She’s the master darner using vintage machines while listening to KISS turned up to 11. WGSN Denim Editor Samuel Trotman hangs out with the woman everyone wants to repair their jeans
As every denim lover knows, part of the pleasure of wearing raw denim is the longer you wear it, the more personality it get. Rips, fades, whiskers, honeycombs and stains are inevitable – but there’s definitely going to be a point where you’ll need to get your favourite wears repaired.
While the DIY patch repairs of yesteryear are still favoured among some, most of us want to leave it to the pros. And today many denim brands are offering specialist repair and alteration services in-store. One of the best around is Self Edge’s Darn-It! repair studio in San Francisco headed up by tailor and self confessed denim fanatic, Rain Delisle of Indigo Proof.
For the past three years, Rain has been responsible for all of Self-Edge’s jean restorations including everything from hardware replacements, fixing torn pocket bags, reinforcing leather tags, re-chainstitching broken hem lines, and of course darning, which she has truly mastered.
Take a look on Rain’s instagram feed and you’ll see the type of expert repairs we’re talking about – restoring the most unwanted tears and unsightly crotch blowouts with almost invisible cover-ups. For any readers who are not familiar with the term darning, this is how jeans were repaired from the turn of the century up until the 1960’s.
Using a machine rather than patching, the machine has two threads, both indigo coloured (or black/gray for black denim), and essentially creates denim where there is no denim. It weaves it into the edges of the torn fabric – a bit like magic and far cleaner looking than patching.
Through Darn-It!, Rain only works on the best vintage machines – two different types of 1950s Singer Darning Machines: Brother E-40 Industrial Sewing machine, a vintage 43200G Union Special Chainstitching Machine, and a 1920s Steel Kick Press.
To complement these relics, the entire studio is kitted out in vintage furniture, record players, and pieces from all over the world. And as you’d expect, Rain is in high demand. On any day she has in excess of a hundred pairs of jeans ready for hem or repair. Working round the clock with the help from some KISS tunes turned all the way up to eleven, Rain hems, repairs and sends out up to 30 pairs of jeans everyday. As big fans, we got in touch with her to find out more about her services, inspirations:
WGSN: How long have you been doing repairs for and how did you get into denim repair?
RD: “I’ve been repairing denim for about three years. I’ve been sewing for as long as I can remember, but I really started getting into menswear – and especially denim – when I was studying fashion design in college. I became interested in fashion because of how much I love of the act of sewing itself- and I moved to San Francisco on a mission to find out how to do that for a living. I met Kiya Babzani of Self Edge while I was sewing for a contract tailor, and within the same week we opened Darn-it!, a stand-alone full-blown tailor shop for Self Edge. I had almost no experience using the machinery I now consider to be attached at the hip with, but I picked it up very quickly. What keeps me going after almost three years of repairing jeans is to constantly challenge myself with new and better ways of repairing. Through my blog Indigo Proof, I am able to see my own progress and posting it for everyone to see pushes me to continue to improve on my methods.”
WGSN: What do you love most about working with denim?
“To begin with, everything! I love the weight of denim, and the thickness of the fabric itself; the way a stitch pierces the twill, and the way that stitch integrates itself into the fibers of the weave. I love jeans. I love taking jeans apart and putting them together stronger and better than before while celebrating the original construction. One of the best parts of my job is being able to see every stage of the way denim ages, and the way it evolves into a spectrum of indigo. Denim that is “raw” is amazing because it reflects where a person has gone and what they have done by the patterns of fading.”
WGSN: Whats been the toughest/most interesting restoration to date? – please reference/link to photo of the repair (that recent naked and famous space dye repair was insane btw!!)
“There have definitely been a lot of interesting repairs in my time. That rainbow Naked and Famous repair you mentioned was fun because I had no idea how the repair would integrate. The darning actually wove the rainbow back in! The most challenging repair still to this day is a pair of Iron Heart 634SR.
“Hands down the most time-intensive repair I’ve ever done– these were worn so hard. They are still so heavy and stiff, this denim is a little over 21 oz and incredibly difficult to work with. The guy who owns them works in an auto shop and to wash them he scrubs and hoses them down outside! I have repaired them twice in the past two and a half years, and it is so cool to see them each time and watch how the repairs become part of the jean and can wear as hard as the denim itself.
“Another thing I’ll mention about interesting repairs is I use indigo rope-dyed thread frequently for first repairs on jeans. One of my absolute favorite things about getting jeans back six months or a year down the line is seeing how that indigo thread fades perfectly with the jean! It is seamless and beautiful and it still blows me away every time.”
WGSN: With some of your repairs you manage to seamlessly restore them without a trace of the damage. How long does a repair generally take and what is the process to achieving this?
“Repairs can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a few days of work. The pair of Iron Hearts I mentioned earlier took me about two and a half full days of work! However, on average, a repair takes me about an hour from start to finish. Darning is amazing because it is not about just fixing a hole or making a jean “not broken anymore.” It is about putting structure and stability back into a worn area so the jean can withstand more wear.
“When I begin a repair, I go through a laundry list of questions in my head- is the jean heavy or thin? Has it been repaired before? Are there areas that need reinforcement? What hardware needs to be removed to access the area that needs repair? Most importantly – how can I make sure to address the wear pattern that creates holes to prevent future damage from happening? I pay attention to things like grain lines, types of seams, and thread colors to respect the identity of the jean and how it was constructed. Actually knowing how a jean is put together is how I know how to repair it correctly.”
WGSN: You work on vintage singer darning and union special machines, what is it about these old machines that beats using modern machines of today?
“I use a 1950’s era Singer 47W70 darning machine for repairs, and there is just no other machine quite like it. It can be temperamental at its worst because of its age and how much I use it, but it is simply the best way to repair denim. The machine itself is fairly basic, but so much of how the machine sews is controlled by the operator. The speed at which you sew correlates with the stitch length and you can sew in any direction since the foot is free. This machine is so special though because you can stitch two edges of a hole together, and sew where there is no fabric. I love the 47W70 so much I have a chainstitch embroidered portrait of it on my jacket.
I use a Union Special 43200G for hemming jeans at Darn-it! because it is the most appropriate machine for working on the jeans Self Edge sells. The majority of Japanese denim brands and many American brands continue to use this machine in production because this is the same machine Levi’s used in the “golden age” of denim– the 1940’s-60’s.”
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