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Denim Deconstructed (And why I don't buy new jeans)

Updated: 4 days ago

15 years in the denim industry gave me a front seat to the rise of fast fashion and the environmental impact of textile production, and it wasn't pretty. After everything I saw, I never wanted to buy another pair of jeans again, so instead I started upcycling and helping others learn to quilt and create with discarded denim.

But what makes denim anyway? And why is it so bad for the environment? Well, below I'm going to share just a bit about this unique textile and why I don't buy new jeans.


Fabric is a bunch of fibers woven together, and the direction of those fibers is known as the grainline. In the image below the arrow going up and down represents the straight grain (or warp) and arrow going right to left is the cross grain (or weft). I have a little trick to remember which is which - "left" rhymes with "weft" so I remember that right to left is weft. The straight grain runs parallel to the selvedge edges, and then the bias runs diagonal across the fabric, offering flexibility and stretch.

When the fabric is woven, the warp yarns are held stationary on the loom while the weft yarns are woven over and under to create the weave.

The Weave

The first thing that makes a fabric denim is the twill weave. Unlike a traditional even weave, denim's twill weave creates a distinct diagonal pattern. The most durable and iconic version is a 3x1 RHT – three warp yarns to every one weft yarn creating a diagonal down from the upper right corner. For a denim to be over 10.5oz it needs to have this weave construction.

Warp-faced fabric – the dyed warp yarns are more visible on the front (face) than the undyed weft. Which is why the front of the jeans appears bluer but if you turn the jeans over, they appear whiter.

And why are the warp yarns blue? Because they're dyed with indigo, of course. Well, Hold on. Hold that thought for a second.

Indigo: Natural vs. Synthetic

Synthetic indigo
Synthetic indigo

Indigo dye has been around forever. Natural indigo comes from plants and is a sustainable and non-toxic dye. However, it's expensive and the process time intensive and a synthetic alternative was developed in the late 1800's, quickly overtaking natural indigo production. The problem? Synthetic indigo is made using crude oil and petrochemicals and is classified as a carcinogenic, genotoxic and neurotoxic substance.

Environmental Consequences

The environmental toll of synthetic indigo is significant. The dyeing process generates vast amounts of wastewater, filled with harmful chemicals. This wastewater not only pollutes natural water sources but also disrupts aquatic ecosystems, endangering plant life and wildlife. If you are interested in learning more about this, I highly recommend watching the documentary, River Blue.

Well, that's depressing, now what?

It's hard not to feel overwhelmed and powerless when it comes to combatting climate change, but it doesn't help the planet to sit around and feel sad. There are little things you can do like buy less new clothes and repair the ones you have to extend their life.

And once the jeans are made, the damage has been done, so rather than feel guilty about it, try upcycling them! Whether you make them into patchwork quilts or braided rugs, you are contributing to a more circular economy and showing others how fun it can be to be sustainable.

Happy Upcycling,

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1 commento

3 days ago

Hello, I love your blog post, so insightful. I just watched the movie, "Fashion Reimagined" on YouTube ( and they talked about the impact of denim, many issues I didn't realize. I like your suggestion about using the denim to make the applique.



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