When Christopher Columbus set out to circumnavigate the world, his ship the Santa Maria had sails made of Serge de Nîmes; as were the garments for the Genoese sailors who accompanied him.
The internationally style of denim jeans as we know it happened more by accident than design. An entrepreneurial Levi Strauss took some fabric with him to America in 1853 with the aim of selling this Nimes canvas to the Gold Rush miners for making tents. Instead, they asked for hard-wearing trousers. So this is what he did, adding copper rivets to reinforce the stress points at seam junctions, cleverly embossing the buttons with the company name and with embroidery on the back pocket the universally recognised brand was created.
Just into the 19th c denim spread further as Lee’s boiler suit – the “Lee Union All” became the fatigues worn by the American army, and then in 1924, he designed the ubiquitous cowboy pants, with a U-shaped crotch, for comfort in the saddle.
The natural dye of indigo and the colour of original denim is unique and universal. It has become a neutral, a fabric that can be dressed up or dressed down; undoubtedly helped by the tonal variation given by the double weave showing white or jute weft and the ultimate similarity to sky.
Although the warp yarns are traditionally coloured indigo, and the weft yarns white or ecru, the success of the material is such that it now comes in any shade of any colour and finish – washed, shabby, torn, scrunched, creased, faded…and has a multitude of uses in the home: as curtains, blinds, loose covers, cushions, upholstery, bedcovers, screens and fabric walling.
Easy-care and hard-wearing, it is a good-looking fabric on both sides with a unique ability to work with almost every other fabric, whether old or new, from mattress ticking to the elegant hand prints of Fortuny.
Think about how well denim jeans work across all walks of life , more or less informally, and that is how it can work within the home.