How selvedge denim was salvaged

How selvedge denim was salvaged – words Al Woods

‘Selvedge’ is the word on the lips of every sartorialist who dares to be denimpressive. But it isn’t just a topic for tailors – followers of fashion are increasingly drawn to this particular denim, marked out by its distinctive finish.

Technically, the word selvedge references ‘an edge produced on woven fabric during manufacture that prevents it from unravelling.’ Socially, selvedge is a statement of quality amongst the style elite. Its unique edge and stand-out stitching (often in red or orange thread) set selvedge apart.

Selvedge denim has recently seen a widespread resurgence in interest. Once only relevant to self-defining ‘denim heads’, selvedge, the product of a rich and surprising history, is enjoying a second coming.

 

Until 1950, selvedge looms were the popular choice…  

Discussing the evolution of selvedge denim, Mr. Black’s denim care guide explains that in the first half of the 20th century, selvedge looms were the common means to weave denim. Also known as shuttle looms, these increasingly rare machines are the only way of performing the self-edging process.

Invented in 1733, the shuttle loom and its unique weaving process – in which threads are repeatedly, tightly wrapped around another single thread – strengthens the denim material, heavily reducing the likelihood that it’ll fray, unravel or curl.

This resilience informs selvedge denim’s reputation as a sound investment. Whilst a normal pair of jeans might last anywhere between a few months and a year, quality selvedge denim jeans have a much longer life expectancy. 

But selvedge was set for decline…

During the 50s, as the demand for denim soared, projectile looms became more popular. As output needed to be increased, selvedge looms, now considered too expensive and slow, reached the verge of obsolescence.

Whilst a traditional shuttle loom can produce roughly 150 picks (rows of weft yarns) per minute, a projectile loom produces 1000 picks per minute, on a textile that can be twice as wide. This faster, more efficient process began to be favoured in denim production, and self-edging was replaced by an overlocking technique in which the edges of multiple pieces were sewn over so as to connect them.

Industrial evolution meant that selvedge denim fabric became a rarity. Forced out of the mainstream, selvedge began to embody a countercultural feel.

Now, selvedge denim enjoys its renaissance.

Japan have become leaders in selvedge denim production, and their efforts to re-establish this vintage weaving technique have seen selvedge move from the fringes of the denim world into the throng of high street fashion. As designer brands like Levi’s, Edwin and Nudie Jeans all become seduced by selvedge’s unique charms, this quality denim is proving its versatility.

Selvedge is informing the latest trends. According to the denim experts behind the brand Mother (famous for its cult following amongst celebrities like Miranda Kerr, Kendall Jenner and Karlie Kloss), the current fashion is for jeans with a cropped, stovepipe straight-leg silhouette. Creative director and co-founder of Mother, Tim Kaeding, has explained the nuances of this look: ‘With a nod to the ’90s, it’s a high-waist button fly that’s fitted through the hip, then goes down to a cropped straight leg. It’s a new silhouette for us that’s quickly becoming a best seller.”

Quality material complements any trend, but the latest developments in denim fashion particularly appeal to selvedge’s unique qualities. The fashion for raw denim prompted the habit of rolling up the end of jeans because this type of material, not prewashed, could stain a white pair of shoes with indigo dye. Selvedge denim perfectly complements this trend, as the popular pin-roll perfectly exhibits its distinctive hem.

Whilst selvedge weaves its way back into the limelight, its reputation as a superior, quality product stands firm. As every corner of the fashion industry, from high street to high end, begins to cotton on to selvedge’s unique appeal, this edgy denim’s resurgence is making an indelible mark on the style scene.

How selvedge denim was salvaged – words Al Woods