“Each garment is a picture in time of the spinner's work, the dyer's eye, the weaver's skill and the sewer's dedication.”
Selvedge denim is generally recognised as superior quality denim, which has close links to Japan.
Selvedge (literally translated as ‘self-edge’) refers to a type of finish that can be seen on all fabrics created using a traditional flying shuttle loom, invented in 1733.
These machines weave a continuous cross yarn (called wefts) back and forth through the vertical strands (called warps). Unlike non-selvedge fabrics where the wefts are cut and make a fringe the selvedge edges wrap around a contrasting thread to make a tight bond.
Traditionally textile mills used these contrasting threads as a colour coding system to differentiate between fabrics. Selvedge denim is most commonly bound in red cotton, hence why the material is sometimes referred to as ‘red selvedge’.
This technique means that there is no need to overlock the fabrics after construction as they are reinforced during production, thus eradicating any possibility of fraying or curling. The material created is stronger, increasing the longevity of the finished garments.
The weaving process on shuttle looms is meticulous, although rather slow, producing a denim fabric that is tightly woven and very long but only around 31-32 inches wide. Just the width needed to make a standard sized garment. Pattern blocks are then mounted on the fabric with the straight side seam running directly down the bonded edge of the fabric.
Selvedge Straight Leg Jean | Olivia Boot
By the 1950s the demand for denim was far outstripped by the shuttle looms ability to produce it. This was mainly due to the rapid popularity of the denim jean, which was originally patented on May 20th 1873 by a tailor from Nevada named Jacob Davis and his fabric supplier Mr Levis Strauss.
The incredible popularity of denim led to the invention of wider, mechanical looms, which could weave the threads up to twenty times faster and create fabrics almost twice the size. However these machines did not bond the fabrics edges and so garments were cut in tessellation according to wastage rather than quality of finish.
Many of the traditional shuttle looms were sold to Japanese companies as they believed that the quality, colour and strength of selvedge denim was superior.
Today Japanese selvedge denim is still made using these traditional looms; investing time and thought into every garment which is created from one piece of carefully crafted denim.
Words by Kerry Panaggio
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