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natural versus synthetic indigo


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#1 john11f

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 06:20 AM



is it harder to break in natural indigo dyed raw denim than a pair that is made out of synthetic? my edo ai looks like it hasn't faded a bit.
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#2 Paul T

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 07:02 AM



From my experience, yes, I had a pair of Levi's 1880s natural denim reissues and was never happy with the fading - although I' d also bought them too big and therefore washed them more than I would normally like.

I have, however, seen early 1900s natural denim jeans on which the fade is fantastic. Essentially, on these, the light areas seem to take a long time to come through, but the darker ones retain their colour quite well.
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#3 sneakeraddict

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 08:58 AM



yo paul,

does this mean current 1890 repros made by Levis are dyed with Natural?
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#4 Paul T

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 03:21 PM



No! It was only the Nevada Mine jeans and the related deadstock version. I'll post a pic if I can find one. The current 1890s (if you can find them) have (good) Japanese denim but with synthetic dye.
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#5 spiveyt2

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 04:11 PM



If I am remembering correctly from other posts, I thought the wearing in time was more affected by the dyeing process (how many dips/what other impurities are added to the synthetic vs. pure synthetic indigo/where the natural indigo was grown and how it was extracted) that determined the difficulty of breaking in. Though I am sure that there would probably be a connnection between the care involved (a lot) with denim producers who use natural indigo versus those who use synthetic indigo (i.e. all massed produced jeans) which would lead to longer fading times. Could be wrong.
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#6 walletboy

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 04:14 PM



Since natural indigo is chemically identical to synthetic indigo, that would not make the difference, whatever is that is happening.
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#7 Paul T

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 04:56 PM



The source of the indigo can make a difference - I'm sure I've been told that indigo from the Far East is capable of giving a darker shade than that from europe, because it derives from different plants species. Also I suspect there's a difference in the type and amount of impurities, and the addition of sulphur to the dyeing process too.

FWIW, indigo is a large molecule, and that's why denim fades with wear. THe indigo sits on the surface of the cotton fibres, and if you were to look under a microscope, you'd see it chips off in flakes.

Older jeans, with naturla indigo, from the 20s and before definitely look markedly different from later ones; natural denim when faded might have as good a contrast, but generally has a greener cast, whereas synthetic has a more red cast.
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#8 ringring

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 09:46 PM



"Is it harder to break in natural indigo dyed raw denim than a pair that is made out of synthetic? my edo ai looks like it hasn't faded a bit."

A good question and something I'm keen to learn more about.

Comparisons between the two have been made ever since Basiche Anilin Soda Fabric (BASF) put Adolf Von Baeyer's synthetic 'pure indigo' on the market in 1897.

I strongly suspect that the performance of your Edo's is due to the dyeing method rather than the differences between synthetic and natural indigo. As pointed out above, there is no chemical difference between the two - in fact, according to the esteemed indigo historian, J Balfour Paul, even dye chemists cannot tell the difference between the two.
Natural indigo and synthetic indigo produce the same blue because they are the same. Which leads to the obvious question of 'why aren't all jeans the same colour then?' - which I'll get to later.

The trouble is when making these type of comparisons, you're rarely comparing like with like. The playing field is rarely level. Indigo is an inherently unstable dye that will change with exposure to air, humidity, temperature etc. Fluctuations in dyeing methods will cause different results even between separate lots of the same synthetic indigo. So things can have the same ingredients and be different. Heidi Klum and Jimmy Krankie may have the virtually same DNA but they look different ;)

For example, natural indigo jeans tend to be the flagship styles from these denim brands, so I would expect that they have undergone a dyeing process far in excess of most denim, even other denim from their own collections. eg. more dips, more oxidation time, rope dyed instead of slasher dyed etc.

Then there's the impurities in natural indigo. Some, like indurubin (indigo red), tannins, flavanoids etc. are naturally occurring, others such as madder, carbon (indian ink), wood bark, weird stuff like red ants etc that are added by man.

My own experiences also vary and the opinions of people I'd consider genuine denim experts also have differed a lot. Some people tell me that natural indigo fades quicker, and that you can't achieve as dark blues with plant indigos, others have told me the opposite.

Some natural indigo jeans tend to hold on to their colour amazingly well despite frequent washing (eg 45rpm Aihikos, which also barely crock), others develop whiskers very quickly (Sugarcane Hawaii's, which crock like crazy). Modern natural indigo denim from mills like Tavex & Orta Anadulu seem to behave in very similar ways to their synthetic counterparts. (I believe they use Indian Indigofera Tintoria as the plant source).

Then of course many synthetic indigo jeans also fade faster than others.

"The source of the indigo can make a difference - I'm sure I've been told that indigo from the Far East is capable of giving a darker shade than that from europe, because it derives from different plants species."

That's probably a reference to Woad (isatis tintoria) versus Tade-Ai (polygonum tinctorium, or chinese indigo - most likely the source of indigo for those Edo Ai's). When fermented using the same traditional methods, the polygonum produces a far higher indigo yield. Woad also doesn't dye cellulose fibres like cotton as well as other plant indigo sources. Then there's a whole bunch of different woad species as well as many other Asian indigo plants (eg Strobilanthes flaccidifolius - the source of indigo used in Sugarcan Okinawa's), so again the possibilities for differences in vast.

"I have, however, seen early 1900s natural denim jeans on which the fade is fantastic."

Very likely to be a different dye source to the Edo Ai's, most probably from Indigofera Carolininiana - the species of Indigofera used commercially in North America, and different dyeing methods.
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#9 Paul T

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 10:25 PM



I'd love to see examples of natural indigo jeans that look dark, or have a reddish hue. Anyone got any? Or links.

Below are the LVC 1880s repro featuring natural indigo. Sorry for the poor photo. Denim is by Kurabo. Close-up the denim is extremely beautiful, quite a rough texture, yet soft feel, a lot of irregularities, with unbleached cotton. But I was never happy with the fade. I do have a bunch of prints of turn of the century jeans which all have a similar look - not entirely dissimilar to this, which isn't surprising, as Kurabo were trying to match the look of early Amoskeag denim. But the old jeans exhibit dramatic wear patterns, which these repros don't...

ringring, is a sulphur bottom used to darken the hue in any common denim? I know it's often used to add a greeny or yellow colour cast, but is it often used in vintage-style fabrics?

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Edited by Paul T on May 14, 2006 at 03:37 PM
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#10 ringring

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 10:33 PM



"I'd love to see examples of natural indigo jeans that look dark, or have a reddish hue. Anyone got any?"

Aihiko by 45rpm. Deep purplely-blue.
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#11 ringring

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 10:37 PM



"ringring, is a sulphur bottom used to darken the hue in any common denim? I know it's often used to add a greeny or yellow colour cast, but is it often used in vintage-style fabrics? "

Sorry, I missed that bit. Yeah sulphur is used quite a bit - usually to make denim darker without spending as much money on indigo. And I've seen quite a lot of blue-black selvedge.
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#12 Paul T

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 10:40 PM



Anyone got photos of worn-in Aihikos they can post? RR? C'mon, tempt us...
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#13 juxtaposed

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Posted 14 May 2006 - 10:51 PM



great thread, with our beloved denim gurus. this stuff makes me stay on this board
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#14 asfberg

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 12:17 AM



jomons are purple-y
will try to get a good pic for you

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#15 Serge d Nimes

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:37 AM



Thanks for the insight Ring Ring. It totally makes sense that jean companies would pay more attention to detail on their natural indigo jeans and that is the difference that we are seeing.
Paul T, The denim in tose jeans doesn't look much different than any late 70's- erly 80's 501s that I have seen. No contrast at all!

Carpe Denim! (not the jean brand silly!)
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Edited by Serge d Nimes on May 14, 2006 at 08:43 PM
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#16 wild_whiskey

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 03:39 AM



From what I've seen, comparing the Studio D'Artisan jeans, SD-101XX and SD-101, not much difference can be seen in the unwashed stage. All Studio D'Artisan jeans are rope-dyed, synthetic and natural.
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#17 ringring

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 06:53 AM



In my experience the SD-101XX turn a noticably lighter shade of blue after one wash than their synthetic piggy counterparts. Again illustrating that there's no one-rule-fits-all for natural vs synthetic indigo denim.
After that, they hold their colour very well. Lovely jeans.
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#18 john11f

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 05:25 PM



thanks! would the hue of the natural indigo from the sc edo ai representative of how they truly make indigo back in th 16th-17th century? i'm curious as to how accurate these japanese denim can be or are they just giving us the marketing dollar? fwiw, i love my edo ai...
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#19 ringring

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 06:22 PM



Who knows? I doubt there's any garments in existence from the 16-17th century that have their original hue preserved over 400 years - they certainly weren't making denim then.images/icon_smile_big.gif
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#20 Paul T

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 06:45 PM



There is a good museum devoted to the industry of Nimes. THey of course claim to have invented denim, not necessarily accurately, but there are some lovely indigo-dyed fabrics from the 18C in something very close to a Hickory Stripe finish. (Serge de Nimes, by the way, usually featured wool as well as cotton). The blues have lasted wonderfully, definitely a dark royal blue, rather than the black-blue you'd see in denim from the 40s.

I did take photos that came out well. But only had black and white film in my camera, so altho I don't normally do emoticons, it was definitely images/icon_smile_sad.gif
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#21 ringring

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 08:01 PM



Very interesting Paul - as usual!

It's fascinating that indigo is the lightfast natural dye. I'm always impressed when seeing ancient textiles, tapestries & rugs where all the other colours have faded except (or rather much less so) the blue-greens of indigo. I always wonder what the original colours must have been like. Like the shock of seeing the brightness of the colours when the Sistine Chapel was restored.

Serge de Nimes would have been woad dyed on wool, as you said, (then later wool, hemp, cotton & silk mixes) which may explain the colour.

Going back to the Edo's - presumably the Cane's allude to the jeans being dyed using traditional methods of Tade-Ai cultivation and processing from the Edo period (1600-1868). I know that the Japanese government sponsor the cultivation of polygonum tinctorium , in order to preserve part of their cultural heritage.

Anyway, it can only be speculation about what colour it might have been if denim had been produced in Japan during that period.

I do think that Toyo (Sugarcane) are brilliant for the lengths they go to in making some very special jeans.
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#22 mizanation

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 11:18 PM



Quote:

"ringring, is a sulphur bottom used to darken the hue in any common denim? I know it's often used to add a greeny or yellow colour cast, but is it often used in vintage-style fabrics? "

Sorry, I missed that bit. Yeah sulphur is used quite a bit - usually to make denim darker without spending as much money on indigo. And I've seen quite a lot of blue-black selvedge.
--- Original message by ringring on May 14, 2006 03:37 PM

hey ringring,

why is a sulpher bottom frowned upon by many denim heads? are there any drawbacks to this?
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#23 derdankhund

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Posted 15 May 2006 - 11:41 PM



I fully agree about the sugar canes...I just got my first two pair and I am blown away by the lengths they go. So from what I gather in the description on history preservation the "medium blue moss" color of the SC40500 is derived from: "a color with varying hues of medium blue and very pale green achieved through a special dyeing process of the warp yarns". So what I'm unsure about is the actual indigo type used, as well as the "pale green" of the warp. The description states that all indigo, cotton, and sugarcane originate from Japan, so are they using only indigo dyes in this model or is there a different type used for the green? I have never seen raw denim with this shade and contrast in the dye. All of this is mere supposition, but if anyone could shed some light it would be much appreciated...
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#24 wild_whiskey

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 01:03 AM



Interesting. I'm constantly confused by indigo and how it works on various fabrics. The Edo-Ais are more of a greenish hue.. I have done some work with tade-ai (polygonum tinctorium) and I stopped at 8 dips on the cotton. I couldn't notice a change in color after 6 (was a dark indigo), in fact I read that doing more than 6 or so dips will not make it any darker/deeper.

My hypothesis that for the companies like 45rpm who dip some 20+ times, after some 6 dips, they let the cotton dry completely (instead of 1/2 hour of oxidation in between dips) and do another round of 5 or 6. Which kind of answers questions about price, since that's incredibly time consuming (would be probably 60 or so hours before one rope of cotton is done). From the instruction I've received, it seems a bit pointless past 6 dips (in fact, I noticed that 3 dips is enough to get a pretty rich color), so I'm infinitely curious on how this differs for denim. I wonder how many times Toyo natural indigo jeans are dipped, and what is causing the end result to be so light on the Edo-ais. The Edo color looks a lot like Paul T's natural indigo repros.
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#25 YoungPunch

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 02:11 AM



Thats an interesting question about the number of dips and the darkness or tint/shade of the blue or green indigo color differing between jeans. I mean, the edo-ai natural indigo and Nudie veggie RR models definately have lighter/ different (green in the case of the edo-ai's) shades of color than their sythetic indigo counterparts, ie. SC1947 and RRDS.
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#26 derdankhund

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 03:12 AM



However, Sugar Cane also makes two completely natural dark indigo models the Okinawa (SC40301 and others) and the Hawaii (SC40400) which each feature indigos native to the respective islands in question. They stress in the description of all three that "Cotton and sugar cane yarns are dyed completely by hand (no machines of any kind are ever used) following an ancient Japanese technique using only 100% all-natural indigo dyes (no artificial or blended dyes are ever used)." Given this fact, I can see only two explanations for the peculiar shade/color striation on the Edo Ai's (it may in reality be both explanations that contribute to the interesting finish on this denim):

a. They are using a type (or blend) indigo completely original or unique to this denim. Other non-official descriptions of the Edo Ai's have made reference of this shade of blue/green being related to the Edo Ai era. Regardless they had to do some type of tinkering with the dye to get the variation of shades they are talking about.

and more importantly

b. "achieved through a special dyeing process of the warp yarns" is what the official explanation attributes the unique shade and finish of the color to. Given that they stress the manual nature of the dying and also mention "varying hues of medium blue and pale green" i would guess each given strand may vary from the next (or they may have four or six or even ten shades to dye the individual strands). if this is the case, once again, major props go out to Sugar Cane cause this process sounds intensive as hell.


btw this last little discourse is basically me making some fairly bold inferences based on what little information I have available to me... this gaijin can't read the sugarcane info pamphlet that came with the jeans...so if anyone has any ideas based on what I've said or on what info you might possess, please let me know, as I know there are some crazy knowledgeable denim heads on this forum
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#27 ringring

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 09:17 AM



Miz: "why is a sulpher bottom frowned upon by many denim heads? are there any drawbacks to this?"

Denim purists want pure indigo. They want the darkest of jeans achieved by indigo dyeing only. Adding sulphur dyes is a cheap way to get a dark tone - sulphur dyes are cheaper, so you save on the amount of indigo dips. Sulphur doesn't fade as well - and for industrial washing, it also doesn't react to certain chemicals (potassium permanganate - a common whitening agent) as well.

Derdankhund : "The description states that all indigo, cotton, and sugarcane originate from Japan, so are they using only indigo dyes in this model or is there a different type used for the green?"

Indigo can be used to produce many hues in the blue-green spectrum. Traditionally by combining it with other natural dyes (eg madder for red, yellow weld for ochre) a large palette of colours can be achieved. Due to it's superior fastness to light, indigo was traditionally used as a base colour for other colours from yellow to maroon.

Whiskey : "I wonder how many times Toyo natural indigo jeans are dipped, and what is causing the end result to be so light on the Edo-ais."

My guess is less dips = lighter colour. I don't see any reason why they could not have achieved darker shades if they wanted to, so the light colour must certainly be deliberate.

Dedankhund : "Given this fact, I can see only two explanations for the peculiar shade/color striation on the Edo Ai's (it may in reality be both explanations that contribute to the interesting finish on this denim):

a. They are using a type (or blend) indigo completely original or unique to this denim. Other non-official descriptions of the Edo Ai's have made reference of this shade of blue/green being related to the Edo Ai era. Regardless they had to do some type of tinkering with the dye to get the variation of shades they are talking about.

and more importantly

b. "achieved through a special dyeing process of the warp yarns" is what the official explanation attributes the unique shade and finish of the color to. Given that they stress the manual nature of the dying and also mention "varying hues of medium blue and pale green" i would guess each given strand may vary from the next (or they may have four or six or even ten shades to dye the individual strands). if this is the case, once again, major props go out to Sugar Cane cause this process sounds intensive as hell"


Just like the did for the Hawaii's, they have picked out various shades of warp yarn in order to achieve the striped effect. Aside from the use of Tade-Ai, how much of this colour shading specifically reflects the Edo era I don't know. I assume that in the Edo period, like in other times/cultures, various shades were used and the darkest hue most prized.
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#28 mizanation

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 12:25 PM



thanks ringring!
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#29 frideswide

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 03:18 PM



There's a difference between "deep" and "dark".

In my experience, very deep tones can be acheived with natural indigo alone (a function of the number of dips, probably), but the color remains a kind of purplish-blue, which fades to a rather weedy shade of baby-blue eventually. Personally I prefer the darker black-blue which I believe is due to some kind of sulphur dye wash in addition to the indigo.

I'm also a bit intrigued as to why, in general, natural indigo jeans don't seem to give as high-contrast fades as synthetic indigo jeans. Since it can't be due to chemical differences between natural and synthetic, it must be due to the method of dying, the additional substances present in the dye, the method of construction of the jeans, or a combination of all three.
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#30 derdankhund

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Posted 16 May 2006 - 04:19 PM



one last question for the denim guru ringring:

Given that you have well explained the color variation in the Edo Ais and the Hawaiis, any ideas as to how many different shades of thread were used in each? I would gather that a much large range was used in the Edo Ais than the Hawaiis given the much more noticeable levels of striation in color in the denim. I'm just curious as to how many shades were used, as this sounds like quite a time-intensive process.

On a bit of a sidetrack, I wonder what a pair of jeans would look like if every single strand was a different shade of blue (or a different color entirely)...probably would be what Joseph wore if he wore jeans (Joseph's jeans of many colors)...
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