The Denim Underground

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…


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.


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.


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…


Inside-out Blanket Jacket

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.

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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

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

Inspiration 2014 Preview | Brown Tabby Works

There have been more that enough things going on at this hectic time of the year, among them is getting ready for a debut at Inspiration LA this February. I will be introducing folks to two of my friends this year. The first is Narita-san from Brown Tabby in Osaka.

The theme is hoboro a portmanteau of “hobo” and “boro”. So you will see plenty of denim and indigo fabrics, plus plenty of eccentric stitching. There are a few secret surprises that you can look forward to at the show. Take a look at the hat clutch bags, hobo hat and overalls, and boro-bow-ties.

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Brown Tabby Works – Boilerman Overalls

This project; the first and last of its kind. This was a project undertaken by Narita-san and myself. The idea was to reconstruct a pair of overalls that were basically unwearable. Rather than just turn the remains into patches or thread, we took it upon ourselves to give this pair a second life.

The denim was part of a collection 2 years in the making. A precarious ordeal; fishing old denim rags out of attics of abandoned houses in North Carolina. This rescued denim made its way to our shores.  None of this denim was wasted in the least during the reconstruction of these overalls. Every scrap and tatter has found its way into some repair or another. All the denim was generously gifted to us for the purpose of this project.

Boilerman Overalls 2

Piece by piece, and stitch by stitch; a total of 96 sewing hours; 2 months of concept and execution. The basic idea here is a generational heirloom repair. The stitching colours, and denim scraps create a sense of time flowing from one repair to another. Very little machine stitching was done, as most of the fabric was so old and thin from sitting in storage for years that it was too delicate. It needed a gentle hand and stitching that would shrink and stretch with more ease.

The tradition of generation after generation of railroad workers from the 1920’s  passing down knowledge through the ages. Little by little adding more and more repair. The really remarkable thing is though that one person did all the stitching time on this, and put in an unbelievable amount of effort and passion. I revere Narita-san for his perseverance and tenacity.

The patchwork layout and reconstruction was more like a game of Tetris than anything else. Making sure the gradation of denim had continuity, and the wear and fade of each part matched closely to the original structure. What you have here is a sophisticated repair showing much passion and skill; a masterpiece.

Boilerman Overalls 1

BTWXTBA | Doryman Sweater – Sakiori Version

Use it up, wear it out,
Make it do, or do without.
-Old lighthouse keeper saying

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 1

Sakiori is epitome of the Japanese idea of mottainai. A folk craft that really represents a “beauty through poverty” aesthetic, common in the textiles of rural Japan. Basically it is knotted fabric strips rewoven with thick (usually silk or hemp) warp threads. The colour variation of the fabric strips creates their very own unique pattern. On this Doryman sweater we used the front side and back side of some sakiori fabric. The front side has a lot of color-fade, white the opposite side is bright and vibrant.

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 2

Both sides blended well with the mottled beige and ecru of the sweater. Black wool yarn was added as a decorative/repair detail. Feeling a little inspiration from koginsashi embroidery we created a sashiko style repair. That adds a little dark contrast.Sakiori Doryman Sweater 3

The elbow pads will strengthen the sweater and the pocket adds convenient function. Nothing better for the colder months ahead than a thick wool sweater.

Sakiori Doryman Sweater 4

BTWXTBA | Cattle Hustler Jacket

Cattle Hustler Jacket 1

Repair is all about what is at hand and utilizing as best you can. In this case there was a starting point. This old Lee Storm Rider Coat had a few circle patches already. We added many more to create a kind of traveller repair. Please take note of the subtle bandana repairs; we imagined a “cattle hustler” would always carry a bandana. Collecting denim scraps along life on the road.

Cattle Hustler Jacket 2

The coat has a nice blonde denim colour, so we wanted to create a type of tiled fade with the patches. Each of the patches are sewn under the fleece liner, so the lining is stitch free. Cattle Hustler Jacket 3

The different tone of denim patches has an aged repair feel to it. After a wash or two it will look even better!

Cattle Hustler Jacket 4

BTWXTBA | October Wools and Checks

This is the third set of items that Narita-san and I have finished. The temperature has finally started to fall and it is time we brought out the wools and flannels.

BTWXTBA October 2

This cardigan is a slightly altered version of the Doryman sweater. The repair spots are slightly different. Note the button-hole stitching and pocket repairs. BTWXTBA October 3

On the rear side we changed out the hickory stripe elbow pads for sakiori ones. The grey and indigo colours mix in the ecru knit really nicely. The striped pattern breaks up the background Aran patterning nicely.BTWXTBA October 1
BTWXTBA October 4

These items will be available in my Etsy store.
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This old Big Mac flannel shirt has all the colors of fall with the addition of some charming denim details.BTWXTBA October 6

I wanted to make the shirt more useful as an outer garment. The small coin pocket from a pair of painter pants can now function as a train ticket pocket. The large lower pocket will hold a wallet and some other small items.
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There are a lot of tiny darned repairs that add a subtle texture.

BTWXTBA October 9

The last items are these two Pendleton wool shirts. The leather patches contrast the subtle colours of each different check. Reminiscent of hunting jackets, the rugged homemade style is purposely simple. These two shirts have darker wool checks will be perfect for mid-fall.

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The Doryman Sweater

I have gotten a lot of positive feed back about this sweater from readers and so I thought it best to feature it, to properly introduce it. It is for sale and if you have any questions about it please feel free to shoot me a mail.

Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 1

This Aran knit sweater was a blank canvas. The high quality wool and timeless design served as a foundation to build from. Narita-san kept with the fisherman theme, through the hickory stripe denim and dark navy stitching. This sweater reminds me of the dorymen in Winslow Homer paintings. The trusty fisherman’s sweater taking the brunt of the elements, and the wear and tear of hauling pots or hooks. The workers of old reused what they already had and modified as needed. Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 2

On the back, the hand stitched elbow patches add more character, the hickory stripe denim meshes well with the knit. The blue yarn in the darning and the denim scraps used for the pocket and elbow add rugged accents to it.

Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 3

Carefully choosing the hickory stripe denim and chest pocket to keep the old ragged appearance; Narita-san chose this dirt stained pocket. Not only to add more function to the garment but also to break up the tones a bit. Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac The Dory Man Sweater 4

Doryman Sweater Blue Denim 1 Doryman Sweater Blue Denim 2 Doryman Sweater Blue Denim 3 Doryman Sweater Blue Denim 4

Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac – Part 2

As each of these pieces trickled out through instagram I was happy to see people’s positive response towards our philosophy of vintage stuff. Each of these have been added to the Etsy store. Both of these items turned out excellent. We briefly talked about concept and the details of the repairs over coffee, but the results speak for themselves. Narita-san did an excellent job getting the personal touches right.

Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac Part 2 1

This Lee jacket came unlined and full of holes and deliciously faded and stained denim. I wanted to use a few of the scraps I had of some quilt fabric. It added a new dimension to the jacket, and really brought out a different character of the old denim. It was missing a cuff so we added one.  On the back we decided to just keep it simple with one contrasting patch below the collar.

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This Red Head Brand hunting jacket was a lucky find. The wear was excellent to build from with plenty of rips, tears, and stains. The denim adds a more cheerful tone to the mute beige of the canvas. Little pieces of leather, and corduroy patches to mesh the wear with the repair. The tassel was Narita-san’s personal touch on this piece, that I think adds some needed humor.

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Brown Tabby Works X The Bandanna Almanac

I have been gathering worn out, and faded items over the past few years. Narita-san and I have teamed up to bring these items back to life with a more shibui feel to them. Through detailed repairs we bring out the faded beauty of each item, their individual stories become apparent by keeping the stains and scars. We also add some more function to them by stitching pockets and altering the length of some items. All items and future items are/will be available on my new Etsy site. Kishoten…, means: introduction, development, turn… and the conclusion is up to each customer. From the Japanese 起承転結.

The first item we have completed is this noragi. I wanted to keep the original repairs and fabric on this piece, so we shortened the length and added pockets to the font side. The addition of a blanket pin acts as a closure, to keep the rustic theme.

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The second item is this Red Cross Army vest. The worsted wool in Army green has a mother-made feel to it. Probably because these were hand-knit by housewives and volunteers during the two world wars. This one had several holes in it. So we used some old sock yarn and hand-darned each hold. This adds a little colorful contrast to the otherwise mute khaki green.

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The third is my personal favorite. I found a Harley Davidson dude’s Lee Storm Rider. There was a lot of wear and damage to the entire piece that made it very unique. We cut out the back panel and put in a repurposed Chimayo fabric from a Kapital vest. The holes we are all patched with indigo thread. The collar features a nice contrast green corduroy patch, and the blanket lining inside was patched with fabric from a Warner Brothers Costume Department tunic.

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A marked change in appearance, character, condition, or function.

Function modification, character transition, development; a tangible story written in thread. The clothes you wear often carry the marks of your life. Stains and tears are brief moments. Slow worn fades and patchwork are lengthy periods of time unique to the individual. If you care for your things they change with you. To keep your wardrobe changing without creating waste, repair, modify, recycle, and repurpose. A well-designed  high-quality garment can last a lifetime.

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This was an old Kapital Tobi denim shirt. Narita-san at Brown Tabby did some reconstruction and repair to it for me. The saki-ori elbow pads are made from strips of vintage bandanas. We are of the mind that if you are just staring at it you are wasting it. This shirt was a great design to begin with, from the kohaze clasps at the cuffs, to the reinforced stitching on the shoulders. The repairs to the wear brought out more of the character of this shirt. The gradual change from new to old is a beautiful thing: modification and metamorphosis.

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The Kapital Century Denim 7S started out sumi -grey last September. After two coatings of kakishibu the grey disappeared but after many much wear and tear the grey has started to peek out from under its brown coat. Natural dyes tend to fade rather quickly, which is why they appeal to me so much. Nothing permanent, as to keep that attentive eye sharp.

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This Tezomeya t-shirt was a kakishibu color . But after a dip in wood vinegar it came out this smoke brown-black. The black will show its brown heart little by little. The color of 憲法色 (kenbouiro) is extraordinary and time consuming. The smokey smell of wood vinegar remains even after several washes.

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This in an ancient piece of Japanese linen used for mosquito netting. It was smoked, and then dyed in indigo with this subtle “Edo Wave” pattern. The two colors merge so beautifully the camera does not do justice. The texture of the linen has that charming characteristic of rural Japan.

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