Denim is an extremely versatile material which has stood the test of time. By applying treatments and washes to the material, it is possible to drastically alter the look of the raw denim, suiting various applications.
Below you can find some of the most common denim washes, with a brief explanation of how they’re achieved. You can read more about the history of denim and the origins of jeans here.
Raw denim, also known as dry or unwashed denim, is denim that has not undergone any of the common washing or distressing processes. Instead of being treated, the denim is taken directly off of the loom before being cut and sewn into jeans.
Raw denim is stiff to the touch and has a deep blue colour with a distinctive sheen. One of the unique characteristics of raw denim is that creases and fade marks appear over time, forming to the body shape of the wearer. Raw denim jeans are less common than their washed equivalents, with most consumer denims going through processes to soften the fabric and reduce shrinkage and improve colour fastness.
Enzyme washing is a treatment used to soften fabric and is common across all textile manufacturing, not just in denim production. This process uses naturally occurring enzymes to eat away at the cellulose in cotton, softening the fabric.
Enzyme washing can be applied to any composition and colour denim to achieve a softer hand feel.
Black denim undertakes a similar dying process to traditional indigo blue denim, but replaces indigo with a black dye to achieve the desired colour. Black denim is traditionally left as a dark colour, with just a simple rinse or enzyme wash to soften the fabric. Over time, Black denim starts to lose its colour and fade to a dark Grey.
Because denim in its raw form is extremely dark, it does require some washing to create a colour which can be described as dark blue. Dark wash, sometimes known as indigo wash is an extension of rinse wash.
The wash goes on for longer, removing more indigo dye colour and creating a slightly lighter colour, however this would still be described as dark blue. A by-product of this, is that a softer hand feel is achieved than with rinse wash, but at the expense of a lighter colour also.
Acid washing, also referred to as “marble” because of its distinctive finish provides the denim with sharp contrasts in tonal colour. Achieved by soaking pumice stones in chlorine and letting them sit within the wash process, the chlorine reacts with the dye and creates this unique pattern.
Denim can be washed for varying degrees of time to achieve different finishes – the example shown above is a lighter acid wash however some items are heavily washed to create a distinctive pattern.
Mid wash is achieved by extending the rinse wash process, just as with dark wash. Again, just like the dark wash process a softening agent is used along with the rinse, meaning that a lighter colour and yet a softer hand feel is achieved by simply washing the denim for longer.
The only difference between dark and mid wash denim is the amount of time that they have been washed for after being produced as raw denim.
Again, as per the dark and mid wash descriptions above, a light wash denim, characterised by it’s light blue colour has gone through the same rinse process, just for a longer period of time to remove the majority of the indigo colour.
Grey denim is created as a result of washing Black denim. Much in the same way that light Blue denim is created from washed Indigo, the level of washing that is applied to Black denim will determine the shade of Grey which is achieved.
White denim is created when both the warp and weft yarns are woven using White thread, rather than the traditional Blue warp and White weft. This creates a denim which is unique given the fact that usually we associate denim with the colour Blue.
Due to the unique shade, there are few additional washes which can be applied to White denim other than enzyme washing to soften the fabric.
Bleached denim is heavily faded, with the process being much the same as a rinse wash, however the fabric is washed with a bleach solution instead. Bleach washing in this way would achieve an all over finish, however in some cases bleaching is done only to certain sections of the denim, applied locally through spray or hand rubbing on a desired area.
A vintage finish is used where it is desirable for the denim to have an older or more worn in look and it is achieved via a number of processes. Firstly, the denim is dyed and washed to create the colour shade required. The material is then bleached in certain areas, hand scraped, whispered and ground to a level where the worn in look is achieved.