selvedge denim (approximately three yards).
To maximize yield, most jeans are made from wide denim and have a straight outseam that utilizes the full width of the fabric, including the edges. Selvedge denim has come to be associated with premium quality jeans, which show the finished edges from the loom rather than the overlocked edges that are shown on other jeans.
Denim was originally dyed with a dye produced from the plant Indigofera tinctoria, but most denim today is dyed with synthetic indigo dye. In both cases, the yarn undergoes a repeated sequence of dipping and oxidation — the more dips, the stronger the color of the indigo.
Rope dyeing is considered the best yarn-dyeing method, as it eliminates shading across the fabric width. The alternative "slasher process" is cheaper because only one beaming process is needed. In rope dyeing, beaming is done twice.
Denim fabric dyeing is divided into two categories: indigo dyeing and sulfur dyeing. Indigo dyeing produces the traditional blue color or shades similar to it. Sulfur dyeing produces speciality black colors and other colors, such as red, pink, purple, grey, rust, mustard, and green.
Only a small percentage (about 3%) of spandex is required within the fabric to create a significant stretching capacity of about 15%. However, this feature will shorten the wearing life of the garment.
Starting with the 1973 model year, American Motors Corporation (AMC) offered a regular production option consisting of a Levi's interior trim package. Over the years it was available on the Gremlin, Hornet, and Pacer, as well as Jeep models.
Although the car's jean material looks just like the real thing, AMC used spun nylon that was made to imitate denim. This was because real denim fabric is not tough enough for automobile use and cannot pass fire resistance safety standards. The copper rivets were the actual versions and the seat design included traditional contrasting stitching with the Levi's tab on both the front seat backs. The option also included unique door panels with Levis trim and removable map pockets, as well as "Levi's" decal identification on the front fenders. The Levi's interior was available through the 1978 AMC Concord.
A Levi's trim package was also made available by AMC on most Jeeps, including the CJ series, Cherokee, Wagoneer, and J series pickup trucks in 1975. This consisted of denim-like vinyl upholstery and a matching canvas top. This option was available on all CJ models in blue or tan, and was the standard trim on the top-level Renegade versions.
British artist Ian Berry has been making art with only denim for well over a decade and is famed around the world for his photorealistic pieces all hand cut out of only denim of portraits and scenes.
In 2013 he was named as one of the top 30 Artists under 30 in the World by Art Business News
In 2007, the worldwide denim market equalled USD 51.6 billion, with demand growing by 5% and supply growing by 8% annually. Over 50% of denim is produced in Asia, most of it in China, India, Turkey, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Globally, the denim industry is expected to grow at a CAGR of over 6.5% during 2015 to 2020, with the market value expected to increase from $113 billion to $153 billion.
The following table shows where the world's denim mills are located.
|Region||Number of mills|
|Asia (excluding India and China)||81|
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