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Denim fabric dyed with indigo
Denim fabric dyed with indigo and black dyes and made into a shirt

Denim is a sturdy cotton warp-faced[1] 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”.[2]

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[edit]

The name "denim" derives from French serge de Nîmes, meaning 'serge from Nîmes'.[3]

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.[4]

Denim has been used in the United States since the mid-19th century.[4] 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 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.[5]

Throughout the 20th century denim was used for cheap durable uniforms like those issued to staff of the French national railways.[6] In the postwar years, Royal Air Force overalls for dirty work were named "denims." These were a one-piece garment, with long legs and sleeves, buttoned from throat to crotch, in an olive drab denim fabric.[7]

Creating denim[edit]

All denim goes through generally the same process to creation.[8]

  1. Cotton is harvested by hand or machine.
  2. A cotton gin separates the cotton fiber from the seeds.
  3. The fiber is put into bales. A bale weighs around 550 pounds and can make around 400 pairs of jeans.
  4. The cotton fiber is then spun into yarn.
  5. The yarn is dyed giving it color such as the classic denim blue.
  6. The yarn is then woven in a shuttle loom or projectile loom into denim.
  7. 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.

Denim fibers from an old pair of jeans through a microscope

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.[9]

To facilitate the natural distressing process, some wearers of dry denim will abstain from washing their jeans for more than six months.[10] Most dry denim is made with 100% cotton and comes from several different countries.

Dry denim also varies in weight, typically measured 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.[9]

Natural fading on a worn pair of selvedge jeans. Sometimes referred to as 'whiskers' or 'honeycombs'

Patterns of fading in jeans caused by prolonged periods of wearing them without washing are a way of "personalizing" the garment.[11]

These patterns have specific names:

  • combs or honeycombs – meshes of faded line-segments that form behind the knees[12]
  • whiskers – faded streaks that form radially from the crotch area[12]
  • stacks – irregular bands of fading above the ankle caused by according of the fabric due to contact with the foot or shoe[13][14]
  • train tracks – fading along the out-seams due to abrasion[14]


Selvedge ID visible at the interior of a pair of jeans

Selvedge (or selvage) is the edge of a fabric as it comes from the loom. Selvedges are woven or knit so that they will not fray, ravel, or curl.

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.[15]


Denim was originally dyed with indigo dye extracted from plants, often from the Indigofera family. In South Asia, indigo dye was extracted from the dried and fermented leaves of Indigofera tinctoria; this is the plant that is now known as "true indigo" or "natural indigo". In Europe, use of Isatis tinctoria, or woad, can be traced back to the 8th century BC, although it was eventually replaced by Indigofera tinctoria as the superior dye product. However, most denim today is dyed with synthetic indigo dye. In all cases, the yarn undergoes a repeated sequence of dipping and oxidation — the more dips, the stronger the color of the indigo.[16]

Prior to 1915, cotton yarns were dyed using a skein dyeing process, in which individual skeins of yarn were dipped into dye baths. Rope dyeing machines were developed in 1915, and slasher or sheet dyeing machines were developed in the 1970s; both of these methods involve a series of rollers that feed continuous yarns in and out of dye vats. In rope dyeing, continuous yarns are gathered together into long ropes or groups of yarns – after these bundles are dyed, they must be re-beamed for weaving. In sheet dyeing, parallel yarns are laid out as a sheet, in the same order in which they will be woven; because of this, uneven circulation of dye in the dye bath can lead to side-to-side color variations in the woven cloth. Rope dyeing eliminates this possibility, because color variations can be evenly distributed across the warp during beaming.[16][17]

Colored denim[edit]

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.

Stretch denim[edit]

Stretch denim incorporates an elastic component, such as spandex. This creates a certain amount of "give" in garments made from stretch denim.

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.






AMC Gremlin with Levi's trim and upholstery

Starting with the 1973 model year, American Motors Corporation (AMC) offered a regular production option consisting of a Levi's interior trim package.[18] 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.[19] This option was available on all CJ models in blue or tan, and was the standard trim on the top-level Renegade versions.[20]

Between 1973 and 1975 Volkswagen produced the Jeans Beetle, which had all-denim trim. They also repeated this concept in some later models.[21]


The Cheyenne has Gone made of only denim by Ian Berry

British artist Ian Berry has been making art with only denim for well over a decade[22] and is famed around the world for his photorealistic pieces all hand cut out of only denim of portraits and scenes.[23][24]

He has made pieces of Ayrton Senna,[25] Giorgio Armani,[26] Lapo Elkann,[27] Debbie Harry,[28][29][30] Jenifer Saunders, Eunice Olumbide OBE[31] among others.

In 2013 he was named as one of the top 30 Artists under 30 in the World by Art Business News[32]

Worldwide market[edit]

The dyehouse at the White Oak Cotton Mill, in Greensboro, North Carolina. The Cone Mills Corporation, which owned the mill, was formerly the world's largest maker of denim.

In 2007, the worldwide denim market equalled US$51.6 billion, with demand growing by 5% and supply growing by 8% annually.[33] 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.[34]

The following table shows where the world's denim mills are located.[33]

Region Number of mills
China 297
India 23
Asia (excluding India and China) 81
North America 9
Europe 41
Latin America 46
Africa 15
Australia 1
Total 513

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Mogahzy, Y. E. (2009). Engineering Textiles: Integrating the Design and Manufacture of Textile Products (First ed.). Woodhead Publishing. p. 362. ISBN 978-1-84569-048-9.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Bellis, Mary. "Levi Strauss - The History of Blue Jeans". Retrieved 25 August 2015. "Levi Strauss had the canvas made into waist overalls. Miners liked the pants, but complained that they tended to chafe. Levi Strauss substituted a twilled cotton cloth from France called "serge de Nimes." The fabric later became known as denim and the pants were nicknamed blue jeans." In French of Nimes or De Nimes shortened to Denim
  4. ^ a b Hegarty, Stephanie (28 February 2012). "How jeans conquered the world". BBC News. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  5. ^ Salazar, James B. (1 June 2010). "Fashioning the historical body: the political economy of denim". Social Semiotics. 20 (3): 293–308. doi:10.1080/10350331003722851. ISSN 1035-0330.
  6. ^\x3depxgXmHa
  7. ^ RAF Little Rissington: the Central Flying School 1946-76 by R. Deacon, A. Pollock, M. Thomas and R. Bagshaw (Pen and Sword Books, 2006.)
  8. ^ Chauncy, Barbara (2011). Denim by design. Krause Publications Craft.
  9. ^ a b Shuck, David (12 September 2011). "The Essential Raw Denim Breakdown – Our 100th Article!". Retrieved 25 August 2015. ...a pair of raw denim is like an individualized canvass. Indeed the fade results and any other visible marks, rips, or tears are specific you and your body ...
  10. ^ Slater, Sean. "When Should I Wash My Raw Jeans? – A Rough Guide". Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  11. ^ Goh, Yang-Yi (12 September 2011). "Denim Dialogues, Vol. II: Making Them Your Own". Handlebar Magazine. Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  12. ^ a b Coe, Nick (11 May 2011). "Fade Types – Whiskers/Hige & Honeycombs". Heddels. Retrieved 12 June 2017.
  13. ^ Coe, Nick (17 May 2017). "How do you get fades near the leg openings of raw denim jeans?". Heddels. Retrieved 1 April 2019.
  14. ^ a b Shapira, J.A. (14 December 2016). "The Denim Jeans Guide — Gentleman's Gazette". Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  15. ^ "What is selvedge denim?".
  16. ^ a b Bojer, Thomas Stege (16 December 2016). "How Denim Is Made: Indigo Dyeing". Denimhunters. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  17. ^ Mercer, Harry (19 May 2011). "Rope Dyeing Vs Slasher (Sheet) Dyeing". Denims and Jeans. Retrieved 2 September 2019.
  18. ^ Lamm, Michael (October 1972). "AMC: Hornet hatchback leads the lineup". Popular Mechanics. 138 (4): 118–119. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  19. ^ Statham, Steve (2002). Jeep Color History. MBI Publishing. pp. 101–102. ISBN 9780760306369. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  20. ^ Foster, Patrick R. (2014). Jeep: The History of America's Greatest Vehicle. Motorbooks. p. 104. ISBN 9781627882187. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  21. ^ "Chronology and Descriptions". Retrieved 21 August 2015.
  22. ^ "About". IAN BERRY. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  23. ^ "Artist creates works in denim". BBC News. 23 May 2018. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  24. ^ "Printed Press". IAN BERRY. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  25. ^ "Ayrton Senna Portrait by Ian Berry | Ayrton Senna - Legacy Matters". Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  26. ^ "Giorgio Armani". IAN BERRY. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  27. ^ "Painted Celebrity Portraits - DuJour". DuJour. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  28. ^ Atkinson, Neil (28 May 2014). "Huddersfield artist Ian Berry provides denim tribute to 70s star Debbie Harry". huddersfieldexaminer. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  29. ^ "Debbie Harry denim portrait commissioned for Ray-Ban". 22 May 2014. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  30. ^ "Frames of mind: Ray-Ban adds new twist to classic sunglasses". The Independent. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  31. ^ "'Switch' Exhibition in collaboration with The Olumide Gallery, London". Getty Images. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  32. ^ "Denimu's 'A Blue Eye'". Art Business News. Retrieved 29 June 2018.
  33. ^ a b Agarwal, Sandeep (13 October 2009). "World Denim Market – A Report on Capacities, Market Size, Forecasts etc". Retrieved 25 August 2015.
  34. ^ The Textile Magazine (17 October 2016). "An overview of the Global and Indian Denim Market".

External links[edit]