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The Secrets of Shrinking Unsanforized Denim

Shrinking Unsanforized Denim

Rope Dye asked three renowned denim experts how they shrink down their unsanforized jeans. We found some surprising tips and tricks

When it comes to shrinking unsanforized denim, there are many myths out there. With the help of three experts, Rope Dye gets to the core of the issue.

A Denim for the Purist

Unsanforized denim is denim of the purist. It is the denim that the jeans of yore were made from. Before the days of sanforization, denim would shrink down to varying degrees.

It came off the loom and was sewn into a pair of jeans. It would be up to the customer to shrink the jeans down themselves.

What We Love About Unsanforized Denim

The shrinkage process that unsanforized denim goes through as it is washed leads to some of the things we denimheads love most about a pair of jeans. The famous leg-twist is due to the nature of the twill fabric. The roping effect on the hem is due in part to the chain stitch folder of the Union Special and in part to the shrinkage around the hem.

Myths and Legends

The “shrink to fit” nature of the early jeans has led to legends and rituals springing up all over. The most famous being the “wear out wet” method. You basically wear them in the bathtub until they have shrunk down to your size; you then wear them until they are dry.

This may be the most famous method, but it is also amongst the most ridiculous.

Ask the Experts

Rope Dye talks to three of the experts’ experts in the denim world. People who have shrunk down dozens, if not hundreds of pairs of jeans over the years. Their methods vary slightly, but one thing is for certain; there is none of this bathtub nonsense.

First Stop: San Fran’s Self Edge

Shrinking Unsanforized Denim

Our first stop is to San Francisco with Kiya Babzani of Self Edge.

Kiya’s method is simple. Turn the jeans inside out and soak them for 45 minutes. You then take them out of the water and let them fully air dry before wearing them. The hotter the water, the more shrinkage you will get.

He has this to add about the wearing out wet method:

“Do not wear the jeans wet or damp as this causes knee bagging and/or will stretch the jean out in places you may not want (such as the waist).”

Rope Dye Say:

In principle, we agree with this method. It is simple and effective and will get you just the results you need. We will, however, add that we like to see as much of the shrinkage as possible come out of your jeans before you start wearing them. Using just cold water may mean that on the first machine wash (after wear) the jeans will shrink down further.

You may find your beautiful fades shifting or, the worst-case scenario, they may become too short if you’ve had them hemmed to a precise length.

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Martin February 16, 2015 at 10:50

Why not? What special qualifications/experience do you need to be able to comment on shrinking jeans other than having shrunk jeans before?

Denimhunters February 17, 2015 at 07:22

Hi Martin,
We’re not really sure what you’re commenting on? Is it something specific in the article or one of the other comments?

jano August 18, 2015 at 10:53

funny to read all the so called denim expert opinions! page nr 3 is the best with following statement:

“The cotton needs the water to tighten and bind together”!!!!!where the hell u get this science?

for those who really want to know what matters: nothing!
whatever u do is ok. the shrinkage is just caused by the tension in the yarn during weaving and by sanforizing the fabric these tensions relax and the fabric get stability.
wearing washed/unwashed, sitting in the bathtub with or without detergent/salt,etc is not critical to this mechanical parameter.
under temperature the fabric will return to its original position and, if unsanforized, shrink.
thats all and the rest is BS.

leonard November 23, 2015 at 04:14

The article says yo soak before wearing but my eviscerate says to wear as long as possible then soak, which is it?

Denimhunters November 23, 2015 at 09:16

Hi Leonard,
Thank you for your question. As it is argued in the post, there is no “right” way to soak your raw denim jeans. However, the article quite thoroughly points out the pros and cons of pre-wear soaking vs. no soak. With pre-wear soaking, the fading may take a little longer and the contrasts may not get as pronounced (cons), but the denim will in all likelihood last longer (pros). The only way to find out what works for you is to try – which is also one of the most fun parts of raw denim. However, if you’re wearing unsanforized denim, we would always recommend a pre-wear soak to get the majority of the shrinkage out of the denim.

leonard November 23, 2015 at 04:16

Levis tag*

The Denim Hound April 25, 2016 at 23:45

I find most jeans, especially from Japan have a rise that is already close to being too short for me. If soaked right away with no constraints it could be game over.

I usually soak the legs all the way up to the rise with out touching. Also splashing the front by the pockets so it won’t create a “pouchy” looking front rise area. Let air dry then wear for a month or so to get all the stretch out of the waist and rise. Being carful to not let the crotch get too worn out. Then full on wash with soap to get all the built-up starch and dirt out for longevity of the denim. Constantly hand streaching the waist and rise throught the wash and dry process yo insure they dont overshrink. Then I go as long as possible before the second and third wash. 🙂

More on my blog!
The Denim Hound

Robin Sutanto April 26, 2016 at 18:01

Might be necro-bumping an old topic here, but I’m new to unsanforized denim. After reading the soak-before-wear bit, I’m wondering how I can get them to shrink to the right fit. I’ve always thought that unsanforized means “shrink to fit”, and soak-sitting in them tub wearing them would get them to shrink to the right fit with each person’s measurements. If I just throw them in the tub won’t it just shrink evenly throughout?

EMI September 19, 2016 at 18:40

It’s worth noting that unsanforised left hand twill doesn’t shrink or tighten up quite as much as right hand twill ( I found this on both Studio d’artisan SD-007, and Strike Gold 3109, both unsanforised left hand twill models ) The heavier the weight of your denim the more likely it is to need a second soak to achieve a full shrink too. I’ve also found the most pronounced roping on the hem occurs on mid weight 13-15 oz denim, and can be highly dependent on the skill of the Union special operator. In my experience Japanese milled sanforised denim such as that used by Spellbound or 3sixteen will often still shrink a small but noticable amount.

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