Sunday, July 26, 2009

Loom Chatter 4

Today is one of those Sundays marked by imperfections. If Sundays were meant to be nurturing waypoints hidden in the thick of the weekday jungle then today was no sanctuary. Being caught in the afternoon's downpour, for example, is nobody's idea of a perfect day. But having run home to a dry towel and seeing those fluffy white clouds pushing out the dark ones with the orange sun and even a huge rainbow emerging you suddenly realize that was the most fun you two had in weeks. It sure beats last week's boring walk home after a sweaty jog around the neighborhood. I guess the point is sometimes a little bit of imperfection makes life more interesting.

That is certainly true for denim. For example what are those beautiful yarn slubs found on vintage jeans but "imperfections" in the yarn spinning process? In the world of efficient and effective manufacturing a "perfect" yarn would have no deviation from the intended outcome and inconsistencies are frowned upon. But one will find that by controlling outcomes you wind up with products looking contrived. In the case of most programmed yarn slubs you wind up with slub patterns that are recognizable as such because they repeat consistently on the fabric. Modern technology trying to capture the look and feel of vintage character, usually marked by imperfections, often fail.

One such gorgeous but mostly unappreciated character associated with vintage shuttle looms is the broken fill (weft) yarn "defect" that pops up every so often. Many workwear companies sold overalls, jeans, and jackets made with denims with broken fill yarns prior to the 70's-- before newer weaving technologies became popular. Especially since industrial fashion washes were not yet in vogue a minor broken fill yarn was not apparent on the raw, unwashed garment. You can find broken fill yarns in as wide a selection as Levi's, Boss of the Road, Carhartt, Lee, Wranglers, etc.

My favorite chore jacket by Carter's (New Hampshire), made of a 2x1 right hand twill with grey weft yarns, has several such distinctive characters. I had purchased it in near deadstock condition and after a few wears and washes these characters have begun to reveal themselves more prominently, exclaiming that this garment was made in a time when workwear were tools. These "defects" proudly say that this garment was made when factories cut cloth without worrying that some fashion brand's designers and production people would scrutinize the garments for problems that can result in expensive chargebacks.

As a result when today's cutting and sewing operations get fabric woven on vintage looms, a gloriously imperfect technology, they do not understand it and consider these characters as "defects" they cut around. Sometimes entire rolls of beautiful selvage fabrics are rejected as seconds because of these loom chatters.

Below are pictures of a broken fill yarn on raw selvage denim. The yarn was likely broken because of the rough "beat up" motion, which is when the shuttle loom pushes in the fill yarn to create cloth. The mechanics of vintage American shuttle looms is quite imprecise and creates many uncontrollable variables during weaving.

Below are pictures of the back of the denim, which shows where the fill yarn is broken and the tail is sticking out.

In the coming days I will review more of these interesting characters that haunt the dreams of vintage denim lovers.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Rising Sun: Part III

In our previous blog post about Rising Sun propreitor Mike Hodis showed off some of the treasured sewing machines he uses to produce his line. I certainly made some very good notes in case I came across any of the apparently impossible to find machines.

To get to the essence of Rising Sun --bluntly, their selling point-- I had to know whether his rare black head machines is the main difference between Rising Sun and other brands inspired by vintage workwear. "Just because you're sewing on old sewing machines doesn't mean much to me," says Hodis.

So what else is there?

It turns out that Rising Sun's philosophy on being "period correct" is more about mindset than replication. While Hodis is a long time student of turn-of-the-century vintage garments he does not show much interest in copying old clothing. Instead he has really gotten under the seams of those vintage pieces and mastered the details that show an article of clothing was made in, say, the 1920's. Just as there are certain methods and machines used for creating authentic keyholes there are nuances for pattern making, cutting, sewing, and every other step necessay up to the point of displaying workwear in the dry goods store.

Hodis explains that Rising Sun's outdoor hunting/fishing vest is sewn on the black head Singer single needle machine. Vintage pieces sometimes have the fabric selvage hidden down the back french seam, as a result of maximizing fabric utilization. I was surprised that this seemingly decadent use of selvage fabric actually minimized waste. The fabric itself is a playful twist to complement the authenticity of the construction. The 10.75 oz canvas has indigo yarns in both warp and weft and a selvage identification that manifests in the form of a ticking stripe of sorts down the center back where the actual selvage is hidden in the french seam.

It is in striving to be as authentic as possible in all these processes that makes Rising Sun so unique. And it seems that onces these constraints (of machines, methods, old timey standards for efficiency, etc) have been established Hodis is actually quite liberated to be as creative as he desires within surprisingly open boundaries.

Rising Sun's Yukon jean is an exciting exercise in being period-correct without necessarily copying a particular vintage garment.

So obsessed with the idea of crafting products as if his workshop were in an era past that Hodis recently shipped a Rising Sun order of jeans in hand-stenciled wooden crates.

Rising Sun uses both USA and Japanese denim and offers both washed and unwashed jeans. It is currently being sold in Japan and Germany with US stores on the way.

Rising Sun Website

Disclosure: The editor of this blog continues to have a business relationship with Mike Hodis.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Rising Sun: Part II

Rising Sun makes their denim pieces in the small workshop behind their haberdashery in Pasadena, CA. To understand the significance of this we should look at the status quo of jeans production. Generally speaking in today's fashion industry designers "create" on paper and rely on factories to deliver a product that hopefully matches their specifications. To have your own cutting and sewing capability means to be empowered to produce a product that satisfies you 100%.

Talking to the passionate propreitor Mike Hodis you will see he not only holds this uncompromising stance but takes it to the next level. His workshop produces garments to his full specs completely on antique black head sewing machines.

There is a wild excitement to knowing the stitches on your jeans were created on the Singer black head single needle sewing machine. The sleek and minimalist appearance of this industrial strength machine offers stark contrast to the other black head machines with their complex, elegant motions. This black beauty was utilized between the late 20's and 50's. It would have been used for operations on Levi's buckle back garments. This would have been one of the machines that created the uneven, single needle arcuate stitches you see on vintage Levi's.

Singer Single Needle:

Next up is the Singer black head lap seam machine. "Easily from the 30's," boasts a proud Hodis. When you look at certain vintage workwear garments and observe a double needle chainstitched fell seam it was likely done on this machine. Those who study the details of vast amounts of vintage garments will notice that some double needle chainstitches have just a tad smaller width between the two stitches than those found on garments produced with more modern equipment. It is this "perfect gauge" that makes this machine so special. A small tidbit: this machine is fondly referred to by machine operators as Cabillo (horse) for its resemblance to a black stallion (where's your imagination?). It happens to also be a workhorse machine for Rising Sun.


But the rarest machine of them all is surprisingly responsible for one of the most overlooked details on denim garments: the button hole. A beautiful button hole with vintage characteristics is a very tricky thing to create. Rising Sun skips all the modern interpretations and goes straight to holy grail of vintage sewing machines with his black head Singer keyhole machine. By all rights and reason Hodis should really "donate" this majestic creature to a museum to preserve for all time but instead it is in the back of his haberdashery creating keyholes for garments that only the true enthusiast can appreciate. It is nearly impossible to find in operable condition.

The rare black head Singer keyhole machine:

This antique machine is over 70 or 80 years old and creates some of the most graceful keyholes you will see. The stitches are much tighter and does not extend into the garment as much as modern button holes do. After the stitches are put down Rising Sun workers hand cut the holes required for buttons. This is done with an old hand cutting tool.

Hand cutting tool for keyholes, made by Heinisch:

Between listening to Hodis talk about the cams, shafts, and belts of certain sewing machines and studying his garments it became very obvious that it is one thing to design vintage details (hidden rivets, back buckles) into clothes and an entirely different thing to create them using period-correct methods and machines. In the next post we will explore this idea further and look at some of the clothing Rising Sun produces.

Rising Sun Website

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Rising Sun & Co.

To say the least: Rising Sun & Co. makes some awe inspiring denim garments. If there exists articles of clothing that makes me wonder my worthiness of their nuances then it is likely that Rising Sun's propreitor Mike Hodis made it. The machine-obsessed genius has spent a lifetime acquiring both knowledge and sewing technology of eras past. Some of his sewing machines are so rare that any other collector in his right mind would condition them for archive grade safe keeping.

But as Hodis puts it his venture to create clothing with some of the most true-to-period construction details was born more of "passion than reason."

My initial encounter with Hodis marked my early foray into the world of sewing machines. While comfortable discussing the workings of a selvage loom's take up motion or fill change mechanism I was not equipped to talk sewing machines at this level of expertise. My proud proclamation of having acquired a 43200G Union Special bulldog hemmer was met with sober declaration that the coveted chainstitch machine is in fact not all that special in his world.

He went on to speak about his much rarer "black head" (for the machine head's color) Union Special used in production for the Rising Sun & Co. line in the workshop behind his store in Pasadena, CA. Of how it is from the 1920's and the fact that it has ornate "Union Special" lettering aligned in an arc sets it apart from the "newer" black head Union Specials.

Months pass before I garner enough courage to trade my ignorance for knowledge and find that the enthusiastic Hodis is in fact very eager to share his love for denim and sewing machines with a fellow denimhead.

In the next blog posts I will discuss important insights Hodis imparts and the philosophies that makes Rising Sun & Co. one of the most important American influence in the denim market today. Stay tuned!

Rising Sun & Co. Website

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Self Edge is Coming to New York

Just got confirmation that Self Edge is opening a store in New York's Lower East Side on July 15. It will be on Orchard Street near Rivington Street.

Self Edge is one of the few places in the US to buy clothing made from rare Japanese and American selvage denim.

Updated: Grand opening is now July 24th.