Sunday, 26 February 2017

I'll be your mirror: LVC's lefty 1976 jeans

I'll update this post later, but I told friends I'd post photos of the pair of LVC 1976 mirror jeans that I was privileged to open in the mail recently.

The inspiration came when Cone Mills decided to put back into service an old G Series loom that was on display in their reception (I photographed the loom during my visit and will try and locate the photo soon). The loom still had a bolt of fabric, which it was weaving just before the venerable machine's retirement. Levi's staff were overjoyed and talked of making some jeans from the deadstock fabric - before realising it was a left-hand twill. Levi's 501 is famously right-hand twill. How could they turn from left to right? Easy! Make these mirror image jeans.

There are, I've been told, around a dozen pairs using the original fabric. I was lucky enough to be in the office around the time they came up with the idea. The kind, crazy people offered me a pair... and unlike so many people in the planet followed up on their promise. So these are one of a dozen or so pairs using the deadstock fabric.

It was strange for me to open up a pack with these jeans, as they are so strongly evocative of so many new pairs I've owned. They're a very authentic cut, as the pattern was taken from a deadstock pair of originals  - when taking a pattern from worn, washed jeans, more guestimates are obviously involved. There will be a limited edition of 501 mirror jeans, using fabric which replicates the original run. And the other good news is there will be a regular reissue of the right hand twill version, at a lower price. These are a very distinctive shape, high waisted, carrot shape - a cut which I reckon is very popular right now. Makes a great change from the usual 50s and 60s shapes, and it will be fascinating to see how all versions, using the deadstock and the repro fabric, look as they wear in.

The G series loom was used for training. Hence the deadstock fabric has loom errors, presumably from when it was set up to demonstrate how to configure a left hand twill. So actually, these are MOSTLY left hand twill!

Monday, 2 January 2017

Toyoda and the Japanese industrial revolution

Toyoda Model G loom, Science Museum, London

In previous posts I've discussed Toyoda looms in relation to the silly myth that Japanese denim mills somehow acquired "old Levi's looms", a claim that was first used in relation to Evisu.

But Toyoda looms are fascinating for many reasons. Not only are they still weaving some of the world's finest denim today, at Kurabo, Nihon Menpu and many other mills, they also mark the birth of Japanese industry.

In Japan, the career of Sakichi Toyoda is justly celebrated. Sakichi first developed a power loom around 1897; this design was further developed by  Kiichiro Toyoda, with Rizo Suzuki and Risaburo Oshimo, who eventually perfected the design as the Toyoda Model G loom, in July 1924. "Automatic" means that the loom changes shuttles - the large bobbins which carry the white, 'fill' yarn for denim - automatically, which allows a single operator to supervise 12 or 20 looms, rather than one or two.

Toyoda Model G looms at the Kurabo mill, Kurashiki
Toyoda looms at the Kurabo Mill, Kurashiki
Other manufacturers, including the Draper Corporation, had already developed Automatic Looms, notably the Draper Northrop, produced as early as 1897 but which seems to have only become widespread after 1915 or so. But the Toyoda G apparently allowed for bobbin change with the loom still running, it was reputedly more reliable and physically compact than its rivals, and included a failsafe mechanism, which meant the operator couldn't insert the bobbin in the wrong configuration. Consequently, it became one of the first Japanese industrial designs to be widely exported, thanks to a partnership with Britain's Pratt Brothers, a huge producer of textiles machinery, who licensed the design.

The profits generated by the Model G helped finance the development of a motor car, and the creation of what we know today as the Toyota industrial corporation. The Model G's significance is marked by the inclusion of an early model in a prominent location at London's Science Museum. The Model G loom shown here is the one in London.

It's hard to know how many Model G looms are still in operation; I know they are still in use at Nihon Menpu (a historic photo here shows them in the mill in the 1920s). Toyoda shuttle looms are in use at most of the well-known Japanese mills, most of which will have a combination of older and newer machinery. The growth of Kurabo, once of Japan's biggest textiles producers, was powered by Toyoda; period photos show dozens of Model G looms in the factory, alongside imported machinery, by Pratt Brothers and others. We know that the fabric for the first Evisu jeans was made on Toyoda looms at Kurabo - so as well as helping launch the industrial revolution in Japan, powering one of the country's key export successes, the Toyoda Model G was crucial to today's fascination with selvedge denim.

Automatic Bobbin Change mechanism
Toyoda looms at Nihon Menpu, circa 1920s.

The exterior of Kurabo Mill in Kurasghiki, an industrial giant powered by Toyoda.

The Platt Toyoda-licensed loom, built in Oldham.