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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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!