Monday 24th of June 2024

Nairobi, Kenya

Unearthing Fabrics: Denim

Unearthing Fabrics is a new series that looks at the history of your favourite fabrics before you started wearing them on your backs.

Smooth. Versatile. Rough. Indigo Dye.


The word denim originates from a fabric created in a French town called ‘Nimes’. Then, it spread and reached an Italian city called ‘Genoa’ but the French knew it as ‘Genes’, so this was translated to jeans. Later, It reached the gold miners during the American Gold Rush, in the 1850s, and they loved its strength and adaptability.


Denim comes from cotton. Cotton seeds are planted and cultivated. The cotton plant matures with a protective layer of fibrous black seeds around it. They’re collected and separated to create a fibre. Finally, it’s cleaned and turned into yarn using an industrial machine. It undergoes treatments and washes that affect the final properties of the finished denim product. Lastly, it’s dyed and woven into a warp-faced denim style.


Denim products tend not to be very expensive unless you’re purchasing raw or organic denim. It’s also strong, durable, versatile and gets softer with time.


Denim fabrics come in different forms. This includes 100% cotton denim, raw denim, selvage denim, sanforized denim, stretch denim, coloured denim, crushed denim and acid wash denim.

100% Cotton denim is normal denim that can be treated in different ways plus it’s durable and flexible.

Raw denim isn’t washed after it’s dyed and serious denim lovers can even spend up to 6 months before washing their raw denim jeans.

Selvage Denim is premium denim that doesn’t unravel and it fringes at the end.

Sanforized denim is washed, it’s softer but less durable than raw denim.

Stretch denim is cotton mixed with spandex, to create a stretchy fabric. It easily fits on people’s bodies like skinny jeans.

Coloured denim refers to either blue or other colours. Indigo dying leads to a blue colour but Sulphur dying leads to other colours like black.

Crushed denim looks like velvet and it’s used for jackets and skirts.

Acid wash denim is when raw denim is washed with a strong acid that eats away at the dye.


Of course, denim is used in a wide variety of clothing that includes jeans, shirts, tops, jackets and et cetera. It’s used on shoes, belts and handbags. For home items, it’s used for duvets, pillows and curtains.


Wash denim once a month and spot clean stains as they turn up. It’s possible to freeze your jeans to kill germs. If you’re using a washing machine, never use more than 30°C, to prevent fading or damaging your jeans. If you’re washing by hand, then, don’t let your denim jeans soak more than 45 minutes. Reshape your jeans while they’re wet, and let them dry in the shade. Minimize or skip ironing your denim.

Unearthing Fabrics : Cotton

Unearthing Fabrics is a new series that looks at the history of your favourite fabrics before you started wearing them on your backs.

Of course, cotton t-shirts always feel airy & comfortable when you wear them.

Discovery of cotton?

Pieces of a 4000-year-cloth of have been found in Pakistan & Peru. Also, Ancient mummies were once wrapped in cotton in Peru. Egypt & Mexico also have old samples of cotton.

Indeed, Gossypium herbaceum and Gossypium arboretum  are two species of cotton that originated in India and Africa.


Growing Cotton?

Cotton plants are found in hot countries like Kenya because they need need heat & water.

Puffy, cotton fluff of seed pods grow on members of the mallow family.

The seed is planted. Two months,  the plant is about a foot high, flowers develop from buds called “squares.” The flowers are initially white but turn red on the second day.  Petals fall off on the third day & leave behind undeveloped, flattened green pods called boll.

This boll needs 45 to 60 days to mature into an egg-shaped pod. It’ll be about an inch in diameter and an inch and a half long. ‘Locks’ are three to five cotton-filled compartments that live inside mature pods. Moreover, seven to ten seeds can be found inside a pod. Each with thousands of fluffy white cotton fibers are attached.

Months later, fluffy cotton balls form on full-grown plants.  It can be harvested either by hand or by machine. The cotton fibers are separated from the cotton seeds. Cotton fabric is made from cotton fibers. The seeds can be replanted or used to make cottonseed oil.


Processing Cotton?

Certainly, cotton fibers are developed through a few processes including spinning, plying, combing & carding.

Firstly, cotton needs to be spun into yarn first. A machine is used to spin the fibers together called a spinning mill. At this point, synthetic fibers made through chemical processes can be added. Alternatively, purely cotton can be spun.

Secondly, “plying” happens and two single threads are twisted together. Twisting determines the structure of the yarn & how the finished product will look.

Thirdly, combing or carding can be used to prepare the cotton. 

During combing, cotton fibers are placed through a series of straight metal teeth. To ensure that all fibers are parallel to each other. Hence, it’s expensive but the fabric has a softer, smoother finish.

Meanwhile, carding is where two hands or two machine cards with numerous teeth are used. They separate fibers and remove broken fibers or impurities without making them parallel. In short, carded cotton feels fluffier and rougher to the touch.

Next weaving happens and this usually done on a loom. They work quickly by interlacing lengthwise yarn (warp) and crosswise yarn (filling). Consequently, a woven fabric called grey goods is created.

The basic fabric can be dyed, another layer can be added or designs can be printed on it. In addition, one dying technique is having the fabric turning in a tumbler with the colour dye.

Finally, the fabric is chosen and sown into a t-shirt. This can either be done by hand or in a big factory.


Facts About Cotton

Cotton has several uses from t-shirts, underwear to towels, shoe strings & jeans.

Cottonseed is crushed to separate three main things: cottonseed oil, meal and hulls. For example, cottonseed oil is used to cook food & can be added to cosmetics. 

Similar, meal and hulls can as a fertilizer for fish feed, livestock & poultry. Lastly, stalks and plants are planted so they can enrich the soil.


Why Love Cotton?

Cotton is super breathable and it easily absorbs moisture and allows it to evaporate. This is a pro for underwear, sleepwear & exercise clothes.

It’s soft. It stays cool in the summer & insulates you well in the winter. Being a natural fibre, its hypoallergenic just like silk. Perfect for babies. It’s strong, super versatile & easy to dye.

Alternatively, Cotton shrinks and wrinkles easily. It can easily damage and fade because of the sun. Dye can easily run from cotton garments and stain other clothes.


Looking After Cotton

Cotton should be washed in cold water that isn’t more than 30°C . Gently stretch them after you’re done washing so they return to their original shape. Always hang your clothes outside in the sun. Always to refer to the care label whenever you want to iron your clothes. Cotton irons well when its slightly damp or when using a steam iron.


Different Types Of Cotton

Cotton is used to make other fabrics that people love. The list includes denim, corduroy, lace, flannel, fleece, mesh, velour and velvet.


Unearthing Fabrics: Silk

Unearthing Fabrics is a new series that looks at the history of your favourite fabrics before you started wearing them on your backs.

It feels amazing when you’re running your fingertips through a silk blouse.

Smooth. Soft. Luxurious. Regal.


Discovery of silk

It was discovered in China by an Empress called Hsi Ling Shi married to Huang Ti. She was sitting outside when a cocoon fell into her cup and started unraveling & she was captivated by the colourful fabric. Realizing that it was a Bombyx mori silkworm. She started cultivating silkworms, developed seri-culture and inventing the reel and loom.


Silk is a natural fibre produced from a silkworm. Silkworm is fed Mulberry leaves and spins a cocoon as it matures. From the cocoon, the silk is extracted and turned into an expensive garment fit for royalty.


Four main types of silkworms exist in the world. Silk usually refers to the mulberry silkworm though. However, there are other types that don’t feed on mulberry. Eri silk; Tasar silk; and Muga silk.

Making silk?

Silk production also known as seri-culture has four main stages.

A) Silkworm eggs are hatched in a controlled environment and incubated for around 10 days. They turn into larvae (caterpillars) and measure about quarter an inch.

B) The silkworm lavae is shielded under a thin layer of gauze but still fed a lot for around six weeks. Silkworms fed on mulberry leaves have the finest silk. At 3 inches, it stops eating suddenly & changes colour because it’s ready to spin a silk cocoon.

C) It’ll get to work for 3 to 8 days after it attaches itself to a twig inside a spinning house. Silkworms release two twin silk filaments that are bind with sericin to protect the raw silk from breaking. Rotating itself in a figure-8 movement over 300,000 times, it can produce a kilometer of silk filament.

D) Finally, the cocoon is treated with hot steam to soften the sericin so the silk can be unraveled from it and turned into a garment using a spinning wheel and loom

Loving silk?

Silk is a hypoallergenic fabric, so people with super sensitive skin never need to worry about getting an allergic reaction. It’s perfect for all climates because its warm in the winter but cool in the heat. It dries easily whenever it absorbs moisture. Silk looks soft but its durable.

Looking after Silk?

Always look at the care tag on your silk garment. It can be hand-washed with lukewarm water and gentle soap. Never use bleach or leave it soaking in water. Roll it in a towel if you want to extract water. Dry it in the shade away from the sunlight. Silk holds its shape so hang it well.


Silk is expensive because it’s time-intensive to undertake seri-culture. Creating one kimono needs roughly one pound of silk that needs to be harvested from 2,000 to 3,000 cocoons.

Different  silk fabrics?

Raw silk still has sericin and feels tough to the touch and dull to look at. In addition, pure silk only has the sericin removed but nothing else altered and it becomes  lighter and glossy. Indeed, weighted silk is after raw silk has been boiled but metallic salts like iron & tin have been added so that it can add weight. Spun silk is created from broken cocoons after the moths leave and it feels like cotton.


Additional information about silk can be found from the sites below: texeresilk.com, trustedclothes.com, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silk &  inserco.org/en/types_of_silk