Types and Production of Denim Fabric

Can you think of someone in your circle unfamiliar with denim fabric? There is a greater chance that your answer will be “no.” Denim is one of the most popular fabrics in the market having properties that meet the needs of most people. In this article, you will explore some common and uncommon uses of this fabric. You will also read about its production and available types.

What Is Denim Fabric and How Did It Evolve With Time?

The strong cotton fabric called denim is woven in a special diagonal arrangement known as a twill weave. The word “denim” is derived from the French expression “serge de Nîmes,” which describes a robust fabric produced in the 17th-century French city of Nîmes.

Denim fabric rose to popularity in the United States throughout the 19th century. Manufacturers created work clothes for farmers, miners, and other workmen. Blue jeans were created in 1873 by Levi Strauss and Jacob Davis. They used denim cloth and copper rivets for increased durability.

Despite its use as industrial attire during the early 20th century, denim fabric rose to prominence. It rose as a rebellious and youth-oriented symbol in the 1950s and 60s. Denim emerged in the rock and roll niche and films with rebel leads wearing the fabric.

Typically, indigo, a plant-based dye that gives the fabric a rich blue hue, is used to dye denim. It is a popular fabric for clothes and other textile items because of its durability, resilience, and flexibility.

Jeans, skirts, jackets, and other sorts of clothes are frequently made using them. Denim fabric may be created with various kinds of cotton fibers or blended with other substances like polyester. It can also come in a variety of weights, finishes, and colors.

How Is the Denim Fabric Manufactured?

Denim production is a step-by-step process from collecting cotton to checking fabric quality. After cotton collection, the fibers undergo ginning and blending and then are spun into yarn. The manufacturers then dye the threads, weave them into the fabric, shrink or fade it, and check for quality.

Collecting Cotton From Fields

The collection of cotton depends on the type of denim you want to manufacture. All types have different stiffness and thickness. The length of cotton fiber determines the properties of the fabric. The collection is now made easier by cotton-picking machines, but some farmers still prefer hand-picking.

Blending and Ginning of Cotton

Since each bale has different fiber lengths, blending is important to ensure consistency. It also maintains the quality of denim fabric. The cotton is then purified by removing the seeds or weeds. The process of ginning leaves pure cotton fibers which are then merged into a sliver.

Spinning To Produce Yarn

Although cotton is clean by this point, it is not strong enough. Multiple slivers are combined, twisted, and stretched to create a strong, and tough thread. You can also add other materials during this process if you want to produce a specific type of denim. For instance, you can produce stretch denim if you add elastane fibers to the cotton fibers and twist. Lastly, the manufacturers make large barrels of these spun threads.

Dyeing the Spun Threads

Blue indigo is the oldest and most common dye for staining denim. Manufacturers dip the spun threads in big tanks or tubs that contain the dye dissolved in a liquid. Indigo dye stains the threads blue when it oxides in the air. So, manufacturers pull out the threads and dip them in again until they get the blue shade they desire. Since the threads are twisted, the dye only stains the outer side. It gives the fabric its unique white and blue mixed faded look.

Weaving on a Loom

There are two types of looms, the classic shuttle looms and modern automatic looms. The old shuttle looms require weaving with hand and skilled workers. These are not very common nowadays but are still popular in some countries because of their traditions. The weaving is slow, but the fabric is more durable and softer. Selvage denim is a product of old looms. Modern looms create warps (threads pulled up and down) and wefts (threads moving back and forth) automatically in a short time.

Shrinking, Softening, or Fading the Fabric

After the production of fabric, some modifications can improve the quality. For instance, heating and shrinking the fabric prevents it from shrinking after stitching. Some denim fabrics are physically or chemically treated for a soft texture or faded look. Acid treatments and stone washing are common.

Quality Assurance of the Fabric

Like any other fabric or textile product, denim undergoes a quality control procedure. It helps produce quality textiles with consistency by catching any weaving or dyeing defects.

How Can You Use the Denim Fabric?

You can use the denim fabric for different purposes, such as clothing, upholstery, or accessories. Denim artwork and musical instrument covers and cases are also popular. Moreover, it’s used in artwork and car accessories.

  • Artwork: canvases, decoration pieces, sculptures
  • Car Interior: car seats, dashboard covers, floor mats
  • Clothing: shirts, jackets, jeans, caps, hats, skirts, vests
  • The musical instrument covers: drum bags, guitar cases
  • Accessories: purses, tote bags, belts, wallets, sneakers, loafers
  • Upholstery: chair seats, curtains, couches, drapes, tablecloths, napkins, cushion covers, blankets, duvets

What Are Different Types of Denim Used Today?

The different types of denim used today are raw denim, poly denim, and stretch denim. Other types differ based on treatment processes, such as acid-wash, and stonewashed denim. Bull, crushed, and selvage denim fabrics are also common. Moreover, this fabric can be categorized based on its weight.

Raw Denim

Raw or dry denim is not like other treated denim fabrics. As the name suggests this fabric does not undergo fabric softening processing. Thus, it has a stiff look that only loses rigidity after some uses. The fabric gives a classic look to clothes such as jackets and jeans, or accessories such as bags. Since the fabric is in raw form, it is not pre-shrunk. You should always buy one or two sizes bigger than your actual size because the fabric shrinks after the first wash.

Poly Denim

Poly denim is a combination of denim and polyester or other synthetic fibers. The polyester adds flexibility and durability to the denim fabric. This fabric does not wrinkle as much as raw denim and can stretch. Its ability to stretch makes it suitable for sportswear. You can also get everyday wear poly denim clothes because they are comfortable and let users move easily. They are also washable and retain their color and shape even after many washings.

Stretch Denim

This denim type has different fractions of elastane merged with cotton. The fabric is highly stretchable and is more commonly used in women’s jeans. It feels soft on the skin and also stays close to the body because of its flexible nature. It is quite popular and gives a stylish look to clothes. However, it might lose its stretchability after some time. It happens when the elastane fibers break, and the fabric loses its shape.

Sanforized Denim

The sanforized denim is processed by a procedure known as sanforization. The process improved the denim quality because it changes it in a way so it does not shrink after washing. This steaming and stretching process stabilizes the fabric, so it does not shrink after cutting or sewing. Sanforized denim is durable and maintains its shape even after many washes.

Crushed Denim

This fabric attracts most designers looking to create a trendy look. It looks crinkled because manufacturers treat it to give a texture. They either use mechanical processes or chemicals to add wrinkles. The texture is then preserved by washing and drying the fabric. Crushed denim accessories are trendy. Some curtains and home decor objects are also made with this fabric.

Selvage Denim

Selvage denim is also considered a type of raw denim because it is woven the old way. Its name comes from the fact that at the end of its production on narrow shuttle looms, the edges are finished or “self-edged.”

The best quality of this fabric is that it has a tight weave. It gives the fabric a sturdy and durable property. You can identify the fabric by observing the colored strip running through its edge. The fabric is more expensive than other denim types because of its quality and durability.

Bull Denim

This type of denim is quite durable, and the name also gives away this feature. It has a cotton-like smooth texture and a shiny surface. The fabric has a high weight which makes it suitable for drapes and clothing. It is a popular fabric for outdoor use that lasts a long time due to its sturdiness.

Acid Wash Denim

This fabric is quite common among youngsters because they like wearing faded jeans. It was popular in the 1980s, so now it gives a vintage look to the outfit. The faded look comes after the acid treatment of the fabric.

Manufacturers soak the fabric in chlorine or acid, so it fades out the dye from random spots. Although it gives a different look to the fabric, the process weakens the threads. So, the fabric is not as durable as raw denim and requires careful maintenance.

Stonewashed Denim

Like acid-wash denim, the stonewashed denim also has a faded look. The process utilizes pumice stones to give the fabric a worn look. It gives a vintage or distressed look and softens the fabric.

Apart from these, denim is also classified based on its weight. The three types are:

  • Lightweight denim – weighing up to 8 ounces
  • Midweight denim – weighing 8 to 10 ounces
  • Heavyweight denim – weighing 11 to 20 ounces

What Are the Denim Fabric Properties?

Denim is popular due to its durability and stiffness. The fabric is heavy yet breathable and does not display piling. Reading the list of properties mentioned below will give you a clear sense of this fabric:

  1. Good tensile strength of around 3000-4000 N/cm, depending on the type
  2. High weight due to thick fabric, but lightweight denim is also available
  3. Good crease recovery and reduced need for ironing
  4. Low to moderate flexibility depending on the type
  5. High to medium stiffness, depending on the type
  6. Thick fabric due to tightly woven cotton strands
  7. Resistance to abrasion and tearing
  8. High moisture-wicking capabilities
  9. Air permeability and breathable
  10. High resistance to tearing
  11. Heat retention capacities
  12. No pilling or bubbling

Is Denim Safe for the Environment?

Denim made purely with cotton fibers is safe for the environment. Composting completely degrades the fabric, and prevents it from piling up in the environment. If the fabric is not 100% cotton, you can repurpose it into accessories, clothing, or building insulation material. You can also donate denim items.

Denim Repurposing

Denim repurposing can be very useful if you do it the right way. For instance, you can turn your old pants into denim shorts. You can also use patches from your old denim jacket to repair new denim garments. Other repurposing ideas include:

  • Cutting a pair of jeans from inseams and adding more fabric to style it into a skirt
  • Making cute purses or tote bags out of large denim pieces
  • Creating DIY home decorations, such as lamps, rugs, etc.
  • Fashioning small accessories, such as headbands
  • Insulating buildings

Resell or Donate

Since faded jeans and jackets are always in fashion, you can sell your denim products. You can also donate them to people who need these items but cannot afford to buy them.

Denim Composting

If there is no way you can recycle the fabric, you can surrender it to the composting process. The microorganisms in the soil will take care of it, and you will not have to worry about disposing of the fabric. Cutting the clothes or fabric will speed up the process, but only if it is 100% cotton. Poly denim or stretch denim contains polyester threads that cannot degrade by composting.


Now that you know all about denim fabric, you must be capable of differentiating its types. You might also adapt the uncommon uses or repurposing ideas for your old denim jacket. This way, you will not have to worry about disposing of the fabric, and you will continue to enjoy the denim properties.