Union Special — Denim Repair at Self Edge


I met with Tyler at Self Edge to find out why the Union Special makes a hem pucker like it does. A little background: the Union Special hemming machine is what was used on pre-1950s Levi jeans, and those jeans have a visible twisting pattern at the bottom of the pant leg. Today, most raw denim makers create jeans in a cut and style is inspired by those vintage jeans—and in some cases they’re making very close reproductions. But the pant leg on most new denim needs to be hemmed (every pair of denim you’d find at Self Edge is very, very long so that it can be hemmed to the buyer’s exact leg length), and so even if the denim maker uses a Chain Stitch machine on the original factory hem, you’d lose that puckering and twisting when you purchased the denim and had it hemmed to your length. The solution: Self Edge’s chain stitch machines which are found in all four stores (LA, NYC, SF, & PDX) and are called on for the in-store hemming of newly purchased jeans.


To describe the specific attribute of the Union Special that results in a chain stitch that puckers and twists, Tyler tells me a story from when they opened the PDX store:

“When we first came to the area we had a really good mechanic come by and do some work for us. As he was leaving he told us that the machines we had worked fine, but they weren’t the best for hemming a pant leg, and he felt really bad for us because he didn’t think we knew what we were doing, and that we had all the wrong machinery for this sort of hemming work.

“He knew our Union Special was creating a feed differential: the top and bottom layers of fabric were being fed into the machine at different rates, and a natural puckering was occurring.  When the material is being fed through it’s the feed dogs that are pulling it through, but they only pull on the bottom piece of fabric and the top fabric isn’t being pulled so it goes into the machine at a slightly slower pace. The roping comes from this feed differential, but the Union Special in particular because its feed differential is so dramatic. And then after time it fades and the pattern at the bottom of the pant leg becomes really crazy and nice and dramatic.

“The differential is a defect, yes, and that’s why these aren’t used any more. That’s what our mechanic was concerned about. He thought we blew a bunch of money on an old faulty machine. But that’s  testament to how complicated it is to achieve the correct details. The way we’re doing things isn’t the easiest, but it produces results closest to how it was done in the golden era of jeans, and that’s what we’re dedicated to. These models of Union Specials were used on the Lee and Levi jeans in the 50s and 60s and so that’s what people want when they’re trying to reproduce the look of that era’s denim.”


Hemming is complimentary if you purchased your denim at Self Edge, otherwise it’s $25. They also provide repairs for $40 ($20 if it was purchased at the store), which covers all repairs to a single pair of denim, which I took advantage of to repair a crotch blowout, leg blowout, three loose seams, and a torn back pocket on my old Blue Blue’s. And they darned two medium sized hole in the thigh with their 1950′s Singer Darning machine (seen above). All for $40:


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