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.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Begging your pardon, but fabric defects are supposed to be cut out. The fabric inspector marks the selvedge, and the spreader is supposed to interupt spreading at that point and cut out the defect. If there are "1 point" defects, defects which a man can cover with his thumb, the spreader usually continues. Later the garment inspector could grade the garment a second, based on the location of the defect.

Whether the item is made by hand, by steam powered machine, or by robot, a defect is a defect.

And yes, I have visted factories in India that had shuttle-looms like the ones you describe, which were steam powered. There were ragged urchins on 3-legged stools waiting to replace the yarn inside the shuttles the instant it was needed.

8/07/2009 10:43:00 AM  
Anonymous celica said...


how old are the looms you are referring to that you visited in India?

8/25/2009 02:14:00 PM  

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