Different Types of Denim and Their Uses

Everyone loves a good, comfortable pair of jeans, making denim a favorite clothing type. Whether straight-up jeans or shorts or used for overalls and jackets, clothing made from denim is extremely popular. Crafters also like denim because it adds texture and appeal to many different types of projects.

Many people think all denim is the same, but that’s not the case. There are definitely multiple types of denim, which are used for several different purposes. 

Even though all denim has certain properties in common, you might want to consider what’s available before you start designing clothes or putting them to use in your do-it-yourself and decorative projects. Read on to find out the different types of denim and their uses. 

Denim Defined

When you think of denim fabric, the first thing that pops into your mind is jeans. But denim is so much more. 

What is denim? One important thing to remember is that all denim starts with cotton. The cotton fibers are treated with a twill weave, which gives the customary appearance of denim, creating the diagonal ribbing of the traditional material.

Beyond that, you’ll find several properties that create the different types of denim, from color to treatment to actual weight. Let’s look at these to help identify the types of denim available and in what instances you may choose one over another.

Denim Weight

Just like people, denim fabric comes in all sizes and shapes. So, when referencing denim weight, there has to be a constant. Weight doesn’t refer to the weight of a pair of jeans or a patch of denim used in a craft project. Weight is determined by a specific measurement of the fabric.

To identify how the weight of denim is categorized, you should first understand the measurement. 

In most cases, denim is measured using the imperial scale (ounces), though you may also find some instances of metric measurements (grams). Imperial weight is calculated based on a single square yard (36 inches x 36 inches) of denim fabric. The ounces per square yard give you your weight. In the case of metric measurements, this would be grams per square meter.

Then, the weight is separated into three categories. Denim is considered lightweight if it is up to 8 ounces per square yard. Denim that weighs between 8 and 10 ounces is labeled as midweight denim. Anything over that is heavyweight denim. Keep in mind that you normally won’t find denim weighing more than 20 ounces per square yard.

If you have 100% cotton denim, it’s important to remember that this will stretch over time. What that means is that the weight can change. 

For example, if you have a pair of jeans that was midweight because it was 11 ounces per square yard, over time, these will end up being lightweight, stretching so that there is less weight per square yard and eventually dropping below the midweight threshold.

Types of Denim

The type of denim also weighs into its general purpose, as well as texture, weight, and appearance. Denim tends to look generally similar enough that you instantly recognize the fabric, but let’s consider some of your options in terms of how to get a different texture or even a slightly different look, depending on your needs.

  • 100% cotton denim was the original material that started the entire fad. It’s very robust and can be used for almost any purpose. However, remember that 100% cotton denim stretches over time.
  • Stretch denim became popular as people wanted their jeans to fit tighter. This fabric usually has cotton as well as synthetic threads that are stretchy. These are usually elastic or lycra, which is typically somewhere between 1-5% of the overall blend of materials.
  • Washed denim is what you most commonly find in clothing. This means that the denim is washed after the dyeing process, which creates the desired color of the material. This avoids several complications, such as shrinking when you first wash it and color bleeding, which can occur as soon as the material gets damp. That means it could bleed onto other clothes in the laundry, as well as onto your skin.
  • Unwashed denim is exactly as it sounds – it is not washed after the dyeing process. Unwashed denim is easy to identify due to its stiffness. It is almost hard to the touch.
  • Colored denim is created using dyes, and you’ll come across any range of colors these days. The original blue wash is completed with an indigo dyeing process, while other colors are done with a sulfur dyeing process. These include colors like black, green, or pink. Some dyes do seem to change the texture of the denim, with black denim often having less give – or stretch – and feeling a bit stiffer.
  • Acid-washed denim, which was extremely popular in the 80s and has come back around several times, uses a bleaching process that lightens the color of the blue denim, often in an uneven manner.
  • Bull denim is created using a slightly different twill weave, leading to a thicker, more durable material. This type of denim is what you’ll often find in things like upholstery.
  • Chambre fabrics are often mistaken for denim because they have a similar appearance. In fact, most people assume that chambre is lightweight denim. However, you’ll note that chambre has a much softer, smoother texture than actual denim. That’s because they use different weaves. Rather than the twill weave used in denim, chambre is created with a plain weave of cotton fibers.

What Are Different Types of Denim Best For?

When determining what type of denim to use in what instance, there are a lot of variations, and much of it comes down to personal preference. Of course, some general guidelines for certain instances can help you make an informed decision before starting your project.

For example, if you’re planning on constructing your own jeans to have the perfect measurements for your body, consider the type of jeans you want. If you’re thinking about fitted jeans, you’ll likely do best with stretch denim, as that will conform to your body.

However, 100% cotton denim is the way to go if you want a baggier style. With a baggier style, you’re less likely to stretch out the denim quickly, maintaining the proper integrity and fit for longer.

If you’re using patches of denim in a quilt, you can consider bull denim, since it’s sturdier and less likely to get damaged easily. It also has less likelihood of stretching, which can deform the shape of the quilt over time.

With other projects, you’ll likely use colored denim to match the décor of your choice. This can come in various weights and may be 100% cotton or any other type of denim since all types can be dyed. 

Just remember that stretch denim reacts differently than 100% cotton, and bull denim is the way to go for long-lasting sturdiness if you’re thinking of upholstering something like a chair’s cushion.

Denim in Clothing

Denim can be worn any time of year, especially since denim shorts are popular in the summer. 

But lightweight denim jeans can also be versatile summer attire. Overalls, too, are great any time of year. While a denim jacket likely won’t keep you from shivering in extremely cold temperatures, it will keep you warm in cool weather, offering covering and some insulation that holds your body heat closer.

Tougher denim can help wear when you do hard labor. It is more resistant to tears and wearing than a lot of other fabrics, and it’s thicker than a lot of materials, so it protects your skin more fully, especially heavyweight denim. 

This is good for use in farming, construction, and other jobs where you come into contact with items that can easily wear down the fabric, where clothes can get snagged, or where there is a lot of dirt or potential for injury.

As with acid-washed jeans, denim can also make a fashion statement, and the fit of jeans changes with the latest fad as well. Style comes into play, as well as the brand name. There are several name-brand jean designers known for their denim creations.

The Verdict

Denim is widely popular due to the variations available when it comes to diverse use. You can completely change the look and feel of denim based on type, color, and weight, making it applicable in almost any project or clothing design.

If you’re looking to work with denim, consider these options before deciding on the denim you intend to use so that you choose the best combination to meet your needs. Every project or clothing item is different, which means finding the unique combination to get creative and turn out the perfect end product. Denim has a ton of uses for sewing projects, so check out our selection of denim materials and get crafting!

Leave a Comment