Denim Definitions
May 17, 2011

denim glossary
Arcuate:  “Arch-like”.  The double arcuate stitch, patented by Levi’s, is usually seen on the back pockets of jeans.

Broken Twill:  A zig-zag woven pattern common to denim, it was originally created by Wrangler to prevent twisting of the legs, either to the right or left, that occurs due to the direction of knitting.   It is essentially a combination of left hand and right hand twills in alternating order.

Chain Stitch: A sewing technique whereby two pieces of yarn are looped together in a series forming a chain.  It is one of the more prolific sewing techniques for jeans, favored for the strength and durability of the stitch.  It is commonly employed on stress points of the jeans such as the inseam and waist and also provides the classic roping effect seen on the hem.

Hem: To hem a piece of fabric refers to the practice of sewing edge of the fabric in a way that prevents it from unraveling.  There are many styles of hems using different kinds of stitching.  Also, when a garment is “hemmed”, it often refers to the shortening of the garment to a desired length.

Indigo:  A blue colored dyestuff originally extracted from the plant Indigofera tinctoria, it is the dye of choice for most denim and has been synthetically produced since the late 1800s. Indigo sets itself apart from other dyes in that it never fully penetrates the fiber.  Uncoiling an indigo yarn will reveal the white fiber underneath.  These properties allow the fabric to achieve a unique fade and individual markings.  Attempts at creating different hued dyes that mimic the qualities of indigo have not been successful.

Rivets: Flat metal tabs sutured into “stress points” and pockets on jeans to fortify against tearing.

Raw/Dry Denim:  Raw/Dry denim is denim that has not been treated or washed after being dyed.  It is characteristically stiff, dark in color and over time with usage, will soften and fade.  In contrast, non-dry denim is usually pre-washed to reduce shrinkage and commonly pre-treated to achieve an artificial “distressed” look.   Denim aficionados favor Raw/Dry denim because it allows them to personalize the wear and tear process.  Since raw/dry denim is unaffected in its natural state, the eventual fade and each scuffing, tear, and other hallmarks of “distress” is caused by the wearer and his/her activities, resulting in a truly unique garment.   Raw/Dry denim is rarely washed, with the first wash being delayed at least 6 months.

Selvedge/Selvage Denim: Denim produced on old-style shuttle looms that features one edge which presents as a clean edge and does not unravel.  The selvedged edge is generally used on the out-seam of the pant leg and may be visible when cuffed.  Its inability to fray makes selvedged denim one of the more coveted and expensive denims on the market.

Honey Comb/Whiskers/Stacks:  The markings that develop at the common stress points of jeans where the indigo has worn off.  These are usually behind the knees (honey comb), crotch/upper thighs (whiskers), and ankles (stacks).

Sanforization:  The process by which fabric is pre-shrunk to a degree that any residual shrinkage is limited to less than 1%.  Developed in the 1920s, the fabric is stretched, shrunk and fixed prior to cutting.

Distressing:  Abrading processes are applied to the fabric to achieve a worn or “distressed” look, common methods in include stone washing and acid washing.

Pre-washed:  Also known as “pre-shrunk”, refers to denim which has been treated to ensure that residual shrinking is minimized to less than 3%  (i.e. the way it fits in the store should be retained over time/washings).

Downsizing:  The preference of some consumers to purchase jeans in a size or two smaller than their actual size in anticipation of the material loosening and expanding over time and use.  Downsizing can be used to achieve a “slim fit”, however, consumers should be aware that sizes vary according to brands and no one brand can serve as a true benchmark.  Those looking to downsize should go based on their actual waist size (in cm/inches), as opposed to the numbered size.

One-Wash:  Refers to unsanforized jeans that have been soaked once in water to reduce shrinkage.

Rope Dying:  Staining technique whereby hundreds of threads are twisted together to form a rope that is then soaked in a dye bath and allowed to dry.  The process is repeated until the desired color is achieved.  This technique results in the thread surface having a darker color than the inner fibers, thus allowing for the fading effect.

Soak: The practice of soaking the denim, usually in a bathtub or bucket, in order to induce shrinkage.  Generally, the hotter the temperature of the water, the more shrinkage will occur.

Starch: Starch is sometimes added to the fabric to increase its stiffness.  The stiffer the fabric the easier it is to “break” and create more defined creases.

Shrinkage:  Reduction of the size of the garment caused by constriction of the fabric, usually at the introduction of water.  Denim that has undergone sanforization, or “pre-shrinking” should not see more than 1% shrinkage.  However, shrinkage of unsanforized will likely be more dramatic and may change the size of your jeans altogether.  As a result, jeans that have not been in sanforized are generally soaked before use.  Temperature, duration of soaking in water and other factors may affect the level of shrinkage.


Text by Natalie Lasavanich

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