Denim Construction Terms Pt 1

Every industry has its list of confusing, jargony terms. Most of them you don’t really need to know unless you’re a specialist in that particular field. A guy doesn’t need to know the mechanics of the differential in his car to turn into his driveway, nor does he need to know what prostaglandins are in order to pop a couple of Ibuprofens when he’s sore.

But knowing just a few terms when shopping for your future favorite pair of jeans goes a long way.

Knowing where something comes from is like trusting your mechanic and that’s a great start, but construction is ultimately more important. Here’s some key construction terms to keep in mind…

Shuttle Looms vs. Projectile Looms
Shuttle looms come from that golden age where old world craftsmanship was harmoniously married to the machine age. The two main benefits to shuttle looms are a finished, self edge (from doubling back) that doesn’t require additional (and often weaker) hemming as well as an ability to adjust the tension to make slub and nep (described in pt 2) in the weave.

Projectile Looms are the modern way. Instead of a shuttle, multiple projectiles shoot the weft through the warp to the other side and then release. It’s insanely fast and makes bolts of cloth twice the size. Because the projectiles don’t loop back, the end of the fabric is frayed and unfinished, thus an overlock stitch is required on seams.

Projectile looms don’t necessarily make worse fabric - it all depends on the cotton used, the weight of the fabric, and the speed to which the machines are pushed.

Selvedge/Selvage/Self-Edge
These are just different spellings of the same term. As described above, this is a finished edge resulting from the use of a shuttle loom. It’s a mark of distinction that signifies an overlying tenet of quality. Again, selvedge jeans aren’t inherently better than non-selvage, but you can be pretty much guaranteed that any company producing a self-edged bolt of cloth is considering a lot more than just that one detail.

Raw (Dry) Denim
Raw Denim is simply denim fabric that remains unwashed and untreated from when it rolls off the loom to when it’s sewn into jeans or whatever else. It’s stiff and leaves indigo dye when it rubs against anything. It also takes forever to break-in. And... It’s the best thing ever.

It’s tougher and will outlast every other denim, but that’s not the best part. Everything you do in Raw Denim leaves its mark: Every adventure, scrape, close-call, and victory is worn right in. The daily essentials that you carry in your five pockets receives its own special position and wear outline. No article of clothing gets more personal - a formed and faded signature.

Pictured left: an example of back pocket bartacks. Pictured right: rivets set at stress points.

Bartacks
These are additional stitches used to reinforce stress points where you wouldn’t want a rivet like in the crotch or on back pockets where they could scratch up furniture.

Burrs/Rivets
Burrs are the washer top to the shanked rivets set into jeans. They are (usually) copper and used to reinforce stress points. They don’t just look cool. Their invention was completely utilitarian.

Legend has it that Jacob Davis, a tailor in Reno, discovered that by setting rivets into miner’s canvas pants, they lasted longer - which was really a major issue facing the 49’ers. Davis wanted to patent his design, but needed help, so he reached out to the main pants guy around: Levi Strauss. Together, they patented the design in 1873 and Davis became the plant manager for Levi’s, overseeing the first production of American blue jeans.

The first and still the most recognizable arcuate: Levi's golden arcs

Arcuate
This is just for fun. The arcuate is that stitched signature on the back pockets like Levi’s classic "seagull." Both Full Count and Iron Heart have arcuates inspired by Levi’s, but many brands have opted to leave the pockets clean and let the denim represent itself.

Next week we’ll double back to a description of Warp & Weft and also cover Sanforization, Dyeing techniques, Slub, Nep, and some of the stitches to look for if you want your pants to last as long as possible.