The Denim Underground

P1100041

I have just come back from dyeing indigo in the mountains of Fujino for my 5th or sixth consecutive year. It always feels great going out there and immersing myself in nature for a few days. Osaka for all of its culture is starved of nature and the outdoors. It also gives me some time to think about things and of course have incredible discussion with Bryan-san. If you didn’t know this is the year of the monkey which happens to be my year in the Chinese zodiac. The conversations this year weren’t so much on what has happened but where we are heading.

For the past few months I have been contemplating all sorts of random ideas and the thought of denim and fashion is never out of mind. The Weather Underground was a political group that took extreme actions but had fairly simple ideals. These kinds of extreme actions and simple ideas are quite apart of society at this very minute. So, that is where I developed this idea called “The Denim Underground”. Maybe it is a sort of anti-fashion anti-heritage idea, but maybe it really isn’t anti anything. I kind of like fashion in the regard it operates as the artistic expression of clothing, and what can be achieved psychologically by meditation-styling. Pairing your mood with your clothes for me at least, helps for functioning on a daily basis. Eventually someday I will iron this out and create some sort of manifesto or something…

Anyways… Damage and wear, and paint and patches. This is my jam. I love… no, I adore workwear. The function is obvious and specific. Workwear is also like this fantastic base for simple clothing. Pockets in meaningful and useful places, reinforcement points, durable fabrics. It is like the everyday persons uniform. Narita-san reworked these Kapital multi pocket pants for me. White pants with white patches and paint, for me this is bliss. It is so simple but at the same time looks fantastic. They’re not exactly dirty but they’re not exactly clean either. White is such an odd color to deal with… it’s this modern/heritage “summer” color that really looks better totally fucked up and dirty.

So this kind of balance between fashion (damage, distressing, whatever-you-want-to-call-it) and simple everyday workwear is the aim of The Denim Underground. Wash and wear. Patch and darn -and re-dye…

img_5382

Re-dyeing is the ultimate fun part. Once you wear the hell out of your clothes, repair them, the opportunity of re-dyeing presents itself. You can dye with this curious red stuff called madder, this comes from the roots of an insignificant evergreen. Green, the green leaves of the indigo plant Persicaria tinctoriaAs the leaves of the indigo plant dry the release the most heavenly of fragrances and the gradually change from green to a very unusual dark blue. Recently I have started experimenting with over-dyeing some antique french linen night gowns and random garments. They come out looking fantastic after a few dips in indigo. The color is consistent and the texture is really lovely. Madder and indigo; the two most important dyes in terms of everyday clothing from ancient times to  now. Think of red and blue bandannas. In many ethnic and folk communities all-over the world you can find these two dyes and colors blended together in any number of techniques.

From my own research into the history of bandannas, the importance of madder dye is noted again and again. From India to Scotland, the color was the base for most of the textiles. Especially hard wearing ones such as rugs and wraps. It wasn’t until the invention of fastcolor (synthetic dyes) did people stop re-dyeing their clothing.

img_5378img_5383

So here is a pic of the second year of doing Oak Street Bookmakers indigo rough-out trench boots. I learned an impressive amount last year dyeing them. These are them after they have been dyed, and rinsed. They are still wet and look much darker than usual. This project has been incredibly interesting working on. The variations in the hides, brings out the individual uniqueness in each pair. Sometimes the pairs don’t even come out matched completely, which I think makes these boots very personal and very interesting. Definitely something I would include to be apart of the philosophy of The Denim Underground.

img_5387

But before I nod off, I want to explain this amazing piece of clothing. It comes from Albania, it is from the 1800’s its made from yaks wool and there are apparently only two of these in existence currently. This is one of them. The other is in a museum somewhere. It is a piece of folk clothing made in one small village somewhere in Albania. It really blows my mind that there is still stuff like this out there. Sitting in some cedar chest… You can see it is hand-spun and hand-woven which equates to an extraordinary amount of time. Not only in actually making it, but learning the skills to make it. It is simply pure function, every part has been designed around functionality and durability. Also the silhouette and structure is similar to Japanese fishermans work jackets with the shorter sleeves, mid-length and massive weight. Very interesting…

img_5385

The Allure of Black

DSCF4149

 

black
adj. 1. lacking hue and brightness; absorbing light without reflecting any of the rays composing it.

Black Century Full Front

Black has an extensive history in textiles. Considering it is quite difficult to achieve the darkest black possible. Recently scientists invented Vantablack which is the blackest black every created by humans, it is made of carbon nanotubes. Interesting stuff… As far as regular dyeing goes…  In general, before the introduction of logwood into textile dyeing, there were only two common ways to achieve black. One: taking a brown component like persimmon tannin and getting it as dark as possible by exposing it to extended periods of direct sunlight. Once achieving the desired hue an additional dip in iron mordant solution creates a very nice natural black. Two: dyeing it a dark blue or green (green being the more common) and then adding an iron mordant. Both of these processes create the two black colors that Tezomeya has available.

My Sumi 7S Century Denim recently underwent this process. I worked on the idea of dyeing these black a few years ago, but the texture had to be just right first. The result is wondrous. The brown peeking out from behind the black, and the indigo threads shedding their black covering looks incredible. Since we are on the topic of “black” I might as well mention how interesting this Blackfeet creation myth is…

Gold Rivet Black Century Denim

The horizontal sashiko stitching brings out a very rough texture which adds some visual weight. Maybe I have been inspired a bit by the dark side of life

Knee sashiko repair detail Century Denim

Faded creases behind the knees didn’t take the dye very well, but left a nice subtle “Chashin” look.

Back of the knee fade Black Century Denim

The gradual transformation of these jeans can be followed in Metamorphosis and Metamorphosis II

Knee repair indigo sashiko Black Century Denim Silver Rivet on Black Century Denim

Kapital made an interesting black jean for summer 2015. This version is a black warp and white weft, and given a nice distressed wash; it comes in this ashy color.

Black Straight Yarn Denim

14 oz denim with nice contrasting stitching, finished with a rough-out patch. The new Okagilly fit is based around the old Sarrouel one. I really enjoy the irregularity of the fabric, with the dark color that is synonymous with the 80’s. Maybe this is a prelude of a new experimental style for me… punk functionalist… maybe… And one last idea of black, definitely read or watch Under the Skin

Full Front Black Denim Patch

Oak Street Bootmakers | Indigo Rough-out Trench Boot

osb-indigo-web-3

Indigo Vat

For about the last year or so George at Oak Street Bookmakers and I have been kicking around the idea of indigo-dyed leather. I had my concerns and decided to consult a few local indigo professionals and decided on doing them entirely in fermented indigo. This is the real deal… You can order them here.

osb-indigo-roughout-dainite-sole-trench-boot-web

I did all the dyeing myself at my friend’s house in Fujino, just outside of Tokyo. We tried dyeing the sewn uppers first, and also individual pieces.

DSCF3655

Of course with leather, there isn’t much more you can do than dip them and rinse them and dip and rinse many times. Rinsing the leather was a key step in getting the color just right. You can read more on the process at Bryan’s blog.

DSCF3692

The texture on the rough-out really brings out a nice color. The color isn’t a greenish indigo but a more denim blue hue. One that looks particularly good with the natural sole. I am curious to see how they will evolve over time…

DSCF3704
DSCF3716

Junk Trove

DSCF3874

Maybe it was an early exposure to Oscar the Grouch growing up… junk has an ever-increasing appeal.

DSCF3874

Junk: vintage items, that have either been remade or repaired using old or worn materials.

The Depression era Thunderbird necklaces from Santo Domingo really worked up a storm of ideas about saving and reusing materials to make new things. Take for instance this Depression era bolo tie, using wire to string a pair of turquoise nuggets on a piece of leather cord. The entirely hand made appearance is really neat. Also using an old thunderbird earring strung on old trade beads looks cute! This also connected some new dots to boro, denim repair, and Japanese aesthetics.

Interestingly enough it would be nice to dwell more on the idea of nature-worshiping societies (Native Americans and Shinto for example) generally regarding leftovers as material, not trash. Definitely something more to consider there…

DSCF3894

Anyways back on topic. Junk. For the sake of avoiding confusion Junk is not a negative word in this context. It is just the state in which the object exists. The state of Junk. The majority of junk is overlooked by pickers and vintage collectors, there is an abundance of it out there and it is really up to the individual to find their preferred junk.

Take for instance denim repair.

DSCF3879A combination here of machine stitched repairs and hand stitching creates a sort of folk/junk art that has a personality. It isn’t clean or precise, but there is a beauty to it.

DSCF3883I assume from looking and observing denim repair photos on the net and instagram that there is a preference for “clean” repairs. The word clean here suggests that the stitching is not seen and the repair is almost invisible. This is the opposite of Junk. Junk has to have character, it really has to be unique.

Friend and constant source of inspiration John Dennis, of Sam Roberts LA understands the Junk aesthetic well. He constantly incorporates miscellaneous items into his products. Old coins, trade beads, and 19th century calico fabric just to name a few. They’re beautiful, and especially easy to arrange into an individual style.

DSCF3893

和洋折衷 “Wayousechu” Blending Japan and The West

DSCF3793

The melding of two-forms is at most times fraught with difficulty. The merging of eastern and western thought, design, culture, philosophy etc, is usually regarded with sighs. It is not a difficult thing to achieve; there needs to be a careful balance to make it beautiful.

Wayousechu is a Japanese term for the cohesion of east and west. This term is usually used in architecture but I will loosely apply the term to textile and fashion in this case. Because the term is a more modern term and solely an aesthetic term, it can be applied to objects and ideas outside of architecture. One of the earliest examples is Ryoma Sakamoto wearing boots.

Later on during the Meiji Era western clothing becomes quite common place, often mixed with kimono and Japanese clothing.

25_20130403132723

In fashion the wayousechu aesthetic would be used as a word to explain design concepts. Kapital has been playing with wayousechu in their collections for years. Some good recent examples are Century Denim, and the Suki-yaki western shirt.

The suki-yaki western shirt is a partially modified pattern, based on an over-sized denim western shirt. The collar and base garment is the familiar western shirt (pearl snaps, shoulder details etc…) but the distinct left-over-right method of wearing is hinting at kimono. The two bottom snaps create a sort of obi (belt sash) effect that loosely gathers at the waist line. It helps to hide the gut…

Century denim is maybe seen as a more obvious mix, but I feel it holds a more subtle suggestion of east and west. Take for instance the colors. Two traditional Japanese workwear colors of kakishibu (brown) and sumi (grey), accented with the sashiko stitches in the traditional indigo color. The sashiko not only functions to strengthen the fabric it also is integral to the color. As the indigo fades the base denim colors come out stronger. With the kakishibu (5S) version this effects the brown color slightly and creates a more reddish and warm tone. Coating these jeans with kakishibu liquid will strengthen the fabric weave and protect the fibers slightly. This was a technique used in sake brewing to lengthen the life of sakabukuro (sake mash bag).

Kapital Century Denim 7S 1.5 Years 1

The newest addition to the East meets West project for Kapital is the Suki-Yaki Coverall. Essentially the familiar chore jacket, but modified for function and aesthetic. The pocket layout is extremely useful. The denim is a light ounce with a soft blue color. The red flannel lining contrasts nicely and is similar to those used in Lee work jackets. There is a very similar shape to the Suki-Yaki western shirt but the coverall is more like a noragi in that it is square in shape.

It is important to note that there is a very careful design involved. The shape is clearly Japanese with the left-over-right layout but the garments still function like western workwear. This is a step in a new direction of workwear as fashion. The workwear function and construction details are present but with an interesting side step in pattern-making and silhouette. The boxy relaxed fit of the Suki-Yaki coverall and western shirt is easily coordinated with loose or slim fitting pants. The belt loops on the side add a multitude of belt arrangements. Possibly tying obijime or a braided belt around the waist would create an interesting military jacket type fit.

DSCF3786 DSCF3790

Wayousechu is something that has been around for a long time but slowly being revived. Maybe it is the dramatic increase in interest of Japanese products over the last decade but it may be that finally people outside of Japan are slowly accepting and appreciating the empty clean lines of Japanese traditional clothing (design) and/or the high quality construction of workwear. Maybe even fashion-minded people are willing to try new avenues with familiar fabrics. This is a very interesting development either way and I fully embrace it.

The Infallible Blanket Lining

DSCF3613

This year has been a remarkable year for the humble blanket lining. That warmth providing pal that lines the inside of your favorite denim jackets and coveralls. The colors and textures vary from brand to brand, but they all have amazing texture and usually look just as good as the denim shell.

The blanket liner is what I call “American Boro”. A lot of vintage jackets that have liners, usually end up getting repaired countless times and the liners end up in shreds. Those red, grey, blue, and yellow stripes are unmistakably American vintage.

These lining leftovers could easily be used to patch socks, jeans, jackets, even wool blankets. The threads could even be unwoven and used for darning.

Kapital has incorporated the lining into several items this year. The first is this Kountry patchwork shirt.

DSCF3644

Mixing with indigo, the depth of color and texture is a perfect over-shirt for autumn and winter.

My personal favorite is this fleecy beach tool jacket. It is super warm and cozy. The fabric is a clever idea of making the blanket lining into warmer fabric by utilizing this knit fabric that looks like a blanket liner. The blue, red, and grey combined create a very rugged look, but softened by the knit beach cloth.

I especially like how it looks with a sukiyaki denim shirt as an underlay to keep the denim jacket in context. The pockets are an added bonus. Plenty of places to quickly stow small carry items or even a paperback.

DSCF3636

Of the 3 other items using this fabric this season I preferred this jacket. The sleeves aren’t too wide, and the length and width of the body are perfect. The rounded Browns Beach inspired pockets are cute.

DSCF3643

DSCF3635

Narita-san and I have been busy this year collecting amongst other things lined denim chore jackets and turning them into half & 1/2 jackets. DSCF3648

Available on the Etsy site they are simple and honest vintage items that we have creatively modified. Please note the variation of denim and blanket, and left and right and back and front halves. We have jokingly called these “Hobo Camo”.

DSCF3646

Kapital | Santo Domingo Jacket

DSCF3533

DSCF3546 Santo Domingo is one of the largest villages for the Pueblo people in New Mexico. They are known for their intricate shell jewelry. During the 1930’s to the 1950’s this village produced these interesting souvenir necklaces. During this era it appears that the artisans didn’t have money to purchase traditional materials to make jewelry. In order to make a living they collected and recycled materials to make these “Depression” necklaces. They are made from crushed up bits of turquoise, car battery casings, vinyl records, red plastic (toothbrushes, spoons), bone, and other materials. They look incredible and the resourcefulness of the crafts people and their skills definitely show through these pieces, considering the materials they were working with.

DSCF3533 Kapital’s design team was inspired by this clever idea, and as always created something truly impressive. The Santo Domingo jacket is the what they came up with. The jacket, and the coverall have a similar central theme. Starting with the chest area, which is inspired by the designs found on Navajo and other southwestern tribes. The “star” (it looks like a star to me) continues on the elbows, and similarly onto the shoulders. The blending of the standard denim jacket and the hunting jacket is apparent in the pocket design and button details. The chest pocket is large enough to accommodate a newspaper plus most every day carry items. Combining function and simplicity together. The complex nature of the pattern though, means this jacket is technically quite tough to sew. Also note the hand-set rivets. The jacket denim is sanforized so there is little shrinkage after washing. The coverall is a light oz. denim that comes one-wash. What I think is most impressive with this jacket is how Kapital can wield a simple denim fabric to make such an impressive design. Not only to make an interesting look, but also utilize the denim fabric’s strengths. Similar to how the Pueblo people utilized the materials they had at hand to make simple and beautiful jewelry. DSCF3548

Ooe Yofukuten | Mitsuru Collaboration Double-Wear Overalls

Double Wear Overalls Tag

 

OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 2Mitsuru Vintage store is a little place mostly unknown outside of Nagoya and Japanese vintage maniacs. They don’t have a website and they probably won’t sell you these if you don’t live in Japan. Sorry to disappoint…

Ooe-san masterminded the design of these overalls, and let me get it right to the point -they’re nothing short of amazing.

However it is important to point how the vast details, and construction methods presented here that culminate into an actual high quality garment. Products labeled as “high quality” often times are just made in small batches or contain expensive materials (labeled: selvedge, quality, hand-made, etc.). These overalls are for the most part single-needle stitched, with no overlock stitching or filigree. Modeled after pants from the early 1900’s, there are no belt loops, or rivets. The design is entirely original with details borrowed from some of the best work-wear construction methods. This type of quality takes time, especially in design, sewing, and material choice. The minimal, unobtrusive labeling seals the deal.

OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 6

These pants are really simple as the stitching blends perfectly with the fabric. The subtle construction adds function and doesn’t add bulk. The fabric is the perfect weight for summer, even in Japan. They are made from dead-stock linen and cotton blend canvas. It is light and comfortable, with just the right about of weight. The little cotton husk-flecks in the yarn give it a nice ecru tinge. Also this non-selvedge fabric is a good example of why selvedge doesn’t always mean “good-quality”.

OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 1

Starting with the complex pockets that are also a part of the double-knee construction. There are no side seams as the legs are made from one piece of material and flat felled on the inseam. The continuous fly is a great feature and also adds to the quality of the construction. All the pockets are double-stitched beautifully and the subtle black hardware (steel) doesn’t add any distraction. The reinforced quadruple stitched crotch is the final detail that really finishes it all up. These pants are well thought-out, hopefully we will see a denim version and maybe future variations of this pattern.

OYFTN X MTSR DBLWR OVRAL 5

John Lofgren & Co. X The Bandanna Almanac | Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 5

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 4 Over the last several months John and I have been working on developing a product. Since it was our first trial together we decided to keep it simple and do a pair of pants. I found this really fantastic hanpu or sail cloth mill in Okayama a few years ago. They use vintage Belgian looms and weave an incredible canvas on them. A nice sturdy canvas with just the right softness and weight for summer. I imagine this would have been the same weight that sailors would have used to make sail cloth pants during the age of sailing ships.

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 3

This same mill also dyed the fabric with kakishibu. This persimmon tannin does not make the fabric hard or stiff because it applied with a mixture of water and tannin. The color has a washed look to it which adds much more character to the pants.

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 1

The pants are finished off with simple metal buttons. The entire pants are sewn with 100% cotton thread. They come true to size and are available in 30,32,34, and 36 inch waists. The silhouette is wide with a slight taper to it, with a normal rise.

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 2

John Lofgren’s products are made in Japan and to the highest quality standards. The color and fabric combination have a nice mix of Japanese and Western style to them.

Please purchase a pair here

Kakishibu Hanpu Trousers 5

Inside-out Blanket Jacket

Inside Out Blanket Jacket 3

I have had this Lee jacket sitting around. The denim shell had a few bleach marks but in overall perfect condition. The blanket lining as well was in tip-top shape. Talking with Narita-san about blanket lined jackets we got to the topic of inside-out. Most of the time the jackets have back-side stitched pockets, and or bag pockets. These don’t work. The pockets can’t be relocated to the lining. However these old Lee jackets, and a few chore coats could be flipped. Inside Out Blanket Jacket 1

 

This is the first one I have completed. It was smooth sailing for most of it since the liner was in such great condition. The tough part is sewing the collar on, and reversing the zipper. These Lee jackets all came with sewn on buttons so it made the job much easier. The collar will definitely need a little coercion to stay in place. Once the jacket is turned inside-out the shape is a bit more chunky. There are a few hand sewn details I had to do since my sewing machine wouldn’t cooperate 100% of the time. I think it adds a bit more homemade feel to it. The stitching wasn’t the prettiest work I’ve done but it is all solidly pieced together.

Inside Out Blanket Jacket 4 Inside Out Blanket Jacket 5 Inside Out Blanket Jacket 3 Inside Out Blanket Jacket 2

Now the jacket proudly sports its beautiful blanket lining on the outside instead of being wasted hidden and tucked away as a liner. The jacket is currently available on my Etsy page. We are working on a few more of these in the coming months so keep an eye out!

Recent Repairs

DSCF1923

There is something crafty about repairing old clothes. There are some frequent spots that have damage, such as the collar of a jacket or the knee on a pair of jeans. Others are entirely unique to an individuals’ life. It is kinda like reading a journal entry with the people’s names redacted.

The tricky part is figuring out how to best repair an entire garment repair by repair. Mentally there has to be a game plan, a theme. There may be a point on a piece of clothing that helps determine a starting point, but usually it’s just experimenting with a stitched together narrative. Piece by piece, repair by repair the theme begins to take shape.

Eventually you find a place to end. With this post I wanted to share where I ended. Some of these repairs are small and simple, others were time-consuming. This is a short journey of hobos, mechanics, and nomad bikers.

Recent Repairs Levis Sakiori 2 Recent Repairs Levis Sakiori 1Sunday Craftsman Mechanic Jacket 2 Sunday Craftsman Mechanic Jacket 4 Nomad Biker Vest 3 Nomad Biker Vest 4 DSCF1922 DSCF1923

 

There are also these Kapital century denim repairs. Since the vertical sashiko threads stand out, the repair stitching looked good horizontal, and blended. The contrasting colors mix well, indigo and grey; grey, brown, and indigo. It was important to keep the texture consistent, to keep a rough and tough looking fabric.

Recent Repairs Century Denim Sashiko Darning 1

Recent Repairs Century Denim Sashiko Darning 2

Recent Repairs Century Denim Sumi and Kakishibu patch

Papa Nui | Convoy Cap

PapaNui Convoy Cap

PapanuiConvoyCap

Ahoy! Papa Nui is a surfer, a vintage military maniac, and a knowledgable source; located in Gold Coast, Australia. In other words, he’s one of my favorite guys around. He writes a wonderful blog that really gives a proper depth to each of his products and interests. The Papa recently sent me one of his new Convoy Caps. The above letter is a perfect example of how he sets the mood to tell a story, and introduce a product.

Papanui Convoy Cap 1

I asked the Papa to introduce himself and the convoy cap to readers:

“Papa Nui is not your regular 782*, it celebrates the uniqueness of the individual , it’s a brand, a persona, a state of mind.
In approaching the design of a watch cap the Papa wanted something very different from what was commercially available, something that still paid omage to sailors and seaman but something that had more soul and originality. He chose to focus on the heroic merchant crews that sailed in vast convoys of Liberty ships and thus the Convoy Cap concept was born.
The Papa was drawn to the hand knitted caps that were made by the Mothers, Wives and Sisters of the Home Front under the Knit for Victory program which was sponsored and driven by the American Red Cross.
Researching archival files and discovering the original Red Cross patterns, the Papa then connected with Fay O’Keefe. Fay is an elderly grandmother who as a young teenager in 1942 knit her bit for the war effort, defeating the Axis with two needles and ball of wool. In her 80’s today she is still Knitting for Victory supplying Papa Nui with handmade Australian Merino Wool Convoy Caps designed for the long watch.
Each cap is recreated using original WWII patterns and a circular needle technique that provides a no seam construction. This project is about as authentic as you can get as Papa Nui’s Convoy Caps are made with the same amount of love and hope that went into each Red Cross parcel sent to boys overseas more that 70 years ago.
The caps are then finished with original WWII Red Cross label tags and a special bonus period ‘pocket tinny’ folded over the brim and a handmade swing tag.

(* 782 was the US Marine Corp supply form designation number for receipt of standard  issue equipment. Gear was generically referred to as 782.) Papa Nui is never your average 782!”

 

For something as simple as a knit cap, the details are pretty amazing. The propeller knit pattern on the top adds strength while allowing the cap to fit comfortably. The soft Australian Merino wool is light and warm. Since he makes things in limited quantities, it is best to grab one quick before they’re all gone. I am sure there will be more on Papa Nui in the future here so please keep an eye out for more of his dispatches.

-Over and out.

PapaNui Convoy Cap PapaNui Convoy Cap