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Denim fabric : (Characteristics and different types)

Information about denim fabric - unique properties and features of the fabric and various types of denim available, including raw denim, washed denim, selvedge denim, and different denim weaves.
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If you came here looking for different types of jeans check out this post. If you are looking for the fit of different jeans go here. If you are looking for info on denim, the fabric, you are in the right place. Read on.

Denim is a rugged, sturdy, twill-weave cotton fabric made of different coloured wefts and warps threads(blue and white colored threads). It is a very strong, and durable fabric.

The word ‘Denim’ is derived from the french word Serge de Nimes and refers to the city of Nimes; De Nimes means ‘of the Nimes’.

We have embraced denim into our daily lives like no other. It is made into all kinds of projects, but primarily jeans.

Denim is made from cotton fibers but can be mixed with elastane fibers to introduce stretch.

Special characteristics of Denim

Twill weave that creates Denim

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Denim fabric usually has a twill fabric weave. Denim is also available in plain weave, but this is mostly a lightweight denim fabric.

Fibers are woven on a loom in a twill weave pattern. In a twill weave the weft thread is woven over and under one or more warp threads, with each row offset, to give a diagonal effect. A special characteristic of twill weave denim is that there is a diagonal ribbing visible on the face of the fabric.

And this itself makes it a very strong fabric. Do you know that it was used as a sailcloth once upon a time? That is how hardwearing it is.

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The Twill diagonal weave of the denim fabric also gives it a good enough drape, especially for such a thick fabric

Know more about 18 different types of fabric weaves here

Two color threads on the weft and warp

Have you wondered why your jeans are white on the inside and blue on the outside?

It is because when weaving denim, Warp thread is dyed indigo, whereas weft thread is left undyed. This special weaving in which colored thread (mostly indigo) is crossed with white thread results in a two-tone look which is very attractive. The color sits on the face of the fabric, and the white pulls to the backside.


Denim was given the popularity it enjoys in 1873 by two Americans Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss. Levi Strauss was a cloth merchant and Jacob Davis a tailor. Jacob Davis got an order to sew up a pair of trousers that would wear well and be sturdy enough.

Mr. Davis approached Mr. Staruss and purchased denim that was as sturdy as possible. Later, they formed a partnership to make these same trousers known as jeans.

Rest is history.

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Do you know of any clothing more durable than jeans? 

Different types of Denim fabric

100% cotton Denim/Rigid denim

This is the normal denim without elastane fibers. This fabric is very durable, hard wearing and versatile. 

2. Denim according to type of twill weave

This denim can have different twill weave patterns and thus vary in its structure.

In a right hand twill, the twill line runs diagonally from bottom left to top right – this results in a tighter woven fabric.

Left-handed twill creates a softer denim. 3×1 and 2×1 weave are the most common twill weave.

The best denim has a 3*1 twill weave ie. three warp threads to every one weft thread.

3. Raw denim

This is also called unsanforized denim or unwashed denim or Dry denim. This is a fabric which is not washed or treated in any way after dyeing.

The washing of denim fabric is usually done so that the fabric becomes soft and also to eliminate shrinkage. Basically what we call in sewing as pre-washing. Raw denim can shrink upto 20% in the first wash.

Raw denim has a very even look without any of the distressed look we are familiar in jeans. Whatever distressed look is desired will have to be obtained naturally by fading and stress. This is a natural process which some people consider more desirable than the factory made distressed look. It is important that you prewash raw denim before sewing / wearing. 

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Advantage of Raw denin – Raw denim is considered a superior denim. It has a deep dark indigo color. With wear and wash, the jeans made with raw denim will develop distinct fading patterns. At first raw denim will be slightly stiff with some structure, but with wear it will soften and mold to fit the wearer’s body. This kind of custom fit is admired by many.

4. Sanforized Denim

Sanforization is a pre-shrinking process that reduces the potential for significant shrinkage after washing. This is denim fabric which is sanforized so that it does not shrink after wash. Most of the denim other than raw denim is Sanforized.

Advantages of sanforied denim – This denim would not have shrinkage. It will retain its original shape and proportions even after washing, which unsanforized denim would not.

5. Colored denim

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There are two types of coloured denim –  blue and the rest of the colours. The blue colour or shades close to blue is given with a process known as indigo dying. Sulphur dying and other dyeing gives denim other colours like Black, pink, grey, mustard, green, red etc. Tinting is done to give a deeper tint to denim.

6. Stretch denim

This is denim incorporated with stretchy synthetic elastane fiber like lycra/ spandex which gives it stretch. The stretch of the fabric will depend on the percentage of elastane in it. The elastane fibers are used as weft yarn. 

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Advantages of stretch denim – The best thing about stretch denim is that it makes very comfortable clothes. Jeans made with stretch denim stretches with the body giving you great freedom of movement. It gives a flattering fit because of the stretch. And it will retain this sit without sagging. The fabric also doesnot wrinkle.

7. Selvedge Denim

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This refers to the denim fabric with edges which are finished with a band which is usually of colour orange or red. It is also called self-edge or selvage denim. It is woven on traditional shuttle looms, which are slower and more labor-intensive but produce a higher-quality fabric. Japan is the top producer of this type of denim fabric . 

Advantages of selvedge denim – This denim is very popularly assumed to be of better quality than other denim. It is known for its durability and longevity. It is resistant to wear and tear, due to its traditional weaving process. The colored thread (usually red or white) on the selvedge denim looks nice too.

8. Lightweight denim

The kind of denim prefered for making blouses, and other summer clothes. This is usually denim in a plain weave.

9. Crushed Denim

This is a Denim fabric which is weaved and treated so that it  looks permanently wrinkled or crushed.

10. Waxed reverse Denim

This is denim fabric which has a coating of wax on the reverse side for water resistance. It is mostly used to  make outdoor gear and bags.

11. Polycore denim

This is a denim fabric that is a blend of polyester and cotton fibers. The blending results in a fabric with all the advantages of polyester and cotton – absorbency, strength, and wrinkle-free.

12. Washed Denim

Acid washed denim is also called marble denim. This refers to a finish achieved in denim fabric using pumice stone soaked in chlorine.

Colour of the fabric fades as a result of the abrasion with the stones and creates an attractive contrast with the indigo colour. The fabric is then rinsed, softened and dried. There are many other washes like enzyme wash, stone wash that the denim undergoes when it is made into your lived-in jeans.

You can read about the different jeans washes and surface treatments here.

You can get these effects at home on your jeans with some work

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13. Poly Denim

This is Denim fabric with a percentage of Polyester fibers blended in it. This fabric is very soft to touch , very easy to care for and stretches to an extent; it is very much popular to sew jackets, shirts, hats . The polyester blend adds to the durability  smoothness and finish of denim

14. Ecru Denim

Denim that has not been dyed indigo . This fabric has the natural colour of denim which is not dyed. 

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15.  Bull Denim

This is a denim fabric which is very sturdy and tough because of its 3*1 twill construction. It is not as tough as canvas but it is very durable and heavy. Bull denim is used mostly for upholstery and home decor rather than for clothing.

16. Double dyed Denim

Denim yarns are dip dyed with Indigo dye. Double dyed denim is denim which is dip dyed more than regular denim (double the times) – this creates a very dark hue.

17. Thermo denim

This is also called double denim. This denim fabric has a lightweight fabric glued to the denim. This fabric makes the garment look like it is lined.

18. Denim according to the yarn

This denim can be categorized according to the yarn with which it is made. Open end yarn, ring spun yarn and double ring yarn are the most commonly heard terms. Denim made with ring spun yarn is considered the strongest. Open end yarn denim is the weakest.

19. Slub Denim

This denim is made of yarn with uneven thickness which gives it a different texture which is quite attractive.

20. Denim according to weight

This is a categorization based on the ounce weight of denim fabric per square yard. A heavy weight denim will be more than 10.5 ounce per square yard. A heavier weight denim will be more sturdy and durable.

Related post : 10 FAQ answered on sewing with denim 

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Author: Sarina Tariq
Hi, I love sewing, fabric, fashion, embroidery, doing easy DIY projects and then writing about them. Hope you have fun learning from sewguide as much as I do. If you find any mistakes here, please point it out in the comments.
3 thoughts on “Denim fabric : (Characteristics and different types)”
  1. Imi

    Hi Sarina,
    Your explanation is very helpful. Is there a type of denim you would recommend for making outdoor hammocks?

    I will greatly appreciate any advice you can offer re the best fabric for that purpose. Many thanks and all the best. Reply
    • Sarina
      Denim as such has a sturdy twill weave and for hammocks better use a 3*1 twill weave- denim. Do not use dressmaking denim as it is thin and can fray with weight and pressure. Commercial hammocks are made with thick cotton canvas
  2. Jahirul Amin
    I want to learn about different kinds of fabric. Reply
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