Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams

Blue Jean Book: The Story Behind the Seams

by Tanya Lloyd Kyi


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781550379167
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 09/03/2005
Pages: 79
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.25(d)
Age Range: 11 - 18 Years

About the Author

Tanya Lloyd Kyi is the author of several books for young readers, including other non-fiction titles and the novels Truth and My Time as Caz Hazard. Tanya lives in Vancouver.

Table of Contents


  1. The Birth of the Blues
  2. Movers and Shakers and Blue Jean Makers
  3. Blue Jean Time Machine
  4. The Jean Scene
  5. Borderless Blues
  6. Panting for Perfection
  7. Sources
    Photo Credits
    About the Author



Jeans -- they're practically in our genes. People have been buying pairs ever since Levi Strauss made the first ones in California in 1873. And the love of denim has traveled from North America around the world. Teenagers in Europe, Asia, and South America are wearing some of the same brands as we are. Even in places where everything else seems different, jeans are still jeans. Ever notice that when the evening news shows a student protest in Pakistan or a peace rally in Israel, everyone's pants are the same? Jeans transcend nationality, race, and even war, yet they're one of the most ordinary parts of our lives.

"Magic comes in many forms. Tonight it comes to us in a pair of pants. I hereby propose that these Pants belong to us equally, that they will travel to all the places we're going, and they will keep us together when we are apart."
-- from The Sisterhood of the
Traveling Pants
by Ann Brashares

For some people, searching for the perfect jeans is like finding the ideal bathing suit. They spend days or weeks combing the malls for the pair that lengthens their legs or hugs their hips. Other people scour garage sales and flea markets looking for a well-worn pair, complete with uneven fading and rips in the knees.

Often we choose our jeans because of how they make us feel, as well as how they make us look. In The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, four friends stumble upon a pair of used jeans that somehow magically fits their different shapes and sizes. They decide to mail them back and forth during their first summer apart. As the jeans arrive in new parts of the world, they lend each girl the strength and confidence to face the confusing situations in her life.

We don't all expect magic, but there's no doubt that we love our favorite pairs. Why are we so attached to them? They're comfortable and they don't need to be ironed. You can eat a bag of chips, wipe your hands on your butt, and the grease doesn't show. You can lend them to a friend, wear them in the mud, let them mildew in the bottom of the laundry hamper for a few weeks and it makes no difference: as soon as they're washed, they're as good as new.

Pants with Pull

Jeans have always been famous for their strength. In 1938, Elton Schram of Belmont, California, used a pair as a tow rope! Elton wrote Levi Strauss & Co. a letter explaining how he had found a friend stranded in his car at the side of the road. He was ready to tow his friend the six kilometers (four miles) to the nearest town, but neither man had a rope. Then Elton remembered the old pair of Levi's he had in his trunk. He tied one pant leg to each car and successfully rescued his friend. The pants survived without a single tear.

In 1939, the Lee Company teamed up with Ripley's Believe It or Not! to create a series of advertisements celebrating the strength of Lee jeans. Cartoonist and writer Robert Ripley specialized in collecting amazing information. In one ad, Ripley used a 4.5-tonne (5-ton) steamroller to iron a pair of Lee overalls. When they were peeled off the pavement, the pants were unharmed and the buttons had held their shape. In another test, one man stood in the pockets of another man's overalls, without tearing the stitching.

In 1999, scientists from Cornell University and the Sciencenter of Ithaca used seven pairs of blue jeans to lift a 1,600-kilogram (3,500-pound) station wagon into the air. When the jeans survived, the scientists lowered the car, removed one pair, and hoisted it again. The jeans still held. They continued removing one pair at a time until the car was dangling by a single pair. Spectators heard the threads begin to snap moments before the car tipped toward the ground. Finally, the jeans had given way, ripping just above the knees.

Blue Beginnings

Jeans are such a basic part of our everyday lives that we never stop to think about where they come from. In fact, our favorite pants are born as cream-colored puffs of cotton.

Grown in warm, dry climates, raw cotton is harvested and taken to a factory called a cotton gin, where pipes suck the cotton out of the trucks or train cars and into the building. There, huge dryers remove any excess moisture, then a machine combs through the fibers to screen out sticks and dirt. Finally, another machine called a gin stand plucks the cotton fibers away from the seeds. The clean fibers are shipped to spinning mills, where they are spun into stone-colored cloth -- what we think of as plain cotton fabric.

In the 1890s, the first jeans makers ordered denim from the Amokseag Mill in
Manchester, New Hampshire, and requested not pale beige but dark blue, a color that would show less dirt and wear. The mill received the orders and prepared to send shipments of their blue cotton denim, which they colored with indigo. Indigo was a dye made by fermenting the leaves of the indigo plant, which grew up to two meters (six feet) tall in the tropical climates of Africa and Southeast Asia.

Because the leaves had to be fermented, making indigo took a lot of time and labor. For centuries it was one of the most expensive dyes in the world. Then, in 1880, German chemist Johann von Baeyer discovered a way to create the same color in the laboratory. Soon a German chemical company was selling synthetic indigo for much lower prices than the plant-based dye.

Today, companies around the world produce more than 12,600 tonnes (14,000 tons) of synthetic indigo every year, and much of it is used to dye blue jeans. Like the original,
naturally produced indigo, the synthetic dye isn't colorfast. That means it will slowly fade or wash out of fabric. Have a peek at your jeans. Are they still saturated in dye, or have they paled to a baby blue? Some people love it when their old jeans have become soft and faded, but others head for the mall to buy a new pair as soon as their denim loses its crisp dark color.

Factory Facts

Denim arrives at the jeans factory in enormous rolls of 450 meters (490 yards). Each roll provides enough fabric to make 300 pairs of jeans. An automated cutting machine slices through 68 layers of fabric at once, creating perfectly patterned cut-outs. Each cut piece is then passed to workers with sewing machines.

First, all the details such as pockets and belt loops are created. A giant stamp slams down onto a cookie-cutter-like mold, creating 20 pockets at a time, and another machine folds, sews, and presses each pocket in place. A zipper machine stitches the zipper to the denim, cuts it to size, and attaches the pull tab. Needles pull cotton thread through the fabric 4,000 times a minute.

When the pieces are assembled, workers stitch them together. The person responsible for stitching the in-seams works on more than 750 pairs of pants each day. At the end of the sewing line there are machines to steam press the pants and turn them right-side-out. From the first snip to the final steam, the entire pant-making process takes less than 10 minutes.

Why We're Blue

None of this explains why jeans are so popular. More than half a billion pairs are sold in North America each year, and people around the world are crazy about them. In 2001, one fashion designer even joined forces with a jeweler to create a pair of jeans studded with diamonds and rhinestones. The hip-huggers were modeled at the Gattinoni Couture fashion show in Milan,
Italy, and sold for about US $500,000.

Obviously, we're not all going to cough up half a million dollars for a pair of pants. But we regularly pay $50 or $75, and most of us buy at least one new pair each year. Are jeans popular just because they're strong? Because they're what we've always worn? Or is it that the perfect pair of jeans makes us feel like we fit in, like we're as cool as every other jean-wearing kid on the block?

Researchers have suggested that we're actually happier wearing jeans. One study showed that when people were allowed to wear casual clothes li

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