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The Denim (contrast) Thread

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Obnoxiously beautiful flat felled seam with my Union Special 35800 DN. I'm practising on duck canvas because it is much cheaper to pracise on than Japanese selvedge denim.

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All the machines in my fleet are industrial machines which have been operating in factories. To give you an idea, the Singer 299 eyelet buttonholer -- according to its service manual -- is supposed to be lubricated every day, or every 2000 buttonholes. Some factories operate two or three shifts a day, which means these machines are operated around the clock. It is not rare for these machines to have made millions of buttonholes by the time they reach this age.

 

One of the consumables which require replacement are the motor bearings and the clutch pads and brake pads. You know it is time when the motor is making a lot of noise. About eight of the machines in my fleet require such a refurbishment of the clutch motor. It costs about RM200 to have this done by a professional sewing machine mechanic, but having met several of these mechanics, I haven't the confidence it will be done well. Firstly, I don't know if they will use good ball bearings from NSK or NTN or if they will use the cheap ones from China. Secondly, I am not sure if they will fully replace all the cork pads or do just the minimum necessary. All the work takes place within the motor housing, so I cannot check what they have left undone.

 

So I think I might do it myself. When the refurbishment on the motor is done right, it will run really well for a long, long time since I am not operating anything remotely like a factory. My output might be 1/500th of a factory's. It's worth doing it well because these motors are built to a high standard, and replacing these consumables will make them run like new for a very long time. There is also a certain satisfaction that comes from it.

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Bought some ball bearings today. The spare parts shop owner asked me: Japanese or cheap ones? I said Japanese.

 

I imagine a sewing machine mechanic would say, cheap ones will do! Then the spare parts shop owner will dig some out, and say to him: RM5 per piece. And the mechanic will say, HAR?! A few months ago was RM4.50! Then the spare parts guy will say, oh, say lah you want the cheapest one and then goes to the back and digs out the RM4.50 bearings.

 

The sewing machine shop charges me RM30/bearing, which happens to be the official retail price for NSK made in Japan bearings. There are two bearings for the clutch side of the motor, so RM60. Except it is unlikely any NSK bearings will be used. Neither will any ethnic Chinese be involved in the refurbishment. They have Myanmar nationals to do such tasks, twenty-something guys who just 4 months ago were underemployed in their villages and whose mothers would not allow them into the kitchen and whose fathers wouldn't allow them to repair the family bicycle. The shop proprietor will yell at them, "Tukar bearing, tengok clutch pad ada mau tukar, tak tau tanya Ah Seng!"

 

I was charged only RM10/bearing, which is a semi-wholesale price.

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I bought and installed a servo motor on one of the machines yesterday. It was something of an impulse buy: I was at the shop to buy some clutch pads, then asked about servo motors, and was offered a good price on one. RM500.

 

It took quite a while to install because of my lack of familiarity, but is really quite straightforward. Once you have experienced a servo motor, there is no going back to a clutch motor. I am wondering if I should continue with my clutch motor refurbishment project, or if I should just replace them all with servo motors (gradually, obviously, since they cost RM500 a pop).

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Visited a workshop under liquidation yesterday. They produced polo shirts and PVC bags in there, so there were the expected interlock and cylinder arm walking foot machines there. I saw a motorised rivet/button press there that I was keen on. I dealt with a young Malay guy of clear face and mind who told me he's the driver, and that the boss is in a building next door. After checking out the machines, he brought me to see the boss for price negotiations. He opened the door. I saw two ethnic Chinese women, seated, of no consequence. Where's the boss? I asked him. He pointed to the older woman. I couldn't believe she's a boss. I thought, she's of such low birth I wouldn't touch her with a pole. This business, as unremarkable as it is, was not built by this mediocre old woman.

 

After talking to her for a while, my initial impression of her was borne out. Actually, she reminded me very much of another old woman -- the wife of the garment factory owner in Ipoh from whom I bought 10 machines.

 

Human life is special in that within the space of a very short time -- typically less than 90 years -- you can rise and be greater than when you were born, or you can sink and be much worse than when you took your first breath as a baby. The old woman I saw yesterday, and the woman I saw in Ipoh were similar in that they declined, they enthropied as beings in the course of their 60+ years. All I saw was something not too dissimilar to a ghost. Let's call them borderline humans. Sink a little more, and they're in ghost territory.

 

Conversation with her was difficult, as all conversations are with ghosts. The negotiations were not successful.

 

Her brother built and ran the (small) business, but parked her there to "watch" over things. They've transitioned to a different business now (they did not take her along) and are winding up the old business. I think they would have done much better if they somehow parked her at home instead of the business premises. I talked to the driver, and he said the only thing the boss knows how to do is to sit in her chair.

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I went up to Ipoh yesterday to visit another workshop under liquidation. This is the third garment production facility undder liquidation I've visited. The reason they were being liquidated? The non-availability of cheap foreign labour.

 

I had no expectations going up to the workshop. What I've learnt is that each time I deal with a business proprietor in this industry, I learn a great deal: it expands my horizons, it gives me insight into how this business shapes a person and vice versa, and I often walk away with valuable contacts/leads on suppliers and service providers. Sometimes, I even walk away with a lorryful of machines. In this case, I found that the proprietor's price expectations are very high -- he's expecting nearly full retail on his machines, which is not what I want to pay. But so I did not go to Ipoh in vain, he sold me this 5-thread two-needle overlock machine for a very good price.

 

I had a great conversation with the Singh proprietor as he watched me disassemble the machine and the motor from the table. He makes Tshirts and polos shirts in bulk. He gave me the contact of his cotton pique supplier.

 

In the picture above, you see the 5-thread two-needle overlocker next to my three-thread single-needle overlocker. They are the same Taiwanese brand, but sew different kinds of stuff. One is a general use overlocker, the other (new acquisition) is more for Tshirts and polos. The picture shows the covers of he machine open in order to make visible how dirty it is. Every crevice stuffed with compacted lint. It is half a day's work to clean them out.

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I see no reason why Sava shouldn't do custom polo shirts. Different kinds of collars, long sleeve, short sleeve, etc. I need to do three things:

 

a) source the best cotton pique

b ) buy an interlock machine

c) park both the interlock machine and the 5-thread overlock machine with my shirtmaker.

 

Sounds so deceptively simple.

 

I imagine Sava would do a larger volume than JT. Reason being, JT is relevant to some people some of the time whereas Sava is relevant to all people all the time.

 

Do you see my thinking flaw in the above? Just like an engineer, my habitual bent of mind is to figure out how to make the product. I am seemingly blind to the fact that I can no longer be involved in the making, because there are too many things to be made. I should raise my thinking by one abstraction layer and figure out instead how to build the organisation that can make the product. But I may have no inclination nor talent in this sort of thinking.

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All the guys in the video above are capitalists and part of the Japanese denim cartell and are responsible for blocking new entrants and price fixing. The Flat Head founder said, oh, I don't know if we are making art or clothes. Well, to provide some resolution to his befuddledness, I'm telling him he is making mass manufactured clothes. He knows it too.

 

Whenever the chief executive of any globally-operating enterprise say something like, oh we're making art, you know he's lying through his teeth.

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An old customer asked me to make him a pair of jeans. I happen to know the background to his request. He ordered Ambrosi pants through The Armoury, and to thank him, they sent him a free pair of Armoury jeans.

Except, whoever they hired to do such things (a clerk) sent the customer a size that is identical to his waist measurement. Everybody knows that jeans are vanity sized, i.e. the nominal waist is actually 2" less than actual size. When the jeans arrived, the customer found it 2" too big in the waist.

Once the replacement arrived, he found the cut too skinny. But, his interest in jeans was awakened. He knows I am not organised to make jeans. But he was wondering if I can organise something for him.

So I did. The jeans above was cut by me from Cone Mills denim and was sewn by my bespoke trousermaker entirely on a single needle lockstitch machine.

I might start Sava this way.

 

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Another customer ordered jeans. 12oz. I forgot which Japanese mill produced this denim. Bought a while back.

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It's a promising start to single needle sewn jeans. No rivets and buttons yet. I'll try to get fit pics on the customer.

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I wonder if there is any additional value in a jeans whose waistband is a fixed circumference, i.e. completely stable. All jeans, when freshly laundered, have a smaller waist circumference. The stress from wearing it causes it to stretch, becoming loose. That's why with jeans, a belt is always necessary.

But due to the way I'm currently sewing jeans, it's possible to have an unstretchable waistband. Like in "normal" trousers.

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On 7/8/2018 at 11:16 PM, kotmj said:

Holy crap. The jeans above was made of selvedge denim woven at Cone Mills White Oak plant, which has been in continuous operation for 112 years. I just found out that they have closed. Forever. The last remaining denim mill in the USA is now no more.

https://www.heddels.com/2018/02/killed-cone-mills-white-oak-plant/

Heritage and the fanatical patriotism of Americans and all things "Made in USA" aside, I don't see how Cone fabric is superior to other commercially available denim in the market. Personally, I find the Kaihara fabric used by Uniqlo to be just as good, if not better.

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I totally agree about the fanatical patriotism. I have worn both the Kaihara selvedge by Uniqlo, and am wearing selvedge Cone Mills of my own confection.

I'm probably a bit older than most here, and as a child, I wore Levi's, as did most of my peers. If you are observant as I am, you'll have noticed that mass market jeans today are different from the past. The cotton wears into a fuzz. In the past, when denim wore down, it takes on almost a burnished look. No fuzz.

The Kaihara from Uniqlo was fuzzy from new until it was discarded. Its cheapness was apparent to me. In contrast, the Cone Mills is exactly the denim of my childhood.

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3 hours ago, kotmj said:

I totally agree about the fanatical patriotism. I have worn both the Kaihara selvedge by Uniqlo, and am wearing selvedge Cone Mills of my own confection.

I'm probably a bit older than most here, and as a child, I wore Levi's, as did most of my peers. If you are observant as I am, you'll have noticed that mass market jeans today are different from the past. The cotton wears into a fuzz. In the past, when denim wore down, it takes on almost a burnished look. No fuzz.

The Kaihara from Uniqlo was fuzzy from new until it was discarded. Its cheapness was apparent to me. In contrast, the Cone Mills is exactly the denim of my childhood.

I believe this is a result of a difference in the philosophy in terms of denim weaving.

Cone Mill are famous for weaving denim to be extremely consistent and dependable. The vanilla flavour of denim if you will.

Kaihara denim is woven on vintage Japanese looms and inconsistencies in the fabric are intentional/part of their character. 

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