Selvedge Denim vs. Normal Denim
‘Selvedge’ is the name for the higher-quality, harder-to-produce type of denim that is typically sold and worn unwashed. You can spot it on the cuffs of jeans. If they’ve got a clean look with edges that’re usually white/red/white, it’s selvedge denim.
But what is selvedge denim? Why is it more expensive than ‘normal’ denim? Is it worth it? And is selvedge denim better?
Selvedge actually ought to be spelled ‘self-edge.’ The term refers to the self-finished edges of shuttle-loomed fabric. Here we’re talking about weaving, which we must understand to know what selvedge is.
The yarn that runs across—known as the weft—is threaded over and under the yarn that runs downwards, which is called the warp.
You can learn much more about weaving and the three kinds of denim weaves in this in-depth member resource.
The Two Ways to Weave Denim
There are two ways to weave denim: with or without a shuttle. Weaving with a shuttle is the old school way.
The shuttle is essential; it threads the weft through the warp shed. As the weft is continuously passed back and forth, the edges of the fabric are self-finished, which is why it’s called ‘selvedge.’
Hurling a shuttle back and forth is a relatively time-consuming process that creates a bottleneck in terms of production speed. So, when they need to weave faster (and cheaper), denim makers use shuttleless weaving machines.
Shuttleless weaving is most commonly done with a projectile loom. Instead of a shuttle, a small metal device that looks like a bullet (hence the name) carries the weft across the shed.
Why Is Selvedge Denim More Expensive?
Shuttleless looms usually weave at least four times faster than shuttle looms. And because the weaving frame can be widened, production capacity is up to 10 times higher.
In other words, you can get 10 times as much denim per hour when it’s not selvedge, and that obviously affects the price.
The fact that all shuttle looms are old and need a lot of care and maintenance to keep them weaving is another important cost factor.
Is Selvedge Denim Better?
… If by better you mean longer lasting then the simple answer is no!
The fact that denim is selvedge doesn’t mean it will last longer! However, since most selvedge denim jeans are not washed in a factory, they would probably last a little longer in theory.
But—and this is super important—when you don’t wash raw denim, like many will tell you not to, it’s not going to last as long as it will if you wash it every now and then. That’s the essence of my guide on how to make raw denim last longer!
The thing that most of us agree is better with selvedge denim is the way it fades. Of course, we’re discussing opinions now, not facts.
It is a fact that the slower pace of shuttle looms puts less tension on the yarn. And it’s a fact that shuttle looms tolerate more slubs in the yarn, which add character to the denim.
Together, this gives ‘better’ fades (subjectively speaking). And that’s why enthusiasts prefer selvedge denim.
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In the member resource and the lesson about how to denim is woven in the Denim 101 course, I go into more detail about the pros and cons of washing your jeans one way or the other. To get access, you first need a member account.
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