Denim Fabric 101: Types, How It’s Made, Care

Denim is a rugged, durable fabric originally designed for workwear. It typically has a blue warp and white weft thread and a twill weave construction (subtle diagonal ribs) that makes it more durable than plain weaves. Today, it’s an iconic fashion statement most frequently seen in jeans and jean jackets.

Made from:Traditionally cotton, but can be blended with polyester or stretch fibers such as lycra and spandex.
Feels like?Canvas. Sometimes stiff and heavy.
Stretchy?Traditional 100% cotton denim isn’t stretchy but it can be given some stretch with lycra or spandex.
Absorbent?Yes, but also slow-drying – denim is not ideal for sportswear applications.
Wrinkles?While it does wrinkle, the weight of the fabric helps these wrinkles to ‘fall’ during wear so ironing is rarely required. Denim’s ‘wear wrinkles’ can be highly desirable.
Shrinks?Yes, it can shrink – on average 2-5%. (source)
Static issues?No.
Strong?Yes, denim was specifically designed to withstand the abuse of workwear!
Uses:Traditionally jeans, but it can also be used for jackets, bags, and sometimes heavier weight dresses.
Care instructions:Cool water machine wash and line dry to preserve the color and prevent shrinkage. (source)

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Contents list:

Definition – What is denim fabric? 

Samples of denim fabric. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk

In its traditional definition, denim is a cotton fabric that’s firm, sturdy, and durable. It has a diagonal rib pattern thanks to its twill weave construction. It’s made using a natural or undyed ‘weft’ (the threads on a loom that go left to right) and an indigo-dyed ‘warp’ (the threads that go up and down, along the length of the loom – or the leg of a pair of jeans). The cotton is ‘yarn dyed’ which means it is dyed while it’s still individual threads rather than dyed as a finished fabric. These threads are woven using a twill weave, which results in a durable, highly abrasion-resistant fabric that is thin for how strong it is and therefore perfectly suited to workwear.

Today, this definition has shifted a bit – denim is no longer exclusively 100% cotton, no longer exclusively dyed with indigo or even blue for that matter, and it comes in more varieties than it used to. You can even get ‘jeggings’ – ‘jean leggings’ that are knit and made to look like denim although the similarities between these fabrics end there! 

What does denim feel like?

Back view. Photo credit: Nisan Aktürk.

Denim feels firm, sturdy, and has a slightly rough surface texture, but it softens significantly over time with frequent wear. 100% cotton denim is breathable, though you’d likely find it too hot to wear in very warm summer climates. It doesn’t stretch unless a stretch fiber such as elastane, lycra, or spandex is added to it. And as a heavier weight fabric it has a firm, stiff drape, is not transparent, and doesn’t suffer from static issues.

Types of denim fabric:

Denim started out as a single fabric with very specific properties – “serge de Nimes” – French for ‘a sturdy fabric from Nimes’. It was specifically designed to be made into workwear strong enough to withstand the heavy jobs of the gold rush in the late 1800s (Textilepedia 2021, p.93). It was made from 100% cotton, a twill weave, and known for the difference in colors between its white/natural colored weft and indigo-dyed warp. This definition has shifted over time. Today, denim doesn’t have to be exclusively cotton (although it mostly still is), it comes in a variety of weights, is no longer solely used for workwear, and comes in a variety of colors as well.

Color-dyed denim

It’s the same as regular denim, but not limited to indigo colors. Color-dyed denims are heavyweight, twill-weave cotton fabrics. Purists would argue that this cannot technically be called ‘denim’, but the difference is only in the color.

Selvedge / selvage denim

Selvedge denim has a tightly woven ‘selvedge edge’ (the long edge of the fabric) which is white and contains a colored thread. Selvedge denim is often sought-after because it’s generally higher quality than its more modern counterparts, and some people argue that the different weaving process results in a better fade and wear over time.

Traditionally, all denim was selvedge. This denim is produced using a weaving technique that involves throwing the shuttle back and forth which creates that tightly woven edge. However, it’s slower than modern weaving techniques which shoot the weft thread in a singular direction without a shuttle in a process called ‘weft insertion’ and then cut it off at each edge of the fabric (source).

Stretch denim

Stretch denim is generally made from cotton and 2% to 5% of stretch fibers, such as elastane, spandex, or lycra. Stretch fibers give the denim stretch and recovery so that more fitted shapes can be achieved. Some wearers prefer stretch denim because it’s more comfortable, but others avoid it as it doesn’t have the long lifespan that rigid, non-stretch denim does.

Broken twill denim (and Right Hand/Left Hand weave)

When Denim was first invented, you could look at the back of the fabric and observe a distinct right- or left-leaning direction to the fabric. This, over time, wear, and washing, led the denim to distort. It was most commonly noticed in the legs of jeans, which would twist around the wearer’s legs over time in a way that could be quite uncomfortable!

In the mid-1960s, Wrangler introduced a ‘broken twill’ weave which looked the same on the front, but broke up that right-and left-leaning reverse side by weaving in both directions. This created a zig-zag effect on the back of the fabric, and eliminated the issue of twisting (source, p.182).

While you can still find Right-hand weave or Left-hand weave denim today – especially in heritage mills where that twisting is actually sought after – most denim available today is woven with the broken twill method.

Ring-spun denim

This refers to the way the cotton fibers are spun before they’re woven into the fabric we know as denim. Traditionally, these cotton fibers were spun onto a ring, producing yarn with a highly durable yet irregular-looking twist. This resulted in a strong and soft fabric with desirable fade qualities.

The ring spinning process is slower and more expensive than open-end spinning (the modern alternative), so mass-produced denim is made using the open-end method instead. Higher quality Ring-spun denim is still made today, but in smaller quantities by premium brands (source, p.182).

Bull Denim

Bull denim uses a 3*a twill construction, which is just a fancy way of saying that three threads are used at a time to create the twill weave, rather than one or two. The result is a more obvious diagonal ridged pattern in the finished fabric, and a heavier weight, stronger, and more durable fabric (source). Bull denim is also dyed after it’s woven, creating a solid color. Bull denim is used for things like upholstery, slipcovers, casual window treatments, workwear aprons or coveralls, and in some cases very heavyweight jeans (source).

Raw Denim

Raw denim fabric hasn’t been washed after the dyeing process or after the garment has been produced. It’s stiff, dark, and has a uniform color with no variation. Importantly, it hasn’t been pre-shrunk, so expect it to shrink after you wash it.

Today the term ‘raw denim’ is used more liberally to describe traditional-looking denim even if the fabric has been treated/washed (source, p.182).

Types of denim washes:

Denim garments are either ‘raw’ or ‘washed’. A raw denim garment hasn’t been washed or changed at all after the garment is completed. Raw denim is stiff, dark, and has a uniform color with no variation. It also hasn’t been pre-shrunk, so it will shrink after the buyer washes it. Up until the 1970s, this was the only way to purchase denim (source, p.183), but thanks to modern advancements you can now purchase denim garments that have been washed, bleached, distressed, or otherwise modified to help you skip the wearing-in phase and get the distressed look immediately. These methods of wearing-in are called ‘washes’ – even though some of them don’t involve any actual washing. 

Enzyme wash

Jeans are soaked in an enzyme that eats away at the cellulose in the cotton fabric – this speeds up the natural aging process and creates very soft and supple denim. The process is stopped before it causes permanent damage, and the enzymes are washed out of the fabric (source, p.183).

Stone wash

Jeans are washed in industrial machines with pumice stones which rub and erode the fabric’s color to create an aged look. In some variations, the stones can be targeted at specific areas (source, p.183).

Acid wash

Related to stone washing, acid washing uses the same pumice stones but pre-soaks them in acid (such as sodium hypochlorite or potassium permanganate) to provide a non-uniform, distressed, and light-colored finish (source). In shops, these denim items are sometimes called ‘marbled’ or ‘snow’ washed to avoid the negative implications of ‘acid’ wash (source, p.183).

Dirty wash

After denim has been through a distressing wash, it’s then washed in water with yellow or brown dye to tone down the brightness of the fresh, white weft and create an aged appearance. You can think of this as coffee or tea-staining a new piece of paper to make it look like a long-lost treasure map. This dye can also be applied to specific areas of a garment for a more localized distressed look. (source, p.183).

Laser wash

A lot of water is usually required to distress denim. Laser ‘washing’ is an eco-friendly, no-water alternative. Denim is laser etched to achieve varying types of distressing, from light surface wear all the way to complete holes (source, p.183).

Other denim terms explained:

There are a few other terms you might run into when shopping for denim garments – especially jeans.

  • ‘Whiskering’ and ‘Stacking’ both refer to specific wear lines that occur at the hips (where fabric folds and wrinkles as you walk or sit) and ankles (where fabric ‘stacks’ above your shoe).
  • ‘Distressing’ in general is the word used to describe mechanically making holes or wear patterns in denim.
  • ‘Overdyed’ denim is dyed again at the end of the process to introduce new colors or effects. 

Denim weights explained:

One of the biggest variations in denim fabrics is weight – it’s relatively easy to change the weight of a denim fabric by changing the thickness of the threads that are used to weave it, as well as (to a lesser extent) the density of the weave. The twill weave that’s used to make denim means that even at lighter weights, this fabric is strong and durable.

What is denim fabric oz and GSM?

Denim is measured according to how many ounces one square yard weighs, so you’ll see it represented as ‘8oz’ or ‘15oz’ or similar. In some countries the GSM measurement system is used instead which stands for ‘grams per square meter’.

What is standard denim weight?

  • Lightweight: 4oz – 8oz / 136gsm – 271gsm (for summer shirts and dresses)
  • Midweight: 8oz – 14oz / 271gsm – 475gsm (for jeans, jackets, skirts, and bags)
  • Heavyweight: 14oz – 20oz / 475gsm – 678gsm (for jeans, workwear aprons, dungarees, bags, and upholstery)
    (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

These measurements are just rough guidelines because there’s no consistent cutoff for what ounce range constitutes lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight denim. The larger the number, the heavier the denim.

You’ll likely have your own preference when deciding what weight of denim to purchase and wear. In addition to how it feels on your body, you’ll also want to choose a fabric that will work with your project. Heavier isn’t always better in this case – the heavier the weight, the stiffer and more uncomfortable a pair of jeans may be. I do use the term ‘uncomfortable’ loosely though – some denim wearers love the act of wearing in new denim, and are strong proponents of heavy weight denim as their preferred canvas to become that perfectly worn pair of jeans that last a lifetime. 


Uses for lightweight denim (4oz – 8oz / 136gsm – 271gsm):

  • Kids’ jeans or jean jackets
  • Dresses and pinafores
  • Shirts
  • Pockets or internal elements

* Note that chambray is not actually lightweight denim – although it looks similar and is easily mistaken for lightweight denim – it’s a different weave entirely. It’s also lighter weight at around 4oz. Technically a 4oz – 5oz ‘denim’ is not considered true denim, but a denim lookalike fabric for lightweight shirts and dresses (source, p.182).

Uses for midweight denim (8oz – 14oz / 271gsm – 475gsm):

  • Most ‘daily wear’ type jeans
  • Dungarees or overalls
  • Jean jackets
  • Skirts
  • Tote bags
  • Upholstery

Uses for heavyweight denim (14oz – 20oz / 475gsm – 678gsm):

  • Heavy, workwear jeans
  • Workwear aprons
  • Jean jackets
  • Dungarees
  • Bags
  • 14oz and up for upholstery

Denim fabric for upholstery:

While denim is most widely known as a garment fabric, its durable, abrasion-resistant, and tear-resistant properties make it ideal for some types of upholstery as well. Bull Denim is most commonly used for upholstery because its thicker weave is more durable, but mid- to heavy-weight regular denim can also be used for things like chair covers, cushions, and even curtains (source).

Denim can be blended with more fade-resistant, all-weather fibers like treated polyester or nylon to produce indoor/outdoor upholstery that still retains that traditional denim look (source).

How is denim made (step-by-step)?

1. Cotton is harvested and turned into threads

Denim is made from the fluffy fibers of the cotton plant. Cotton is harvested and the fibers are separated from the rest of the plant, and then it’s spun into threads.

2. The warp threads are dyed

Cotton is off-white in color, and the weft threads are left this natural color, while the warp threads are dyed dark blue. Traditionally, this was done with natural indigo dye but it’s now mostly done with a synthetic alternative to reduce costs and improve the durability and permanence of the color (source). Denim may be yarn-dyed in other colors, and can also be ‘overdyed’ – that is, applying a new color to denim fabric that has already been produced. 

3. The threads are woven together on a loom machine using a twill weave construction

Once the yarns are prepared, they move to one of two types of weaving looms to be woven into the iconic denim fabric we know today. Shuttle looms were traditionally used, with the weft thread traveling back and forth along the width of the fabric, creating a bound edge we know as the selvedge / selvage. Modern shuttle-less looms are capable of producing denim at greater widths much more quickly – in this loom style, lengths of thread are ‘shot’ left to right, resulting in a fuzzy, frayed-looking selvedge / selvage edge.

Regardless of what loom is used, denim is woven using a twill weave, which is what gives it that signature diagonal pattern on the front of the fabric. To produce the twill weave, the weft threads go under one warp and then over a group of one, two, or three warp threads – depending on the desired pattern – repeating but offsetting by one thread on each subsequent row. The twill weave is what’s responsible for denim’s rugged durability.

4. The fabric is treated to fix the color and reduce shrinkage and seam twisting

Once the fabric is woven, it may be ‘sanforized’ – this is a process that stretches the fabric in both directions and then sets it. This fixes the color and reduces shrinkage and seam twisting. If jeans are not sanforized, they shrink up to 10% when first washed (source, p.182). Once this is done, the fabric moves on to cutting and sewing to be turned into a garment! 

What is denims impact on the environment? Is it sustainable?

100% cotton denim is biodegradable (it can decay naturally), but other materials in jeans like polyester thread, synthetic stretch fibers, and metal rivets are not biodegradable. Cotton and denim fabric production also use a lot of water, synthetic dye chemicals, insecticides, and pesticides which may harm the environment. New eco-friendly production methods are currently being developed.

The process to make denim is quite resource-intense. One pair of Levi’s jeans takes 3781 liters of water to produce (source) and when you consider that over 2 billion pairs of jeans are produced each year – well… that’s a lot of water. Additionally, insecticides and pesticides are needed to grow the cotton used for jeans, and dyes like synthetic indigo (and even traditional indigo) require chemicals that are not always disposed of properly (source). Additionally, distressed denim styles require more resources, chemicals, and water, depending on their treatment.

Some manufacturers are working on more eco-friendly production methods. G-star, DyStar, Artistic Milliners, and Saitex, jointly developed a process called the “Crystal Clear dyeing technique”. It apparently recycles and reuses 90% of its water and evaporates the rest, so no waste water is released into the local environment. It also uses 70% fewer chemicals and no salt (source, p.183).

If you’re looking to make sustainable choices with denim, start by seeing if you can purchase what you need secondhand. With 2 billion pairs produced each year, the pair you’re looking for might be waiting in a thrift shop just for you! If you can’t find it secondhand, try organic sources and choose higher-quality denim and garments that will withstand the test of time. Stretch denim isn’t a good option here either, as the synthetic fibers used mean it’s not biodegradable and also won’t last as long.

How to clean and care for denim:

How to wash denim:

  • Machine wash in cold water with a lower spin speed to reduce fading and shrinkage. Wash your denim clothes inside out to reduce the color fading.
  • Line dry it instead of tumble drying it to reduce heat damage and shrinkage.
  • Don’t tumble dry stretch denim because the heat can break down the stretch fibers over time.

Denim was created to be low-maintenance, so you don’t need to wash denim clothes every time you wear them. To limit shrinkage, wash your denim in cold water and line dry it instead of tumble drying it.

If you’re looking to preserve the fade of a pair of jeans, you can do things like decreasing the frequency of washes, turning them inside out to wash, and even hand washing instead of machine washing. This becomes much less about what the fabric itself can handle and more about your desired outcome.

Washing denim can come with its own perils, though – washing machines can set creases into denim fabric that cause fading where you don’t necessarily want it and are very hard – sometimes impossible – to remove. To combat this, choose a washing cycle with a lower spin speed, make sure that your denim comes out of the washing machine as soon as the cycle is done (don’t forget about it for even a few hours!), and fluff it up to reduce wrinkles before it goes into the dryer. A few notes – if your denim is particularly stiff, you can pre-soak it in your bathtub to soften it up before it goes into the washing machine, and if you’re sewing with stretch denim, don’t put it in the dryer at all! This can break down the stretch fibers (source).

If you find yourself exploring raw denim, the best way to fade jeans, and reading through some of the ‘denimhead’ forums out there, you’ll find much greater detail and individual preferences when it comes to how frequently jeans should be washed to achieve the ideal fade patterns and the manner in which they should be washed – but that’s a blog post for a different day. 

Does denim fabric shrink? Eg. in the dryer, by how much does it shrink, does it shrink more than once?

Denim shrinks on average by 2 to 5 percent (source). Sometimes jeans are ‘washed’ during the production process (which doesn’t always mean a washing machine was used), so they may not shrink further.

You can limit this shrinkage by washing your denim in cold water and line drying instead of tumble drying. The exceptions are if you want to deliberately shrink your denim because it’s a garment that’s too big for you, or you’re sewing with denim and want to pre-shrink it before cutting and sewing so it doesn’t shrink again as a finished garment. If so, wash your denim in hot water and tumble dry it.

Can denim be dry-cleaned?

While denim can be dry-cleaned, this is usually not necessary. Using a washing machine is enough to clean denim.

Should I pre-wash denim before sewing with it?

If you’re a sewist – I mentioned pre-washing above, and this (much like the rest of the denim-washing content you’ll find online) is a hotly contested topic. If you’re planning to sew a pair of jeans, you should always pre-wash your denim before you cut out your pieces. Personally, my rule is that I always pre-wash at the highest intensity (longest, hottest, highest spin, etc) that I think my fabric can handle, throw it in the dryer, and then *never* treat it like that again. I wash my denim on a long, hot wash and dry it before sewing it into jeans, but I only wash my jeans in a cold, gentle cycle and line dry them. 

How to iron denim:

Fabric comparisons:

Denim vs chambray:

Like denim, chambray is traditionally woven using cream-colored weft threads and blue warp threads, so they look similar. However, chambray is made using a plain weave construction, whereas denim uses a more durable twill weave construction (this creates a diagonal rib pattern on the fabric). Chambray is also a lightweight fabric often used for shirts and dresses, whereas denim is heavier and often used for jeans and jackets.

Denim vs jeans:

Denim is the fabric that jeans are made from. In our modern interpretation, jeans can be made from fabrics other than denim, but when you think of a traditional pair of jeans, they’re made from denim.

Selvedge / Selvage denim vs regular:

Selvedge denim is most recognizable for the unique edge of the fabric itself. Due to a difference in the weaving process, the selvedge edge has a bound rather than a frayed appearance and is often worked into jeans along the outer leg seam. Selvedge denim is appreciated by denim enthusiasts as it’s thought to produce better fade patterns, and in general selvedge denim softens up better than other denims (source).

Raw denim vs regular:

Raw denim hasn’t been washed after the dyeing process or after the garment has been produced. This creates a stiff fabric with no fade marks or ‘distressing’ so all the wear patterns will be made naturally by the wearer. The alternative – regular washed denim – has already been washed to soften the fabric and create fades or wear lines before the consumer purchases it.

Denim vs cotton:

Denim is the name of a fabric made from cotton, which is a fiber (fabric is ‘fiber + construction’). Additives like lycra, spandex, and elastane can be added to make the denim stretch – these are also fibers. The fabric is then sewn up into finished items, like jeans and jean jackets.

Denim vs canvas:

These are two different types of fabric. While both are made from similar starting yarns, canvas is made using a plain weave and denim is made using a more durable twill weave. Between a canvas and denim of the same weight, the denim will be more durable and less stiff.

Denim vs cotton duck:

Cotton duck is a close relative of canvas – it’s another plain weave bottomweight fabric (a fabric that’s most frequently used for ‘bottom’ clothing like pants) – like canvas and unlike denim, this fabric does not have a twill weave.

Denim vs twill:

Denim is made using a weaving pattern called a twill weave. This construction method creates a diagonal ribbed pattern on the fabric. Other fibers can also be woven in a twill weave – silk, for example – but this produces wildly different fabrics. Compared to a plain weave, a twill weave is more durable.

Denim vs corduroy:

These two bottom weights are often used for similar types of garments – pants, overalls, and jackets – and both are generally made from cotton – but this is where the similarities end. Corduroy is woven into a base fabric with an integrated fabric that ‘floats’ across the surface – these floats are then cut into ridges which create that fuzzy ridged texture we associate with corduroy and velvet.

What fabric is denim most like?

Cotton canvas and cotton duck are a similar weight (generally on the mid to heavy weight side), durable, and can be used for similar projects to denim. They are not made using a twill weave, however, so they are not as hardwearing, abrasion-resistant, or tear-resistant.

History of denim:

The predecessor of modern denim was called “Serge de Nimes” – French for “sturdy fabric from Nimes”, a town in France that produced it in the 15th century. At this time, it was woven from threads of a single color, though it was used as sturdy workwear fabric. The word Jeans is thought to have originated from the sturdy workwear pants that ship workers in Genoa wore in the sixteenth century. The pairing of denim with the iconic jeans design happened later in the late 1800s. German immigrant Levi Strauss and his business partner Jacob Davis patented an idea to prolong the life of workwear pants by using copper rivets to reinforce the weak points that were prone to ripping. They settled on denim as the fabric for these pants. These sturdy jeans were used by gold prospectors, farmers, and laborers (source).

Throughout the early 1900s, jeans slowly transitioned from workwear to fashion and by the 1960s they were very much part of mainstream fashion for men and women. The 1970s and the rise of hippie culture saw a trend to intentionally distress jeans, and by the 1980s they were included in lineups by high-end designer brands (source, p.181).

Quick Q&A’s:

Is denim a good material?

Denim is a sturdy, stiff fabric well known for its use in jeans and jean jackets. It does fade over time, which is often seen as a desirable feature but depending on your use case this may be something you hope to avoid! Denim is good for garments that will see heavier use – dungarees, jackets, and of course jeans! It’s not a good choice if you’re looking for something soft with a supple drape.

Best fabric for jeans?

If you’re looking for that iconic workwear look, denim is definitely the best choice.

Why is denim good for clothing?

Denim was specifically designed to be highly durable yet thin enough to wear comfortably. It’s made from cotton which is breathable, pleasant to wear, and easy to care for.

Is denim good for hot or cold weather?

Cotton is breathable, but denim is still a very densely woven fabric. In some climates, you could certainly wear denim year round but it won’t keep you as warm as, say, a pair of woolen trousers in the winter, nor will it keep you as cool as a floaty dress in the summer.

High quality vs low quality denim?

It’s quite hard to identify the quality of a denim item just by looking at it. One big factor is the level of twist in the fiber that’s used to weave denim. In general, this means that stiffer-feeling denims are higher quality, but there’s a lot of variation within this. Look for denim from reputable sources, as well as fabric that feels firm with very little drape.

How do you identify denim fabric?

Denim can most easily be identified by its signature look: cream-colored weft threads woven with (normally) dark blue warp threads, and the distinctive twill weave that results in a subtle diagonal pattern on the front, while the back displays more of the light-coloured weft threads.

What is soft denim called?

There’s no specific name for soft denim fabric, but if you’re looking for soft denim, keep in mind that lower-twist threads can contribute to softness (though durability can be sacrificed as a result), and also poly-cotton blends are generally softer than 100% cotton denims.

What is lightweight denim called?

Lightweight denim is still just called denim. Anything under 12oz (407gsm) is considered lighter weight. For comparison, most ‘daily wear’ jeans are between 12oz and 15oz / 407gsm and 509gsm (sources: 1, 2, 3). Sometimes lightweight denim is mistaken for a similar-looking fabric called ‘chambray’ which weighs around 4oz – 5oz / 136gsm – 170gsm and is suitable for lightweight shirts and dresses.

What type of denim is stretchy? 

Denim that contains a stretchy fiber like lycra, elastane, or spandex is stretchy. This will often be marketed as “stretch denim” so it’s easy to find, although stretch percentages (the amount of stretch) may differ in different fabrics.

Why is denim blue? 

Traditionally, the warp threads (the ones that go up and down along the leg, or the length of the fabric) were dyed with indigo, which produced that deep, rich blue color we associate with denim. At the time, before synthetic dyes were invented, this was a highly durable and cost-effective way to add color to fabric, and it became an iconic part of denim’s look.

Can denim be black? 

Absolutely – denim can have either just its warp threads dyed black, or both its warp and weft threads dyed. The first appears a bit grey from a distance but has the same two-tone look that traditional blue denim does up close. The second looks just like black twill weave fabric.

What color is denim naturally? 

Denim is made from cotton, which isn’t quite as white as the cotton balls you buy in the store (those have been bleached). The natural, ‘unbleached’ color is a light, creamy ecru color.

Is denim made of cotton? Is all denim 100% cotton?

Traditionally, denim is made using 100% cotton, and most denim still contains a high percentage of cotton. Less expensive options contain blends of polyester, and stretch denim contains 1-5% lycra, elastane, or spandex.

Why is denim so strong and durable? 

There are two things that contribute to the strength of denim – the yarn twist and the twill weave. The high twist of the fibers spun into yarn to create denim, and the stronger twill weave used to construct the fabric (it looks like a diagonal ribbed pattern), lead to a very durable finished fabric (source).

How to soften denim fabric? 

The best way to soften denim – especially jeans – is to wear them frequently. Over time, they’ll soften and mold to your body. If you really want to make this happen faster, you can try soaking them in vinegar or salt, drying them in a tumble dryer (some people add an old towel or some tennis balls to agitate the jeans further), or even soaking them in fabric softener (source). Not all denim is created equal, so you may have to try a few things to get results.

How much does denim fabric cost?

On average, denim costs between $15 and $25 per yard (source). High-quality denims like Japanese selvedge denim can be higher in price than this.

Can vegans wear denim?

Denim fabric itself is entirely plant-based (unless you’ve chosen a stretch or blend which contains an elastane/lycra element or polyester) – so they’re vegan – but some brands of jeans use a leather patch on the back waistband as a tag (source).

Is denim a brand?

No, denim is a fabric that’s made from (mostly) cotton with a twill weave construction. The brand you might associate most frequently with denim is Levi Strauss & Co (Levi’s), but they’re just one brand that produces garments using denim.

What to read next:

This article was written by Kat Waters and edited by Sara Maker.

Kat Waters (author)
Kat has been sewing since her feet could reach the pedals, starting with quilts she made with her mom and eventually graduating to garments. She now makes everything she wears, occasionally teaches classes, and shares her projects on social media. Highlights include her wedding dress, shoemaking, and a love for almost any fabric that comes in hot pink! Read more…