Non Tidal Batik

This was actually the most challenging thing we've done to date and was only meant to be a very small project when we travelled all the way to India in the summer with finished ecru garments . We nodded to each other and smiled a sort of 'gosh, this is amazing, but crazy' sort of smile every step of the process and thought we'd done a good job.

The problem was, we had done such a nice job that when John Skelton and Xiaoxiao Xu from LNCC came to visit us they asked if they could have it to stock in LNCC - a season ahead of our planned wholesale launch. It was never meant to be a big run, but LNCC didn't even need to make a case for themselves. We discovered just a few weeks earlier that they had curated a 'conscious' collection on their site that sat as prominently as their main offering, making a real statement about one of our core drivers - sustainable clothing.

The collection is now live on their webstore, and it represents months of very, very hard work by everyone involved. I know, it seems like hyperbole - how can one white line be such a headache?

Because the line isn't painted - it's the part of the denim that's resisted the indigo dye, a little peep at the virgin fabric is achieved through an age-old indian 'wax resist technique' . The Japanese historically used a mix of rice bran and other ingredients to make a resist 'katazome' paste that works on the same principle (something we will be playing with in later seasons).

The process

Wax is heated up (although, in the Indian sun it doesn't need much) until its almost a watery consistency. It's then painted (or stamped with a wooden block) directly onto our made garments. This is where we really made trouble for ourselves - the easy way would have been to do this on flat fabric then make the garments, but we wanted the line to go over the pocket and around the bottom of our jeans 'just so'.

The fabric we use, likely because its natural ecru and handloomed (from ORTA, an amazing Turkish mill who commissioned traditional hand weavers to make selvedge denim), readily absorbed the wax and made for a stiff stripe. The upshot is a clean finish that means even the inside of the garment shows the stripe (although less prominent). What's extra lovely about this is the visible strokes and splodges on the finished piece that reflect the human hand.

Once air dried, the full jacket is submerged in our natural indigo pits. We've gone on-and-on about these, but they're beautiful, calm pits that build up fabric to a deep dark blue using just plant dye (indigofera tinctoria) and some food for the fermentation.

Here's a pair of trousers dipped once in the vat. The colour is lovely but slightly uneven - our jackets and jeans need 6 full cycles of dipping.

Here's the Time Jacket after a final dip. It's a super-deep almost purple colour (because of the red impurities in our natural indigo) at this stage and still has wax intact. Once dry, the garment is boiled(!) allowing the wax to melt and float to the top where it's collected and re-used.

Once finished we attach the labels and they're ready to wear. One beautiful thing about the whole process is how the hue of the whole jacket changes over time. I've been wearing one on and off for six months, and the deep inky blue has softened to calmer shade, wearing down further over seams, folds and the pockets.

All in all it makes for a beautiful, simple effect that completely belies the amount of work that went in. It's an amazing success that we simply cannot ever repeat on this scale.

Drunken Indigo Dyeing

We've spoken a little about Master Thiti in a previous story - but we wanted to share with you his very singular way of indigo dyeing that we experienced when we did a little collaborative dyeing.

Indigo is his "joint favourite" dye (along with ebony - a fruit that produces a range of greys and blacks) and his enthusiasm really shows. He straddles a line between perfection of form and expression that's infectious - like a master baker that no longer measures ingredients - instinctively throwing portions into a mix with a flourish.

When we arrived at his home (which also serves as his workshop) we were met by a pot of yarn billowing steaming air high into the neighbouring treetop. He was scouring them - removing any starch and residue left on them from spinning. 

STORY mfg. Whisky Indigo 01

We peered in and immediately noticed a leaf from the neighbouring tree had dropped in. We told him immediately - sure the batch would be ruined - but he gave us a wistful smile and explained "It's all nature. It's okay. This tree makes blue too but I not know why". 

Boiled and scoured organic cotton

Boiled and scoured organic cotton

He extracts his own dyes too - but for the moment he's using indigo paste from Laos. It's a thick, slimy inky black blob far removed from what we're used to (most places we visit use a dried powdered extract).

A handful of paste (technical measuremt) gets put into a large stone bowl. He adds fruit from his garden to regulate acidity (starfruit of thai limes - he isn't fussy), water filtered through ash (made from burned banana skins), tamarind and perhaps a little water depending on 'the look' of the mix.

Natural indigo paste

Natural indigo paste

The vat needs to be airated daily

The vat needs to be airated daily

Finally - and this is a tip passed onto him from an old hilltribe lady from China - he gives the vat a nice long shot of whiskey. He says there are many 'reasons' for this (using his fingers to gesticulate with inverted commas how futile us wanting to make 'sense' of it all is) but cheif among them is to get the bacteria - the chaps making the magic happen - drunk. Drunk vats make "much beautiful colour". 

STORY mfg's starter vat

STORY mfg's starter vat

The vat then needs a few days to mature before use - but after that you just need to top it up with a little of each thing again. 

The Master then went to attend his silk moths and have a cold beer while we hung out with his helpers - his rag-tag collection of pooches that loved to help and photobomb pictures we were trying to get with our first Thai vat.

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STORY mfg. Whisky Indigo 04
STORY mfg. Whisky Indigo 07

Resurrecting a legend: TRF (Two Right Feet) shoes.

Our TRF shoes are made with a 100% impermeable, breathable, antibacterial but soft and light leather alternative. The sole is made from a lightweight, but tough, EVA, and the interlacing runs (unusually) all the way around the shoe. They're made in England, in one of the most incredible factories we've ever been to - and they're available to pre order now.

 


We often talk about 're-wilding' things, but I'm not sure if what we really mean has ever been fully explained. 

Extinction is forever, we know that - but what if it wasn't? What if iconic creatures from long forgotten pasts could be brought back into the world and set free to re-roam the earth? That's re-wilding, and while Katy and I can't bring back the sabre tooth tiger - we can study the past to bring back wearable icons.

Most pieces in our collection begin their (new) lives in our vintage archive. We have an enormous library that we regularly look through, examine, and share with guests. 

But sometimes, and this doesn't happen as much as I'd like, something finds us. That's what happened with the TRF (Two Right Feet) shoes. 

We headed on up to Northampton originally to make a boot. In fact, we were so sure of what we were making that the principal reason for the visit was to check fabric and make an order. 

We spent our usual time taking a tour, asking questions, prodding, poking and sniffing (especially in a shoe factory - nothing smells quite like new shoes.). 

Then, we saw it. The original TRF shoe - stuffed in between two pieces of equipment. We can't show you a picture here because we don't have one. I know - big mistake. Terribly un-story.

Side note: Katy's home was burgled last week - and the thieves took our backup hard drive. The drive we keep all our images on. This update, and maybe a few more, are going to be on the naked side but we'll do our best to visit the factory again while our shoes are being made. Anyway - on with the story...

We didn't know the profound effect this shoe would have on us. We asked a few questions about it, the way it was made, and where it came from. Our guide smiled and told us how labour intensive it was, how much more expensive it was, and how much more hassle it was in general.

We finished up the tour, went back to the office, put in our order and set off back to London.

We were happy - but something felt off. We both kept talking about that other shoe. It was a classic - a gibson shape on a beautiful last. But it was also classic in a more youthful way than anything else. They're a formal shoe that wants to dance, and they're just begging to be re-paired with raw denim, the way they used to be worn in their heyday.

We insisted we have it. It was a little bit of a tussle - but we got there in the end. 

Feelgood fabrics: Our first Honour Scarves and Shore Shirts

I've written out this introduction at least ten times because I'm not sure how to start. Sometimes Katy and I get ourselves to wrapped up in the minute details that we forget to spell out the big picture.

So here's the big picture: we spent some time in a forest with a group of people who practice an ancient tradition of medicinal dyeing. We came back with new fabrics which are very very slow made, naturally dyed, hand loomed, and make up our Honour Scarves and new Shore Shirts.

Available Christmas day

Available Christmas day

Available Christmas day

Available Christmas day


I'll preface this with a statement about our own opinion on 'medicinal' fabric. While we both think there is a lot to be said for the chemical properties imparted by plants, we don't believe they should be used in place of scientifically proven medicines. That said, when we heard about a  group of people practicing a 5000 year old tradition of medicinal dyeing  in the forests of India, we were hooked. 

These men and women dye yarns and cloth with mixtures of plants for their health giving qualities - not the way they look or the colour they give. Uneven colour on a yarn would be a failure anywhere else - but here, in the forest, every yarn is important, and potent.

I say forest, but it's more than that. This forest is cultivated; it's a nursery spilling over with hundreds of medicinal plants, all growing in symbiosis on the fertile land. It seems completely wild, save for a few brick walls, but every plant is expertly placed. Jutting trees reach for the sun while shade dwelling bushes hide below, presenting berries for the dye pot. The land is so fertile not just because of the weather, but because the waste from the dye pots is sprinkled back over the land - providing a perfect food source and a closed loop of sustainable living.

The completely, utterly, natural waste. You can't see this - but bugs LOVED it.

The completely, utterly, natural waste. You can't see this - but bugs LOVED it.

Our contact, Kay, eagerly takes us through winding pathways, stopping off every couple of metres to excitedly talk us through a plants native name, scientific name, and its medicinal use. We examine Indigo, wild basil, turmeric, goosberries, black pepper, and a giant list of plants we'd never even heard of. Some look the same - like generic plants - but every so often Kay would rekindle our attention by rubbing a bristle that would fill the air with perfume , or pinch a leaf that would explode deep, rich colour.

India has long celebrated the natural medicinal properties of plants, pioneering medicinal extracts for thousands of years that continue to surprise modern chemists. This method of dyeing cloth, now over 5000 years old, takes those principles and applies them to the clothes we wear. Our man explains to us that there are many concoctions, and most are tailor made, but there are a few hundred we can choose that promote general 'wellness' and 'good feeling'. The two we chose for our Shore Shirts do just that, and those found in the Honour Scarves are designed to assist healthy breathing.

Every fabric has a formula. The head dyer mixes up a relatively small amount of medicine in a pot until it's right. Most mixtures combine 20-30 different ingredients, in different quantities, but some can contain over 50. It's then cooked, cooled, dissolved or ground depending on the recipe. All water used here is rain water, collected on the rooftoops and filtered through rocks. They refuse to take any chances with water supplies when they've been so careful with their ingredients, and we cant blame them. 

Water collecting pots

Water collecting pots

Next the brew is put into a larger pot, and again either cooked or left at ambient temperature. We were present for some of ourindigo dyeing which was done over a boiling pot - something we had never seen before. Indigo is a wily dye, and requires some precise and exacting moves to get it to transfer onto yarns - but a long rolling boil is not one of of them. 

We asked about this, and we were treated to a broad smile and a reminder that this is the ancient way it was always done. We tried to dig deeper to work out how it worked but the only explanations these guys could give were based on medicine - a reminder that dyeing is a byproduct to them, not a principle concern. We were also asked to be mindful that although the colour we are seeing is indigo, the mixture actually contains 26 other ingredients - all of which work in unison for the final result.

That isn't to say they are completely detached from science. While talking us through the properties of indigo, they explained that it was traditionally an ingredient used when anti bacterial and temperature regulating fabric treatments were needed. They explain how it was used five centuries ago, and then school us on what science says today. Hint: science seems to agree, and this is isn't the first time we've been told how special natural indigo is.

The yarns are then hung up indoors, away from the harsh sun, and we are taken inside to see the other half of their stock cupboard. Pots of wood and dried ingredients overflow in rooms dusty with the smell of perfume. We comment on how great everything smells and they nod and smile. They know, and they even seem a little smug. That's something we really feel here - no one here is jealous of the way we live in London. This way is the right way for them, and they want to make our way of living better, by inviting more nature in.

We went back to these dry store cupboards several times during the course of our stay because someone would say something like 'It's dyed with five types of turmeric!', prompting Katy and I to exchange confused glances, before being marched in to examine all five. We might even see  a sixth, seventh or eighth type too - which would prompt a completely new discovery for us that dissolved our scepticism. We have to be skeptic with STORY, because we hear so many grand claims on a daily basis that turn out to be total lies. We have to be sure, because brands should be the gatekeepers for honesty and truth.

Even after leaving we thought deeply about the dyeing. We saw it from start to finish - from picking fresh leaves and roots, to mixing them up with dried bark and minerals, grinding, slicing, boiling and drying. Yet we still felt uneasy because of that boiling pot of indigo. It was weird. We hadn't seen anything like it and it seemed altogether too violent for a natural dye.

We got a message to them before we set off for our next stop, asking for some kind of ingredients list so we could try and work out what was happening. We aren't experts, but we know some, and they kindly let us have a list of what goes into the fabrics we selected -- although they asked us not to share it for fear a big player could come along and steal it.

A few days later we caught up with Jesus, our indigo dyeing expert, and told him about the boiling pot. At first his face curled and creased, but he asked a few pointed questions - initially about chemicals. He sees a lot of snake oil charlatans in his line, so he's naturally cautious. However, he's also naturally curious,  and when we explained what we saw go in, and what we saw come out he did a little mental maths and told us 'it works, but it's very labour intensive, and the colour would be very uneven - no good for commercial brands!'.

Katy and I exchanged one last stare on the matter. "Good".

Grandfather time: the original TIME jacket

The TIME Jacket represents more than the sum of its parts. It isn't just a shape, a design, a piece of history - it's the perfect tool for the job at hand. We found the original TIME jacket long before STORY mfg. started firing up the looms - but once they started chattering we knew we'd be re-wilding this design.

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We asked around wherever we could about the jacket through scouring archives and pestering experts. It was never clear exactly how it came to exist - though all parties agree that it was most likely made in the 30's or 40's.

The general concensus, from the build and similarity to other examples, is that it was most likely a jacket made in prison, for prisoners.

The selvedge you see that screams 'PREMIUM!' these days was probably only placed where it was because there was no access to an overlocker. Whoever made this up cut it on the selvedge out of ease - not out of a sense of style or heritage.

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We now, in 2014, have purposefully chosen to replicate this odd, square and in some ways wasteful design. It would have been far easier to overlock the edges or use a wider fabric - but it just wouldn't be the same. We believe there's a time, a place, and a reason for overlocking - but this isn't it!

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The fist-sized pockets at hip height were the first detail that attracted us. It may seem simple to ask for pockets in a usable place that you can actually fit a few things into - but you'd be surprised at just how hard they are to come buy! For us a pocket isn't an afterthought - it's often a forethought.

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The TIME jacket, as naive as it was when it was made, hits upon a style and look we love. It's completely anti-fit and cut all at right angles for ease. For some that might be a turn off because it isnt fitted to the body; it drapes or sits - depending on how big you are.

We plan to make a larger size of this - but we aren't sure there's ever any need for it to be smaller. We've thrown it on people of all shapes and sizes, and it's looked superb each and every way it's worn.

That is, in part, why we're offering it as an 'upgradeable' piece. It's so utilitarian and such a blank canvas to showcase the fabric that it has unlimited possibilities.

And we want you to play with it, to patch it up, to upgrade it yourself - and make each one unique. The fabrics are already totally unique - but let's see just how far we can take this!

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Somewhere in the past the arms where chopped off. We've recreated them but we cant help but like how playful a jacket with short sleeves is.

A short sleeve version may well be a future upgrade - but for now we have some other ideas up our sleeves!

In any case, the TIME jacket remains in our archive, a testament to something we aren't even sure of. We do know one thing for certain though - it's a survivor.

01_STORYmfg Time jacket walk

02_STORYmfg Time jacket walk

Hand weaving our River Denim

Not all hand loomed fabric is equal. Far from it. It takes time to learn the skill, and a little bit a family tradition helps too. River Denim has been in development for 3 years -- because even experienced weavers need time to master the quirks of denim weaving -- but my goodness did they produce something incredible.

Our River Denim fabric, as you know, is made with organic cotton from India which is dyed with natural indigo. What we haven't shouted about is how the yarn is made from long staple cotton that's normally only used in fine shirting cloths. When we asked why, the weavers simply answered 'because'. It's local, readily available and the highest quality so of course it's a no-brainer.

Once the cotton is hand spun and dyed in hanks by small scale family dyers it's given to the weavers. This practice not only allows the absolute best artisans to have the best product - but it means they can set up looms in their own homes and keep the industry local.

01_storymfg_khadi_denim

As you can see above, the warp yarns (the 'topside' of the fabric) are mounted onto a beam ensuring there's just the right amount for the full width. You can see the red colour of the selvedge line at the edges of the beam.

After that the warp yarns are threaded onto the loom by hand, which is like threading hundreds of needles several times, before being tied at the ends. This isn't a job for clumbsy hands - precision, patience and skill are needed in large supply.

It all takes great care, because one moment of rushing can dash all that hard work.

What really struck us about this whole process is just how long it takes to get the loom chattering. We knew it took a weaver around a day to make enough for one pair of jeans, but we had no idea how long it took to even get started.

03_storymfg_khadi_denim Above you can see see just how much threading each yarn demands again (right), as well as a close-up shot of the weavers trusty shuttle (left).

This is real craftsmanship. Every pair of river denim jeans is made proudly by a single craftsman, and we can even (if you like) give you the name of the indvidual weaver that made your fabric!

Not to sound too fluffy - but it's fabric like this, and that in the rest in our first collection, that really make it worthwhile. There's nothing else like it, each piece is an imprint of time and a slice of life.

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Ok, so - back to the good stuff. The bobbins of ecru warp yarn are loaded into the shuttle and fly back and forth creating the reverse side of the fabric. If you loaded a different coloured thread in here it would give you a different warp, like our Ni x Ni, which is natural indigo on both sides (warp and weft).

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As the shuttle crosses over the whole roll of warp is pulled forward in a clockwork motion, feeding out towards the weaver. Below you can see the finished fabric rolling onto another beam ready to be sent for sanforization.

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The finished product is the amazing River Denim. Traditionally, the hand loomed fabric was taken down to the river to be shrunk to size, but it's now taken to Arvind to be sanforized more precisely.

The reason it needs sanforizing is no matter how skilled the loomsman is, the warp and weft may not always be perfectly aligned. Power loomed fabrics can be left untouched because, well, they're made by a machine - and although we love human-made imperfections at STORY we're taking the expert opinion of a fabric technician in this case.

We'll go through this process later on, but in essence the fabric is scanned, then pulled over a series of rollers that shear and move to make sure warp and weft is at right angles.

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There were a few times when Katy and I looked at each other and screamed with our eyes over the course of our India trip - watching our denim being hand woven and hearing the loom chatter was one of them. If anyone ever has the gall to ask how interesting denim can possibly be from now on in we wouldn't even know where to start!

0 Jean: Pattern adjustments

We started noticing a quirk with our fit when new samples arrived, and as wear gathered on the first sample we realised that it wasn't a characteristic we wanted to go into production. The hem was curving, something we originally liked, but it was very quickly becoming a flare. Now, flares and bootcuts certainly have their place - but not on the 0 Jean.

We tried tapering the pattern to reduce the hem - but the stubborn curve kept fighting back, desperate to hitch a ride onto our legs. There was really only one person who could help us: Mohsin Sajid, denim genius.

01 STORY x Mohsin

When we first started on this journey, Katy explained how the fit, above all else, was probably the most important piece of the puzzle. That's why we searched high and low for a fit that we'd want to recreate, before finding the 1940's jean that has since become the 0 Jean block.

She also explained that pattern cutting is a skill people spend years honing. I thought it isounded simple; I'm a visual person with a good brain for spacial awareness - how hard could it be??

I couldn't be more wrong.

02 STORY x Mohsin

Mohsin explained, in the most simple of terms, that "You need to make 3D, into 2D pieces". It's actually quite a feat when you're dealing with layers of fabric with pockets in odd placements, leg twist, and around 70 years of age.

However, we enlisted the right person. Mohsin is so skilled that he cuts patterns with all manner of incredible contours for his own line Endrime. He methodically spent two evenings with us making up our new pattern from scratch.

03 STORY x Mohsin

As you can see above - it's not a matter of 'tracing the outlines' as I thought. You can see the seam actually sits flat on top, so you need to do some mental gymnastics to flatten that 3D shape into one you can cut out.

04 STORY x MohsinSeveral tools, pens, sighs and head scratches later we discovered the oversight in the original pattern we cut months ago with a different technician.

The 0 Jean fit is now ever so slightly tapered and is far closer to the original than the samples we've had so far with a felled inseam. In fact - if you look at it as a flat shape you can barely see the taper at all.

Mohsin then toiled the pattern in selvedge denim so we could check the fit - and it was spot on. It would have brought a tear to our eyes if they weren't already glassy from watching him work well into the early morning on the pattern.

The new measurements up on the shop are now almost final. Cookson and Clegg will sew up a production sample for us but now the only changes will be due to tolerance during production - and they will be minimal as the pattern accounts for that.

When production starts, all those that have pre ordered will be emailed for final size confirmation.

 

100% Copper buttons

It was always going to be copper for us. It just took some looking, and a little help, to get what we wanted.

STORY2

There's something premium about copper on denim, and both Katy and I agree that we always feel a little let down if beautiful denim is finished with 'antique brass' or 'gunmetal' buttons. That isn't to say that they don't have their place, but we just can't imagine finishing our natural indigo, premium jeans with anything less than copper.

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Our buttons are made from a single piece of rolled 100% copper, and our rivets are copper capped.

Apart from being one of the best conductors of electricity and heat, copper (Cu) is actually an essential dietary element to human life. We need it to live, and it's just by virtue of nature that it's such a beautiful looking piece of the world.

Some of the most stirring pieces of art are laced with copper, as it forms a pigment when mixed with other colours. Not only is it gorgeous in its pure state, giving a pinkish gold colour, but in compound salts it forms other amazing colours such as azurite and turquoise.

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Azurite

photo credit: Eric Hunt

Turquoise.pebble.700pixTurqoise

Turquoise and copper are traditionally paired together in jewellery, and it's been the de facto precious stone for dozens of civilizations - but that's a STORY for another day, and another product.

With a little age, copper gets deep green patina, and we just know that it's always going to look beautiful as it develops over a pair of indigo jeans.

 

Southern Denim: Hank 2 and Hank 8

Hank 2
  • Naturally dyed (non chemical process)
  • Natural indigo
  • Organic cotton
  • Hank dyed (2 dips)
  • Raw selvedge
  • Sanforized
  • Hand loomed
  • Around 9.5 - 10 oz

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STORYmfg_Hank_fabrics_03

 Hank 8
  • Naturally dyed (non chemical process)
  • Natural indigo
  • Organic cotton
  • Hank dyed (8 dips)
  • Raw selvedge
  • Sanforized
  • Hand loomed
  • Around 9.5 - 10oz

P1360737

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