Fabric Facts: DENIM


Good news denim lovers, we've recently increased our (already substantial!) stock of denim and chambray. As you can see from the pics above, we love working with denim and we've been busy making up some great wardrobe staples -  dress it up or down, wear in rain or shine, denim will see you through summer and well into autumn too. So, there's TONS of things you can make with denim, but how can you choose which type of denim from all it's many and various guises? To help you with that, for the next two weeks we're offering you our chunky denim and chambray swatch packs FREE! No postage fee, just send your name and address to info@raystitch.co.uk and we'll send them straight out.

Read on for some interesting facts about this omnipresent fabric, and don't forget to show us what you make via social media!

Denim is a timeless classic wardrobe staple; there can't be many people who haven't got a single denim garment! From James Dean, Marilyn Monroe and Audrey Hepburn to Taylor Swift, Helen Mirren, David Beckham and Prince Harry...everybody wears denim. Part of it's fashion appeal is that it is so versatile and can be dressed up or down, and a smart garment made from denim can give it an edgy, everyday look.

Denim was invented in the 18th century, when fabric makers in Nimes, France attempted to replicate a sturdy Italian fabric called serge. What they created was called "serge de Nimes" or shortened to "denim." Serge is a type of twill fabric which is woven with the weft (horizontal threads) passing under two or more warp (vertical) threads. The off-setting of this weaving process creates the distinctive diagonal pattern to the fabric and makes it very hard-wearing. With indigo denim the warp is dyed blue while the weft is left white, meaning that the inside of the fabric is much paler than the show-face.

Close-up of the serge weaving process which produces the distinctive twill diagonal pattern.


Like denim, chambray is made with a coloured warp and a white weft, but it is woven with a plain weave (1 over, 1 under) As such it has a smooth surface and is the same colour on both sides of the fabric. Chambray also comes in different weights according to the thread count and can be woven with a tight weave for a crisp finish, or a looser weave for a more gauzy and casual feel.

Blue jeans as we know them today were invented by a tailor in Nevada, USA in response to a need for strong and durable work-trousers for labourers and miners in the gold rush. He asked Levi Strauss & Co who had been supplying his denim to help with the manufacture of these original rivet-reinforced jeans as demand was so high. The rest is fashion history!

The selvedge is the edge of a fabric as it comes from the loom. Selvedges are either woven or knit so that they will not fray, ravel, or curl. Usually the edge of the fabric is cut off when making up garments but with denim the edges are often expressed. Selvedge denim refers to a unique type of selvedge that is made by passing one continuous cross-yarn (the weft) back and forth through the vertical warp. This is traditionally finished at both edges with a contrasting warp, usually red; that is why this type of denim is sometimes referred to as "red selvedge." This method of weaving the selvage is possible only when using a shuttle loom. But shuttle looms weave a narrower fabric, which means that more yardage is needed to produce a garment from selvedge denim. That is why it has become a premium quality fabric and the red edges are on display.

Denim is strong and durable so it's actually easy to cut and work with, if you have the right equipment. It doesn't roll and is stable to sew but it will fray when cut.

Tips for sewing with denim:

  • Use a denim needle. These are stronger needles so they will be able to go through multiple layers of strong fabric. 100/16 or 100/18 is recommended for heavy denim.
  • Use a longer stitch length. This will make it easy to sew and help you to get an even finish. We'd recommend 3mm+ for jean-weight denim.
  • Press and steam all seams. Using a high heat and lots of steam will make your seams neat and professional-looking.
  • Reinforce seams with top-stitching. Because of it's stiffness, denim can come under stress at the seams. Top stitch using upholstery thread (often in a mustard colour on jeans) in the top feed and your normal thread in the bobbin.
  • Use appropriate zips, snaps and buttons. Heavy denim will need sturdy fixings to ensure these do not come apart. Chambray will not need anything heavy duty though.
  • Finish your seams. Denim frays a lot over time (which can be a feature of your garment). But if that's not the look you want then you will need to hem the seams, taking care not to add to the bulk. You can use an overlocker, or you could try Flat Felled Seams or even Mock-Flat Felled Seams.
  • Finally, always match the fabric weight to the right pattern. Chambray can be great for dresses, shirts and tops which have a good amount of drape and flow, whereas heavier denim is good for more structured garments such as jackets, trousers and shorts.