The Chain Stitch: Small Detail – Big Difference

For many consumers, the hem on a pair of jeans does not have great importance when choosing the right pair, but for denim nerds the little orange stitch is crucial, and if it’s not the right one, the jeans might be opted out on. In this article we explain why that is.

It may seem like an insignificant detail, for what does it really mean that the hem is stitch in one way or the other? Preferences are highly based on emotion. To many denim puritans it’s all about the classics, and chain stitches are super old school. Chain stitching is the authentic vintage way to stitch the hem, so of course it must be present on modern reproductions of old-fashioned and detail-oriented jeans.

But there is also a physical difference, which only becomes evident after several washes. A chain stitched hem will twist and roll in a very particular way, it’s called “roping.” Lock stitched hems won’t get the same effect, and the wear patterns are more vertical. However, too “big” chain stitched hems (where there’s more than 1 cm from the absolute bottom of the leg to where the stitch begins) will unfortunately get the same result, so manufacturers will have to be aware of this, othervise the costly chain stitch will be worthless.

Have a look at this nice little video from Iron Heart:

Most jeans that are sold today do not have chain stitched hems:

In the 80s, the denim industry started using lock stitching at the hem of jeans, which gives a stronger and longer lasting stitch. Supposedly, the problem with chain stitching is that if a single stitch is unravelled potentially the entire chain could do so. Yet I’ve never seen this happen, so the true explanation might be that lock stitching is just cheaper. But many jeans with lock stitched hems have chain stitches in other places, so it actually shouldn’t be that difficult to reconvert the industry. Lately, brands like Weekday are obviously realising that customers look for the chain stitch, as some of their jeans now sport it. You can read more about how the chain stitches and lock stitches are sewn on HowStuffWorks.

Among hardcore denim enthusiasts, the brand of the sewing machine used to do the chain stitching is also important. Union Specials are considered the most original, as they were originally used by the major American jeans manufacturers (pictures are from A Continuous Lean).

If you have bought yourself a pair of chain stitched jeans, and you want the length adjusted with an original chain stitch, you unfortunately cannot get it done here in Denmark. I have not yet managed to find a tailor or shop that could offer it. Instead, you can take the jeans to DC4 in Berlin or Unionville in Stockholm.