Blue-jean baby, L.A. Lady

The Problem

Recently, after catching up with a friend, I found out that he had sent his pair of Japanese denim jeans to be repaired as both knees and the crotch area were giving way. However, he was not satisfied with the work that was done.

Firstly, the zigzag stitches were rather conspicuous. Using zigzag stitches to reinforce denim usually requires the stitches to be closer together.

Moreover, the thread that is used is usually in a colour that is the same as or very similar to the indigo warp (horizontal/lengthwise thread). The darker blue thread used ends up looking a little out of place on the pair of jeans.

Upon inspection, I came to realise that the tailor’s task was a lot more complicated than initially imagined.

The work of the other tailor – the bunching up of the denim is similar to a hot dog being squeezed by strings. Perhaps raw denim that is worn-in is trickier than it looks.

The insides of the other tailor’s work looks well-made nonetheless.

More Than Meets The Eye

The jeans were a pair of 17oz heavyweight seasoned Japanese denim jeans that have been worn frequently for more than four years. 

Raw denim wears differently from the typical sanforised (the process of pre-shrinking fabric before it is made into fabric), washed denim. This produces a look that is inconsistent but characteristic of raw denim – the folds and fades of the pair of jeans is a result of your daily wear and your actions. For example, if you tend to cross your legs a lot while wearing the pair of jeans, the thigh area of the jeans will be lighter than the others, especially at the part where the leg would have been when crossed. The end result? A personalised patina.

Moreover, your unique way of wearing and utilising the pair of raw denim also affects the stiffness of the pair of jeans. The parts that get stretched and moved more will become more flexible while the parts that don’t move as much, like the area around the thighs, would remain stiffer.

A Brief History of Japanese Denim

Japanese denim has a place in the history books of fabric. They are known for their high quality that some will argue is the best in the world, as well as their unique and non-uniformed fades.

Denim jeans were invented in America, as an affordable and durable answer to workwear. However, with an increased focus on modernising and becoming ever-more efficient, these American mills got rid of their traditional antique shuttle looms from the 1950s.

The more efficient modern looms that the Americans used were quicker and made denim that was more uniformed. And that, isn’t necessarily a bad thing, rather a reflection of the time: a time where more people were working in manufacturing and a lot more denim needed to made, and fast.

Some years later, in the 60s and 70s, enterprising Japanese craftsmen and businessmen saw the opportunity and seized these shuttle looms from the Americans. To this day, some Japanese companies still use them to to create denim that is unrivalled in terms of quality and uniqueness.

The Sashiko Process

It was my first time working with a pair of worn raw denim. I knew that I did not want to leave any unnecessary markings from chalks. Moreover, I wanted to utilise the zig zag stitch that was already in place to hold the underlying raw denim patch while I worked on the sashiko lines.

The process was oddly easy. Perhaps I was expecting some form of resistance since the denim was one that was heavyweight and were quite thick at 17oz. But it also made sense, as the less tight weave of raw denim makes it more flexible and breathable over time. It was a unique experience for me.

Takeaways

It was quick of me to dismiss the tailor’s work as being a slipshod mess but after getting to know the material, it is indeed trickier than it seems.

The ‘loops’ at each end of the sashiko row adds some mobility to the thread and hence the fabric. Perhaps it is affinity that Japanese raw denim would require a traditional Japanese technique to not end up with bunching of fabric. I kid, but the softness of the now worn-in pair of raw denim jeans blends well with the soft yet firm sashiko thread.

Moreover, Japanese raw denim made using traditional shuttle looms meant that the denim created was rougher, yet also bore more character as the strands of indigo do not fade uniformly. This results in streaks of lighter indigo nestled between those of a darker tone, with some even having an almost bleached colour similar to the white weft (vertical/widthwise thread) underneath. 

– The Kind Oddball, 優しく個性的な人

The Finishing Touches

Removing the zig zag stitches over the right knee. My friend wanted the other knee to blowout first and then fix it with visible mending, similar to the ‘new’ left knee.

Notice the variegated fades and patina of the pair of jeans. Moreover, look at the faded folds of the creases at the back of the knees that comes from wear.

Japanese denim back in its home country in time for 花見, the cherry blossom season

share this post: