1/09/2011

Shuttle Looms - Japanese Selvedge Denim and American Culture


Shuttle looms were used to produce selvedge denim fabrics in the early 1900's, but as the popularity of denim rose in the 1930's through 1950's, denim mills stopped producing selvedge denim and switched to projectile looms, which were much faster and used less fabric per pair of pants (i.e., mass production). Thus, the shuttle looms were deemed archaic, costly, and time consuming. Japanese companies purchased many of these old machines off of American mills and continue the tradition of making selvedge denim.

The shuttle loom produces selvedge denim as the weft (horizontal thread) is weaved back and forth continuously in a loop, the full length of the machine. When the weft reaches the edge of the machine, it loops back in and starts the process all over again, creating a closed selvedge edge. In contrast, modern projectile loom produces open edges that need to be stitched together, as the weft is weaved only one way (not in a loop).

Who would have thought those ancient shuttle loom machines would once again be on a spotlight half a century later as the producers of high-end denim? And it was the Japanese artisans, who carried on the denim making as it existed in the early 1900's America — the very fabric of American culture.

These vintage shuttle looms continue to make selvedge denim in Okayama, Japan and produce many of the denim fabrics used by our designers. The fabric above is one of the newest projects by Hakari-san, designer of Triple Works and Iron Heart. We will soon see it sewn into denim!