I’ve worked extremely closely with denim for the past seven years, so I’d like to think I’ve learnt a thing or two that I can pass on to you guys. The most prominent questions that pop up are “What is Selvedge denim?” and “What is Raw denim?”
Selvedge Denim and Raw Denim are actually two different things but, it is possible to purchase raw selvedge denim. It all sounds quite confusing but fear not – I’m here to break it down for you so that it’s pretty easy to understand the differences between them and how to care for your jeans.
Selvedge refers to the edge on the denim.
Raw refers to a lack of pre-washing on the fabric.
Firstly, to really understand what Selvedge denim is, we have to explore the manufacturing techniques behind it.
Up until the 1950s, almost all denim was produced on what is known as a ‘Shuttle Loom’.
A shuttle loom is a weaving textile loom which uses a small device called a ‘shuttle’ to fill in the weft yarns by passing back and forth between both sides of the loom. This leaves one long continuous yarn at all the edges so the fabric self seals without any stray yarns. Meaning it creates a ‘self edge’ at the end of the fabric.
Almost all woven fabrics are composed of two parts, the warp and weft.
1.Warp yarns (Vertical)
2.Weft yarns (Horizontal)
To weave a fabric, the loom holds the warp yarns in place while the weft yarn passes between them. Most shuttle looms create a fabric that is around 36 inches across, this size is pretty much perfect for placing those selvedge seams at the outside edges of a pattern for a pair of jeans to be made.
High demand called for speedy production
The high demand for more denim after WWII, however, forced mills to adopt mass-production technology pretty quickly. Shuttle looms were replaced by shiny new ‘projectile looms’ to meet demand and the skill behind creating selvedge denim was no longer required.
A projectile loom can place over 1000 weft yarns per minute on a textile that’s twice as wide as those on a shuttle loom. It produces nearly 15 times more fabric in the same time span than a shuttle loom can!
A projectile loom achieves its speed by firing individual (and unconnected) weft yarns across the warp. This is a really efficient way to weave fabric.
What’s lost though, is that cleanly sealed edge, known as “Self-edge” or more commonly “Selvedge”, that is now so desirable amongst denim fanatics.
Non-selvedge denim produced by projectile looms has an open and frayed edge denim, because all the individual weft yarns are disconnected on both sides. In order to make jeans from this type of denim, all the edges have to be stitched with an ‘overlocker’ to keep the fabric from coming unravelled when you wear them! Take a look at most jeans or trousers on the market and this is the finishing you will see.
Selvedge Denim Today
There are only a handful of mills left in the world that still take the time and effort to carefully craft and produce selvedge denim. The most well known is in America and is called ‘Cone Mills’ – their factory is called ‘White Oak’ after a two-hundred year old tree that grows on the grounds nearby. They have been the leading supplier of denim to apparel brands since 1891 – that’s an incredible 125 years!
The coloured lines on the outside edge are called ‘Selvedge IDs’ as they used to indicate which mill produced the denim and the quality of the denim. For a while, Levi’s had ownership over a red selvedge line, whilst Lee had yellow. Today many brands use these colours as the need to differentiate has become less of a need for the manufacturers.
Not all selvedge on the market is exclusively ‘raw’, some have been pre-washed and laundered for softness and visual interest. You can feel the difference between raw denim and these extremely easily.
What is Raw Denim?
Most denim jeans you buy today have been pre-washed to soften up the fabric, reduce shrinkage, and prevent indigo dye from rubbing off onto surfaces.
Raw denim (sometimes called “dry denim” or “rigid denim”) jeans are simply jeans made from denim that hasn’t gone through this pre-wash process. It is woven, dyed, cut and constructed without any washing processes.
Because the fabric hasn’t been pre-washed, raw denim jeans are pretty stiff and rigid feeling when you put them on the first time, which some can find uncomfortable. However, it takes a few weeks of regular wear to break-in and loosen up a pair.
Raw denim is like a blank canvas that over time will age beautifully with the wear and tear of it’s wearer. Each pair becomes distinctly unique.
Sanforized or Un-Sanforized?
Raw denim (all denim, actually) comes in two types: Sanforized or Unsanforized.
Sanforized denim has undergone a special chemical treatment that prevents any major shrinkage after you wash your jeans. Most mass-produced jeans are sanforized, and many raw and selvedge denim jeans are too nowadays.
Unsanforized denim hasn’t been treated with that shrink-preventing chemical, so when you do end up washing or soaking your jeans, they’ll shrink by around 5%-10%. That’s about 2 sizes in both waist and leg length!
How to care for your Raw Denim – Unsanforized
To wash or not to wash? That is the question…
This is a pretty sensitive subject depending on who you talk to. Some real denim purists will insist that you should never wash your jeans and consider it to be a deadly sin. They take pride in every crease, whisker and tear collected over time. It is true that washing begins to weaken the cotton ever so slightly, fade the colour and of course, can cause shrinkage. Be sure to check and ask if they are Shrink-to-fit, if so… do not put them in a machine to wash as they have nothing to mould in shape to!
If you do chose to wash your jeans, there are a few simple steps to follow:
- Wash on a cool, no hotter than 30 degrees if machine washing
- If possible, soak them in a bath tub in cool water
- Turn them inside-out to protect them
- Always wash with a liquid detergent
- Line-dry your jeans – Radiator or tumble drying can cause the jeans to fade and shrink!
Some people believe that folding and putting their jeans in the freezer overnight will kill off any bacteria and odour build up… personally I’ve never tried it and don’t think I want to. But it is a popular method for many. It’s also a great way to do your part for the environment and save water – washing just one pair of jeans uses around 130 gallons of water in the space of year.
How to nail Shrinking your jeans
Back in the hey day of the 1960’s and 1970’s, jeans were the ultimate symbol of rebellion and style. Guys and girls craved Levi’s infamous ‘Shrink-to-fit’ jeans and revelled in sitting in the bath to shrink them to their body shape. As the decades passed by, people’s patience changed as the concept of ‘Buy-now, wear-now’ caught on. Very few people wanted to spend several hours in the bath to shrink their jeans. However, desirable denim brands do still produce them for those seeking this unique experience. If you have a few hours to kill – I’d say give it a go. Please be aware it can take several attempts at getting them to shrink perfectly to your body.
- Buy 2 sizes up in length (So if you’re a 32″ leg, buy a 36″)
- Fill the bath tub with hot water – hot enough to bare but not scold yourself
- Sit in the bath for around an hour
- To dry, sit in the sunshine or near a source of heat
How to care for your Raw Denim – Sanforized
As Sanforized jeans have already gone through an intensive process to reduce the risk of shrinking, caring for them is a lot less time consuming compared to unsanforized. A lot of denim today has elastane woven into it for immediate comfort so be aware; shrinkage is still possible if you wash too hot.
- Turn jeans inside out and wash with similar colours (Wash on their own if it’s the first wash)
- Put on a cool cycle, no hotter than 30 degrees and use a liquid detergent
- Line dry where possible – you can tumble dry but only on a low temperature
If you aren’t keen on the idea of washing them, give them a spruce with this denim care set from The Laundress. Its innovative, allergen-free blend of detergent, fabric softener and colour guard cleans and fights fading. The fabric spray freshens and removes odour too.
So, a pretty intensive denim post for you! I hope you found it useful and can now tell the difference between selvedge and non-selvedge denim and also some top tips on caring for your prized jeans?
Let me know your thoughts on Twitter and Instagram @boyinbreton, whilst you’re at it be a buddy and give me a follow too!