Natural Indigo – Gilded Age Jeans
In today’s market place Natural Indigo Jeans are a very rear fenomenon. These type of Jeans are very expensive and require lengthy and time consuming process to get made. There are only few companies in the world that make Natural Indigo Jeans, one is Gilded Age. Almost all blue jeans are chemically dyed these days. Unofrtunatelly, chemicall dyeing usually involves toxic agents and heavy metals. Yet, even clothing produced with organically grown fibers using “low impact” dyes, requires the same toxic agents. “Low impact” means the dye is absorbed better and chlorine is not used for bleaching (usually hydrogen peroxide is used).
So what did people do before these processes were even available?
They used plant based dye such as indigo and madder. These natural dyes tended tof ade after repeated washings, but that was considered appealing. Each piece of clothing took on its own unique character by the variation of color.
Natural Indigo is perhaps the oldest dye known to men and the oldest fragments of clothes found are dyed with it. Natural Indigo is also one of the “fastest” dyes known. It was the original dye of the “Levis” blue jeans.
It also takes quite few highly skilled people, taught through generations in the old ways of dyeing and weaving. Firstly the yarns are ring spun. This process is slower and more labour intensive then the method used in
mass production today. It uses a longer fiber that results in a yarn that has a characteristic natural slubs and unevenness. Then the yarn needs to be dyed.
Gilded Age Indigo Jeans are 100% pure plant indigo: Pollygonum. The ring spun yarns used for these jeans are rope dyed. That means that the yarns are hand twisted into ropes before being dipped into the barrels of indigo dye. They are then squeezed and oxidized by hand when they are still in ropes. After repeating the process over and over again, the ropes have deep blue color.
The yarns are then seperated from the ropes and set out along a warp bobbin so that all different yarns from different batches are mixed together. This explains streaky aspects of the fabric, with streaks ranging from deep indigo purple through indigo blue to indigo green. This depth of color cannot be achieved with chemical indigo.
Then the denim is woven on the Vintage shuttle looms. These old machines can only make cloth about 29″ wide, whereas modern projectile looms can make fabric 70″ or even wider. Wider is cheaper but not necessarily stronger or better.
Denim produced on these old rickety shuttle looms has selvage edges. It comes from the phrase “self-edge” which refers to the edge being finished by the loom instead of sewn together after weaving. Selvage is the term commonly used to refer to denim that has been produced on a shuttle loom. Since the amount of fabric produced from a shuttle loom is significantly narrower than a
projectile (wide) loom, the cotton consumption is higher and the time required is greater.
This one is owned by the Okamoto Textile Company down in Ibaraichi in Okayama prefecture – typical of the smaller textile companies (total number of employees: 10!). They do their own rope-dying and have 9 or 10 shuttle looms.
Over the years these Selvage Natural Indigo jeans will change color and develop their own character as the uneven ring spun yarns are brought to life. Natural Indigo plant color slowly fades
over the time. As you’d expect all this makes for a true authentic jean, but also pretty expensive one too.