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Is raw denim the same as selvedge denim?

jeans as business casual in scottsdale

Is Raw denim the same as Selvedge denim?

That’s the driving question behind my ongoing search for the perfect pair of jeans this fall. You see, I’ve had the same pair of jeans for maybe 3 or 4 years now. Late in the winter they sprung a leak, in the form of a large hole over the knee. I’ll still wear them from time to time, but the occasion has changed and now I need to find a new pair for dressier outings (when one of my suits is too much, of course!)

Simply put, I want something special and something that will last me a long time.

I’ve heard the buzzwords. I think we all have. Raw denim, selvedge denim, self-edge, etc. But what do they mean?

And from an economics perspective, where should I consider investing my money? So, I did some research. This fall I’m going to keep you in the loop on my search for the perfect pair of jeans. I think we’re both going to learn a lot.

To start off the series, I wanted to investigate the difference between raw denim and selvedge denim.

Raw denim

Raw denim is just what the name says – it’s raw. That means it hasn’t been processed in any way, such as washing or strategic distressing. You can think of it as coming straight off the loom to the shelf in the store.

But let’s back up a moment.

What makes your jeans blue in the first place? Where does that “jean color” hue come from? Well, it’s indigo dye. And here’s what is unique about indigo dye – it doesn’t absorb into the fabric. Instead, it merely coats the fibers. Consequently, over time it can rub off. This is how your jeans become faded in all the right places. Your unique lifestyle and wearing habits, over time, will have a direct impact on how your jeans look. They will become entirely individual to you.

Now what you need to bear in mind is that raw denim will shrink. There is a notable exception – sanforized denim. This is still considered raw denim – although some true believers may disagree with me on this one – but the shrinking will be very, very minimal.

The other thing to be aware of is that raw denims will also be a little stiff to wear in the beginning. They demand a break-in period. And honestly, this is what has kept me away from raw denim for so long. Shopping for jeans in the store I would also seek out the softest pair. While this meant they were comfortable from the beginning, their longevity was impacted.

Selvedge denim

First of all, you may see different spelling of this word – self-edge or selvage, maybe. But it’s all the same thing. The spelling selvedge is a bit more traditional and appropriate, so it’s what I’ll continue to use here.

Selvedge actually means “self edge.” This is because instead of having frayed edges, like most garments, selvedge denim is finished by looping the weft threads (the yarns that run from side to side) back at the end of each row on a shuttle loom. A shuttle loom uses one continuous piece of yarn to run back and forth across the warp threads that run up and down. There are no frayed edges this way. Everything is kept nice and neat from a manufacturing perspective.

Up until about the 1950s, almost all denim was produced this way.

What changed?

Well, as you can imagine, the demand for more productivity and higher efficiency led to the so-called mass production looms that churned out several times the output of a humble shuttle loom…and they did so without the closed edges.

This method requires the edges to be “overlocked stitched” to keep the frayed yarns in place.

From my research, there is only one domestic selvedge denim producer in existence today, Cone Mills in Greensboro, North Carolina. Interestingly, the rest are in Japan. Beginning in the 1980s, a handful of Japanese mills began weaving their own selvedge denim and even recasting rivets and buttons in an attempt to recapture the vintage American style.

I reached out to Denver based Armitage & McMillan co-owner, Daniel Armitage, for some good photos of selvedge jeans from his store. The following two images highlight the defining feature that makes selvedge denim unique – the accent stitching on the outseam (in this case, red).

selvedge denim in denver armitage mcmillan

raw denim the same as selvedge denim in denver

In theory, selvedge jeans will last longer than a raw or washed jean due to this sealed edge. But I think it’s really how you wear the jeans. After all, my present pair – that wasn’t raw nor selvedge denim – failed me via a hole on the knee, not the unraveling of the outseam.

Wrap up

So, is raw denim the same as selvedge denim?

In summation, selvedge denim can be raw, but raw denim is not always selvedge denim.

Here’s all you need to remember: Selvedge denim has to do with the weaving process, it has a “self edge.” Whereas raw denim just means that it hasn’t been washed and processed after coming off of the loom. 

Yet both will likely end up being more durable than a distressed or typical off-the-rack garment.

Regardless, I think the real charm of denim today is that we have an opportunity to seek out traditional manufacturing methods that emphasize durability and can provide you with an opportunity to wear a pair of jeans that you can truly make your own.

By Ryan Wagner

Further reading

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about denim: The essential raw denim breakdown

And here’s a great video on the Cone Mill from the folks at Self Edge: https://vimeo.com/38817626

Check out some jeans in person at Armitage & McMillan in Denver: 1550 Platte St, Denver, CO

Professional knife sharpening – what you need to know

I recently realized just how incredibly dull my kitchen knives had become. Not only were they not cutting like they used to, but I could visibly see that there was no real edge left. I knew that I could use my honing rod all I wanted, but that it wouldn’t get me that nice edge back. So, I started searching for a professional knife sharpening service in the Boulder area.

I didn’t want to go to the mall or some big store. Instead, I was hoping to find someone out there that was passionate about knives and keeping them sharp. Someone that has an eye for blades like I do for how a bespoke suit should fit.

I ended up calling Jeff Yarrington of Shimmering Edge.

On a warm Tuesday afternoon, he picked up my sad looking knives and promised to sharpen them by the end of the week. Suffice it to say, Jeff overdelivered. When he returned my knives, I couldn’t believe how sharp they were. Suddenly, my knives were doing all the work again, just like they should be.

In the brief amount of time that he and I spoke in person, I realized that there is a lot more to knife sharpening than we all think. Consequently, I knew it would make for a great article.

So, I sat down with Jeff and asked him some questions about sharpening. I think you’ll see that he overdelivered again.

[Ryan] Jeff, what do you think is the number one mistake people make that contributes most to their kitchen knives dulling?

[Jeff] Actually, this is a more difficult question than it sounds – there are about 10 to 15 factors that make a knife go dull. So, I’m going to list my top 6 reasons. This is not a ranking because each person is different.

  •        Don’t cut on anything that is not a cutting board.

Decorative glass cutting boards are not cutting boards. They will dull your knife as soon as the knife makes contact.

Most plates are made of ceramics or glass or some other substance that is harder than your kitchen knives, don’t cut on them except with your steak knife (steak knives should be serrated).

If you ding your knife on your granite kitchen counter, you have likely dulled the contact spot.)

  • When preparing food don’t use the edge of your knife to slide food, just cut food out of the way. Turn your knife over and slide the food with the back spine of your knife.  I can tell if a person is left or right handed if my customer has this habit.
  • Don’t use knives for anything except their intended purposes, especially paring knives. Paring knives are very thin knives and are not meant for impacting cutting boards. If you use a paring knife as your chef knife, it will dull quickly.
  • The amount of use. It’s simple, the more you use your knife the faster it will dull.
  • Not honing, also known as steeling your knife or honing/steeling improperly.

The type of steel and how hard that steel is made is a big factor on edge retention. Higher quality knives will usually have a longer edge retention.

I think it’s easy for most people to not realize how dull their blades have become until they are really dull. Is there any schedule you’d recommend for general maintenance sharpening?

 

You can see from my answer to question 1 that one schedule doesn’t fit everybody. The bottom line is when you hone or steel your knife correctly and your knife still won’t cut through your food easily, then it is time for a sharpening. I would say that for home use, many people’s knives will last between 6 months to a couple of years depending on the factors in question 1 and other factors that were not listed above.

Can you tell us a bit about your process? In other words, are all blades sharpened the same way? What is it that you do that I can’t do at home with my honing steel?

 

Honing steels are not sharpeners unless they are diamond impregnated or made of ceramic. So the steel that comes with sharpening blocks is made to realign the edge of your knife. Many manufacturers call them sharpeners, but they are not. So, as you use your knife the edge will get bent over to both sides of your blade and this is why a hone seems like it sharpens your knife at first but later doesn’t seem to be sharpening at all.  Well, it was never sharpening in the first place.

My quick philosophy on sharpening knives:

I like mountable, repeatable precision. I do not like high-speed methods. Such as, high-speed grinders and high-speed band sanders for sharpening the edge of blades. They will get your knives sharp but can very easily remove more steel than is necessary and overheat and damage the temper of a knife, which weakens the knife. Usually, a good sharpener won’t let that happen. Hand methods are fine if you are highly proficient, but mountable repeatable systems are best in my opinion. With mountable repeatable slow speed systems, you can better control how much steel is removed and with the higher levels of precision. These methods do take a bit longer, but I’m more about quality than quantity.

Most of the knives are sharpened with my two main methods; the WickedEdge system or the Tormek, but there are exceptions even to these two methods.

For most knives, I use the Tormek slow wet grinding sharpening system. The wheel on this system only rotates at 90 rpm. I use two Tormek machines in my process. The first is used as the main sharper and is almost always set to 1000 grit which is a pretty fine starting grit. Starting at this level of refinement is slower, but gives me great control on the amount of steel being removed. Also, 1000 grit is the level of refinement that most knife manufacturers sell new knives at.

I can go as low as 220 grit for knives that are in really bad shape, but even the dullest of knives don’t usually require this course of a grit. I then use the second Tormek with a very fine grit Japanese Water stone. This stone polishes the edge to a mirror finish and leaves the knife razor sharp with a scratch pattern smaller than 3 microns. The last step of this method uses the leather honing wheel, but since the Japanese Water stone polishes the edge so well I only need to use a very light touch to remove whatever microscopic burr is left over from the polishing step.

The second sharpening method I use is the WickedEdge sharpening system. This is a mountable and repeatable hand method I use in conjunction with a digital angle gauge. I like to call the method the perfectionist method. I use this method for people who what the best sharpening that can be found anywhere. Since the degree of precision is at 1/20th of a degree on every pass of the sharpening stone, this method has the best control of steel removal possible. Also, with this system, I can refine a blade all the way down to 0.5 microns and smaller. Usually, only straight razors need to go to this level of refinement.  As you might expect this method is slower so does cost more, but you can’t get any better than this method. If you are super particular of your knives this is the method for you.

before sharpening

Before

after sharpening

After

What are you doing differently from the kitchen stores in the mall or anyone else that promises a sharp blade in no time at all?

 

If you are using someone that can sharpen a knife in a couple of minutes, they are using methods they know will get to new steel as quickly as possible and most likely are removing more steel than is necessary. This knife will be plenty sharp, but if you have an expensive knife and you want that knife to perform as much like it did when it was brand new then these fast methods are not what you want for your knife.

I have compared some of my competitor’s knife sharpenings using a digital microscope against my own and see that I bring the knives I sharpen to a higher level of refinement. What’s this mean to you? A more refined edge lasts longer and does less tearing to your food, which translates into food staying fresher longer.

You might ask, “Isn’t removing metal what we want when we sharpen”?  Here is why you want to remove as little as is necessary.

knives

Brand new knife is on the left.  The middle knife has had a few sharpenings and the right one shows a few more. How many? Who knows? The point here is as your knife is sharpened more and more it moves up into a thicker and thicker part of the knife blade. I just chopped the tops of to make my point. You can see that your knife will never perform exactly as it did when you first purchased it. Without what is called “thinning a blade” it would become more like a cleaver than a chef knife. This is a  phenomenon that we sense when our knife isn’t cutting the same as it did when we first purchased it. After a few sharpenings without thinning, it will never perform the same. Thinning will keep it close to its original performance, but not exact.

Wrap up

 

Are you wondering just how sharp your kitchen blades are right now? Or maybe the axe in the garage? Speaking from personal experience, if you can’t remember the last time you had them sharpened, I think you’ll be amazed at how sharp they could be if you were to give Jeff a call for his professional knife sharpening services.

Overall, I couldn’t be more impressed with Jeff’s work and his level of professionalism. There’s a lot of passion behind what he does. If you have questions about the sharpening process, believe me, he has answers!

You may contact Jeff via his website, Shimmering Edge, or via his email: sharpen@shimmeringedge.com.

By Ryan Wagner 

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Has Boulder changed for the better?

Boulder seems to be all over the news these days. Either because of something in reference to the housing market or yet another “best of..” list. As an on-again-off-again Boulderite, I thought I would offer up my spin on the subject of how Boulder has changed over the years.

Aside from childhood visits, I first spent any real time in the city when I attended graduate school at CU almost 10 years ago (yikes!).

In some ways, I suppose I’m a typical Boulderite. After all, I’ve raced an Ironman, I eat kale salads, and I have prayer flags in my apartment that I picked up in a far-off Himalayan nation. Compared to the Boulder of my school days, some things have remained the same while others have changed considerably.

Something that hasn’t changed much is the relative level of fitness of us Boulderites. As of 2014, Boulder has the lowest obesity rate in the nation at 12.4%. And walking around town you’d be tempted to say that that percentage seems high.

In addition, I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve seen Boulder listed as a “best of” place to live. It’s a recognition that I’m quite proud of, to be honest. Boulder really is a lovely place to live.

After all, there is plenty to like if you’re an active person. The foothills are at your doorstep with plenty of hiking and trail running available. Cyclists have several canyons and road rides from which to choose. Race opportunities abound from triathlons to foot races to the controversial Naked Pumpkin Run. There’s something for everyone.

Lately, what many of us have been hearing about is how the area’s housing market has changed. This is where things start to get interesting. In November of last year, the average list price for a four bedroom, two bathroom home in Boulder crossed the $1 million mark(1). This earned the city an exclusive spot in the top 1% of the nation’s housing markets. Compare this to the state average of $418,344 and you can begin to see the growing disparity. And a quick survey of rental prices confirms that Boulder is becoming an expensive place to live.

Fanning the flames of the housing market is the startup scene. According to Inc Magazine, “As recently as 2013, Boulder was found to have the highest density of tech startups nationwide, according to a report from the Kauffman Foundation. It even housed twice as many companies per capita as San Jose, Calif., the No. 2 hub.” With roughly 3/4 of the population claiming a college degree, a unique mix of federal and private laboratories nearby, and a healthy venture capital scene, it’s not hard to see why Boulder has become such an attractive place for would-be founders to set up shop.

Walking down Pearl Street offers up a unique dichotomy: There is the usual crowd of shoppers and tourists filing in and out of Snooze and Topo Designs, but scattered in between the trendy shops and cafes are countless office spaces filled with heads-down millennials busy building their empires.

Consequently, Boulder has become a very competitive place. The rhythm of life here is almost akin to a two-sided coin. One side is about working all day every day whereas the other side is about making sure you can still get out to hike before work or go for that 30 mile bike ride in the early evening.

So, what does all of this mean?

Well, if you’re looking to buy a home in the area, you’ll probably spend more than you want to.

Alternatively, if your aim is to build a business or build valuable professional connections, Boulder is a great place to be. There is an ever-growing mix of interesting people pouring into the area, each bringing with them their unique backgrounds and worldviews. I’ve met a lot of unique people in the area and everyone has a story. And of these transplants, they are all so happy to be here. I think that’s a great thing. However, Boulder still struggles with a lack of economic and racial diversity. As home prices continue to rise and the tech industry grows, the working class is being pushed out.

Remember those bumper stickers that said “Keep Boulder Weird” ?Today’s version of Boulder isn’t entirely unrecognizable from the old. You can still grab an excellent latte almost anywhere in town, you can wear workout clothes just about anywhere (not saying you should! 🙂 ), and the Pearl Street Mall continues to be the best place to people watch and see just how weird the town still is. Overall, the weirdness may look a bit different these days than it did in the early 2000s, but it’s still there.

Boulder has certainly changed a lot in just the past 5 years and it will continue to change in the future. Into what, I don’t know, but it will be fun to watch.

By Ryan Wagner

west-boulder

Further reading

(1) Men’s Journal: Is Everything better in Boulder

(2) Gallup: Boulder, Colo., Residents still least likely to be obese

(2) Denver Post: Boulder real estate hits top 1 percent of country’s most expensive markets

The story behind Father’s Day

Father’s Day gift guides just seem so trite, don’t they?

So, as a history buff, I thought I’d take a different approach and investigate the holiday’s beginnings. After all, we all know that Father’s Day happens sometime in June, but since when? And did it come before or after Mother’s Day?

Starting with the latter, yes, it came after Mother’s Day.

Two months after the first Mother’s Day was celebrated, a woman named Grace Clayton organized the first observance of a Father’s Day on July 5, 1908 in Fairmont, West Virginia. Clayton’s father had recently passed when the occurrence of an unprecedented mining disaster brought the topic of fatherhood front and center.

In nearby Monongah, our nation’s worst mining disaster happened on July 6, 1907. The incident claimed the lives of 361 men, 250 of which were fathers. Clayton collaborated with her pastor, at what was then the Williams Memorial Methodist Episcopal Church South, to organize a celebration to honor fathers.

Father’s Day didn’t take off right away.

Fast forward to 1910, on the other side of the country in Spokane, Washington, and a woman by the name of Sonara Dodd caught wind of Clayton’s celebration that was held several years earlier. In a similar way, she teamed with her local pastor, who turned out to be a bit influential in the area, and by the third Sunday of June, Father’s Day was celebrated city wide.

It continued to be a local celebration up until the 1920s when Dodd moved away. Simply put, without her around to push for it, the holiday faded into obscurity. Fortunately, she returned in the 1930s and that’s when things really picked up. This time she teamed with manufacturers of tobacco pipes, neck ties, etc – people who would have a commercial stake in the national holiday. And by 1938, the Father’s Day Council was founded by the New York Associated Menswear Retailers organization, with the goal being to promote the holiday.

The general public was at first a little apprehensive to accept the new holiday and viewed it as both a weak attempt to recreate Mother’s Day and as a holiday more interested in the commercial gain of vendors than the celebration of paternal bonds.

It wasn’t until 1966 that President Lyndon B. Johnson wrote a proclamation designating the third Sunday in June to be Father’s Day. Six years later President Nixon signed it into law in 1972.

I find it interesting that the only reason Father’s Day gained momentum and is even celebrated today, is because of the persistent effort of one person. That’s pretty cool.

Today the holiday is recognized by 62 other countries. From Turkey to Sri Lanka to Kenya, father’s have been the proud recipients of gifted socks and homemade cookies (or equivalent) the world over :).

And this year, the holiday is estimated to spur in the neighborhood of $14.3 billion in spending. That’s billion with a ‘b’. There’s no doubt that the holiday has become commercialized. In fact, Congress originally rejected the day as a national holiday for this very reason. This was back in 1916.

Regardless, I think it’s up to you. Whether you provide a physical gift this year or something less tangible, I think a gift that is thoughtful and carries some real meaning is what matters.

Happy Father’s Day everyone!

By Ryan Wagner

Further reading

Wikipedia: Father’s Day

Business Wire: Father’s Day spending