Looking at the images above, it’s easy to see why you don’t need to be a denim guru to see why some individuals prefer to let their jeans fade naturally over time from the raw denim state rather than buying jeans that have been artificially aged through manufactured washing processes. The details and three-dimensional texture that come from time and natural wear are too complicated for the fast industrial washing process to recreate.
SummaryDenim honeycombs are made from compression and decompression at the back of the knees. When denim begins stiff, such as raw denim, the initial breaking points in the bends become the points of least resistance, resulting in repeated bends and well-defined folds.
Denim honeycombs are so named due to their striking resemblance to honeycombs. They are formed as a result of compression and decompression at the back of the knees. When denim begins stiff, such as raw denim, the initial breaking points in the bends become the points of least resistance, resulting in repeated bends and well-defined folds.
The highest points, like whiskers, undergo the most abrasion and hence lighten the most in color. The lower points remain darker, resulting in transitional fades between them.
As a denim designer, I researched the causes and consequences of denim fading like a scientist to aggressively imitate real-world denim aging in my pre-washed jeans designs. This guide is a great tool for understanding how to create the various fading effects that develop on jeans for those looking for tips on “how to fade jeans” naturally. Here’s what I discovered.
A – Whiskers
Whiskers, also known as mustaches, hige, crease lines, are lines that naturally form along folds in the front hip area of jeans as a result of repetitive stretching and movement. With abrasion, the highest points of the folds fade the lightest in color. The denim fabric holds more color and appears darker as you move down the folds.
B – Whisker Texture
Highs and lows form around whiskers, giving them a texture. When denim is stretched and pulled around the hips at the front rise, dark patches form. There are lighter areas (whisker lines) where the color has been worn off by friction.
C – Thigh Fading
The indigo color in the denim yarns fades because of abrasion against the thighs. When we sit, our arms and hands rest on our thighs, which wears away the color.
D – Knee Fading
The knees are one of the most stressed areas in jeans. If you frequently work or perform tasks on your knees, they will rapidly fade.
Knee stretching will happen along with fading. This is particularly noticeable in jeans made of raw denim that has naturally aged. Lines with high and low basins protrude like whiskers in the knee flexion direction.
F – Seat Fading
Each time a person sits in a pair of jeans, the seat fades slightly. This is the result of a small amount of color rubbing off the yarns, which lightens the overall appearance.
G – Waistband Fading
Belt-related friction is the most common cause of waistband wear and tear. Randomly, the seam line within the waistline becomes visible.
H – Hem Fading
Fading or destruction at the hem can occur in a variety of ways. Rope-like twisting fade lines will appear at the high points if the hem is sewn unevenly at the in-and-out seams. Shredding or fraying can occur over time when jeans are too long and drag on the ground.
I – Chevrons
Chevrons are the fade lines that appear on the inner thighs of jeans just above the inseam. Walking, squatting, and sitting can all stretch the inseam. Friction on the high points of the stretch lines rubs away the yarn color, resulting in chevrons.
One of the most sought-after fadings among raw denim fans, the rear knee honeycombs, are the result of months or even years of natural aging. When fabric bends and collapses on itself on the back side of the knees, the high points fade from abrasion while the low points remain darker, creating a honeycomb appearance.
K – Fly Abrasion
The fading around the fly is a continuation of the whiskers and adheres to the same principles. The high points are abraded the most, while the lower areas remain darker. It’s worth noting that zippers and button-fly jeans fade in different ways. The spaces between the buttons on button-fly jeans facilitate the formation of high and low fading horizontally, which extends into the hips across the front rise, resulting in more detailed fade patterns. There are typically more vertical abrasion highlights on the zipper fly, which does not bend as easily.
L – Seat Seam Abrasion
On jeans, the seat and back pocket seams are high points that take a lot of abuse every time the wearer sits. The high points and edges of jeans deteriorate and fade the fastest in time.
M – Back Pocket / Wallet Fades
If you carry items in your rear pockets on a regular basis, such as wallets or phones, the color in the high spots of the denim will fade faster due to abrasion each time you sit on them.
Due to their resemblance to railway tracks, the two faded lines that develop on either side of the outseams of jeans manufactured with selvedge edges or overlock seams that have been pressed open on the inside of the jeans are frequently referred to as “train tracks.” If the outside seams of the jeans are sewn together, these lines won’t show up.
O – Cuff Lines / Roll Creases
Depending on how you wear your long, rolled, or cuffed jeans, lines will appear differently. The bottom of the denim may become ragged or frayed if you roll them such that the length hits the ground. If the roll or cuff is high, a dark line may appear on the face of the denim from a lack of abrasion.
P – Inseam Abrasion
Because the inseam is a high point on jeans, they tend to wear faster from abrasion, especially in the crotch and at the hem, where there is a lot of friction. These highlighted high spots often get whiter and brighter with age than other regions of the jeans.
Q – Belt Loop Fading
Belt loops, like other elevated places, suffer a lot of abrasion damage. With aging, they wind up with fraying plus having some of the brighter white portions, particularly at the ends and center points.
R – Front Pocket Whiskers & Crease Lines
The aging process here is comparable to that of the whiskers around the thigh. The denim stretches as a result of sitting and walking, and the waistband compression exaggerates the peaks and valleys inside the hand pockets just below the waistline. The coin pocket suffers from wear and develops highlights on the coin pocket side.
S – Hip Whiskers
Hip whiskers extend from the middle of the front rise and wrap around the hip outseams before fading out on the back side, just past the seamline.
T – Crotch Fading / Blowout
Due to the continual rubbing of the fabric against fabric between the legs, the crotch of jeans sustains the most wear and tear. Complete crotch blowouts that result in crotch holes are influenced by the wearer’s body type, how high or low they wear their jeans, and the denim’s thickness (lighter weight textiles may blowout more quickly than heavy).
U – Seat Lines / Rear Crotch Whiskers
Because of the lower resistance and compression at the location where the fabric folds, subtle whiskers can emerge just below the back pockets. These lines originate from the crotch’s center point stress area.
V – Crotch Seam Damage
During normal wear, the elevated seams in the crotch receive the most abrasion from all of the rubbing inside the crotch and frequently acquire frayed edges, high contrast, and even tears.
W – Denim Stacks
Stacks on jeans occur when the length of the jeans is so long that the denim fabric buckles and crinkles, or stacks on top of itself. Over time, honeycombs form above the hem. The longer the excess length is at the inseam, the more and higher the stack forms over the leg opening.
X – Pocket Bag Fading
Abrasions on the thighs can cause fading over the pocket bag. The pocket’s outline, or high points, or items that stay in the pocket for an extended period of time can form outlines of their shapes.
An original hem also called a European hem, or euro hem is an alteration method where the goal is to shorten jeans and pants without losing the original manufactured hem. This alteration technique is a perceived value on garments with pre-washed or aged hem edges to those who do not want to lose the look.
This method of hemming is preferred among sewers with home and common-duty industrial machines. It allows them to dodge sewing through multiple layers of denim fabric required in traditional jeans hemming. Besides preserving tatter hem edges, some techniques preserve the manufacturer’s stitching above the hem, which is too thick for home machines, and usually not stocked at most dressmakers and tailoring shops.
The alteration method above has a clean inside construction but its construction style causes the hem to be stiff and ring-shaped. The customer who sent this pair in removal and re-hemming complained it was annoying to wear.
Denim enthusiasts and those generally knowledgable about jeans avoid original hem alterations. It is an alteration procedure typically advocated by DIY diehards and non-denim experts because it is generally easier for their equipment to handle. The tailor’s selling point of the process is the preservation of the store-bought hem. Void in the conversation is the annoying inside bulk around the ankles, goofy seamline, or stiff ring-like shape of the cleaner sewn version of the alteration – and the fact that the aged look of the hem will naturally come back through frequent washing and/or wear.
Denim jeans and like-constructed pants are predominantly sewn with chain stitching at the hem and heavy threads that can withstand harsh washing, not typical in other garments. However, even denim lovers more knowledgeable than the average mom about jeans and workwear can get talked into an original hem alteration. Either that or don’t ask the right questions in choosing a hemming service. Have a look at a few examples of jeans and pants sent to us in need of rescuing.
Iron Heart fans should be warned, that the photo below could be extremely upsetting.
This is a prime example of bad tailoring. These rather expensive and high-quality jeans were tapered from the outseams, destroying the selvedge. Not to go far enough, the tailor topped them top off with an original hem alteration. Here there is no reason to save an aged-looking hem edge. The obvious reason for using this hemming technique is the lack of equipment able to sew through the heavy denim typically found in Iron Hearts jeans.
Chain stitching is a type of stitch produced by a sewing or embroidery machine. The name chain stitch comes from its looped chain-link-like appearance. In sewing, a chain stitch has a single stitch line on the top side and a looped chain-like stitch on the bottom side.
Single, double, and triple-needle chain stitching is popular in denim clothing and similarly constructed garments. It is usually found on high-stress seams which often incur stretchings such as the center seat seams, yokes, panel seams, inseams, and waistbands. The triple-needle is more often used in workwear.
Tension in the stitch pulls the fabric into a slight pucker, allowing a bit of stretching. A favorite in garment manufacturing because it provides a strong durable stitch that can easily be undone if needed. The tension creates a decorative puckering effect which is especially visible on denim seams and hems, as the fabric shows signs of aging, washing, and wear.
What is hemming?
Hemming is the sewing process of shortening the length or finishing the bottom edge on a pair of jeans or pants. Hemming uses a method of double folding into itself the raw fabric edge of the leg openings to make a clean smooth edge.
What is chain stitch hemming?
Chain stitch hemming is when a pair of jeans or pants are hemmed with a chain stitch sewing machine. The hem of most jeans is traditionally sewn with chain stitching about 1/2″ above the bottom edge. Some makers choose to make the height of the hem taller or shorter as a choice of design aesthetic. The below photo is an example of a chain-stitched hem with a traditional-sized hem.
Why are some jeans made with a regular stitch at the hem?
We see jeans without chain stitching predominantly in the work of novice denim brands or designers inexperienced in the category of denim. However, being a neophyte is not the rule as seen on the below hem of Levi’s jeans. Even the biggest most celebrated brands sometimes use factories accustomed to producing low-end / discount denim and commonly disregard chain stitching if not a design decision.
To be clear, we don’t know why any brand would purposely choose to use a regular stitch at the hem, especially if they are well-established denim brands, however, some are known to do so. Take A.P.C. for example, which is a major French brand that has a generally well-educated denim customer base and has been pretty successful in making jeans for a long time. They purposely choose to go with a hem fold that is larger than most jeans, plus use a single needle stitch (trouser styled). This is obviously an aesthetic choice.
That said, customers that send us A.P.C. jeans for hemming or tapering, almost always request traditional chain stitching and hem size. Very rarely do our alteration customers request trouser-styled hem construction, which may be an insight into the thinking of U.S. enthusiasts.
An Original Hem alteration. What is it? And, why you should stay away from this type of hemming alteration.
People often fall for this alteration because they like the washed or worn edge on the hem and believe it will be lost while shorting their jeans. Most choose the Original Hem alteration because a tailor or seamstress offers the option, or they learned of this novel alteration that touts keeping the tattered hem by cutting it away and reattaching it to the jeans.
ORIGINAL HEM ALTERATIONS – DON’T DO IT!
First of all, it’s cheesy, hacky, corny, wack… There are many ways to describe this bad idea. We get lots of jeans from those who tried this alteration with requests to have their jeans rehabilitated and hemmed with traditional chain stitching. A word of advice, don’t waste your time and money damaging your jeans or wearing this embarrassing look.
Patience pays off. There is really no reason to hack up your jeans. If you wash and wear regularly, the wavy lines and abrasion highlights will return to jeans after traditional chain stitch hemming. If you want to speed up the process or have a lot of shredding, try roughing up the edges of the hems with sandpaper, an electric grinder, or cut them up with a sharp blade.
Tailors and seamstresses use multiple techniques to make original hems. The results in our opinion are all bad. In every approach, a seamline is added where there was none before, losing the flexibility of the original leg bottom. Layers of fabrics are sewn together and create a stiff, unsightly, (depending on how heavy the fabric or which method is used) uncomfortable line above the new hem. Other less stiff techniques leave the inside of the jeans looking so hideous, that you would never want to turn up the jeans to make a cuff. Also, if you don’t tack the hem down (which leaves additional visible stitch lines) the hem can flip up exposing the embarrassing-looking sewing construction.
Here is everything you need to know without going into great detail about raw denim’s history or production. Raw denim fabric must first be understood in order to understand what raw jeans are.
Raw denim is simply denim fabric that has not been washed, dyed, soaked, or otherwise exposed to water.
Raw denim is simply denim that has not been washed, colored, soaked, or otherwise exposed to water after the weaving process. What makes denim “raw” has nothing to do with its color, weight, maker, dye, or the fact that it is selvedge or not.
Raw denim is also called dry or hard denim, but it shouldn’t be confused with selvedge denim, which it often is. In the image below, you can see examples of the two different types of raw denim fabric used to make denim clothing. The most common type of denim among denim enthusiasts is selvedge, which refers to the weaving process of the fabric. It has clean-self finished edges or “self-edge” which are used in finished garments by cutting selected pattern parts to the edge of the fabric. Wide goods or non-selvedge denim (pictured in the foreground) is woven with frayed edges which are discarded after cutting.
Is selvedge better quality denim?
Don’t be fooled by the name selvedge into believing it’s better denim. Quality standards, like other items, will vary depending on the provider. Both selvedge and non-selvedge denims are manufactured in varying grades. Frequently, mass producers of low-cost jeans use suppliers who are not known for producing high-quality denim. Do your homework since some mass-market brands will leverage the cache of mills recognized for creating premium denim to make cheap denim that looks the part.
Why is selvedge denim more expensive?
For fabric mills, weaving selvedge denim is more expensive. For brands, the cost of manufacturing garments produced with selvedge denim is higher. As a result, selvedge denim products typically sell at higher costs within a brand’s style assortment.
Within a brand’s style range, selvedge denim jeans are more likely to be more expensive than non-selvedge models: To begin, unlike non-selvedge denim, which can range from 57″ to 64″ wide, selvedge denim is narrower, ranging from 28″ to 34″ in width. This means that a pair of selvedge jeans may require roughly double the amount of fabric as a regular pair of jeans. The pricing of the fabric is the second factor to consider. Selvedge costs a few dollars extra per yard (depending on the supplier) because it is typically woven on older, slower looms that create fabric with a high rate of flaws, whereas modern looms make wider (non-selvedge) denim with fewer faults at faster speeds.
The images below show “Markers” for jeans. Markers are patterns for each size range that are printed on paper and used by the cutter to trace the cut on the fabric. The pattern pieces on the Markers are arranged to minimize fabric waste. Selvedge Markers are shown in the top image, and non-selvedge Markers are shown in the bottom image. This example shows two pairs of jeans cut on the narrower selvedge denim would require nearly 6 yards of fabric, while two of the same sizes cut on the wider non-selvedge would use about 2 1/2 yards of fabric.