Introducing: JackKnife of San Francisco

Revolver loves the natural qualities of denim and we're always excited about new people doing new things in San Francisco with this line. Paying homage to the big guys LEVIS and moving things forward in their own way. 

JackKnife is a new denim brand based out of San Francisco. We sat down with the guys behind the new line to see where things are headed and why they are different.

Tell us about the birth of JackKnife? 

Jack/Knife for Nick and I has been a evolution of sorts. In the experimental days of college we got it in our heads that most people in modern society are spectators of life and we wanted to participate instead. I can’t remember an exact date and time, but there was definitely a moment that both of us can distinctly remember when we first had the thought of “let’s just do it.” The next week we bought a motorcycle that wasn’t running, and a cheap little home sewing machine from the local shop. We wanted to rebuild the bike, and start sewing our own clothes. Everyone told us we had gone crazy. Somehow we got the bike started that night, but it took us a little while to learn the ropes on the sewing machine.  No one seemed to know how to teach us to sew, so we had to teach ourselves. The first thing we learned to make was a four-fold tie, which we didn’t know at the time is actually very complicated sewing. It took months to figure out but we muscled through the frustration. 

After that came bandannas to tie around our face on dusty rides through the back country roads on the motorcycles. Bags came around to carry our tools, heavy selvedge denim jeans were first made so we could ride motorcycles in pants that wouldn’t rip, and it has grown from there. Now we operate in a work studio in the old garment district of San Francisco. We take pride in doing everything ourselves. These days there are very few operations left that design, draft patterns, and construct all in house like we do at Jack/Knife. We are growing everyday and there is a lot to look forward to in the future.

Why start with Denim - one of the more complicated pieces of apparel to make? 

When Nick and i first started working with selvedge denim fabrics we had no idea that jeans were considered complicated. All we knew at the time is we needed to buy industrial grade machines to handle the sewing of heavy denim. The great thing about our mindset, especially with Nick, is we never like to start a project thinking about obstacles. We like to be challenged. There definitely was about a year long period of developing our process for jeans, but we are really happy with the quality of our jeans to date. The jeans are undoubtedly the standout feature of our collection. 

After speaking you in person - its clear that fabric takes a central role in your shirting, pants and accessories? What is your approach to sourcing? 

Since becoming so intimately involved with the actual construction of pieces, we have since learned that such a large part of the quality of clothing lies in the choice of fabric. You can use the most pain-staking laborious techniques in the construction phase, but if your fabric is no good then your finished product will reflect the same. 

Sourcing fabrics is even harder than sourcing the rare industrial machines needed for proper production. Luckily early on we were able to acquire an account with Cone Mills out of North Carolina. We also have a wonderful relationship with a denim buyer who is able to give us access to selvedge fabrics from the Kaihara, Kurabo, and Nisshinbo Mills in the Okayama Valley of Japan. We are at a point now where we we can be selective in the choice of fabrics used. Almost all of the fabrics we use in the Jack/Knife studios are selvedge and hand woven on old school wooden shuttle looms. The types of fabrics we use most commonly are denim, canvas, and chambray selvedge fabrics from Japan and Cone Mills.  

Just last week we were able to source a good size roll of a heavy slubby left hand twill denim from Japan with a unlined selvedge edge. I am really in love with this particular roll of denim at the moment because it is somehow very thick and heavy, but has an incredibly soft hand due to the left hand twill weave. I could write all day about the fabric. All of us in the Jack/Knife gang are border line obsessive about learning the weave types, thread counts, dyeing methods, etc of the fabrics. We commonly give tours of the studios to share the stories of all the different fabrics. 

You guys mentioned doing construction of homes, etc? How does your past construction work etc influence and dicate your current craft? 

Nick grew up building homes as a teenager. He used to go in to build sites with grid paper, rulers, and everything else needed to map out the framework for houses that his then boss built in wealthy neighborhoods. Together with his boss he would lay out all the walls and doors in the house, and then actually help frame these houses. In the construction of houses, there is so much focus placed on the integrity of the frame. This sort of focus has transferred over into theJack/Knife studio. When we approach the design of a new piece, it is with this influence of architecture and construction. And we constantly stress that all of our pieces should be as attractive and structurally sound on the inside as they are on the outside. 

You guys seem to have a pretty close relationship with Levis, Levis XX, Cone - Tell us more about that? 

All of us at Jack/Knife certainly respect very much Levi’s influence in the world of denim. And during our time in San Francisco we have established wonderful relationships with different members of the Levi’s and Levi’s XX teams. Levi’s real influence for us came in the beginning stages of our growth, when we looked to the 1947 Lot 501 jean for inspiration. I think everyone enters the world of denim under the shadow cast by Levi’s rich historically significant timeline. Nowadays though Jack/Knife looks for inspiration from more obscure operations. Personally I really am impressed these days by Kapital, Edwin, Baldwin, Imogene and Willie, Loren Cronk, Beams+, and Tender. 

We are closer with Cone Mills out of North Carolina though more than Levi’s. Cone is the only mill in America that still uses the hand operated wooden shuttle looms that weave the types of fabrics used in the Jack/Knife work shop. 

For the denim heads: We noticed that you don't chainstitch the bands, hems etc? Do you think people are a little too over concerned about chain stitching parts of denim without really understanding the benefits/disadvantages of the different types of stitches? 

So much of the denim world has been consumed with the buzz of chain stitching. There is a great deal of inaccurate information floating around the different circles as to why only chain stitching should be used. Someone has started a nasty rumor that “roping” on the hems of jeans can only be caused by chain stitching. All of the jeans that I wear today are single needle stitch construction entirely throughout, and I have beautiful roping on every single pair. 

I do admit that the underside of a chain stitch is very beautiful, but there is a critical trait to a chain stitch that we at Jack/Knife do not like. There is a thread in the weave of a chain stitch that if broken can unravel the entire stitch from start to end. Unlike a straight stitch, which can not really “unravel,” a pair of jeans constructed with chain stitching can literally be pulled to pieces with just your fingers. This unraveling is not frequent, but it does happen sometimes with the chain stitch. The seams in Jack/Knife jeans are all bound in a cotton twill that prevents any of this type of unraveling or fraying in the pants. We do offer chain stitching if requested, but we always try to express our love of single needle construction jeans. 

Lastly we found it pretty encouraging that you guys were exploring washes - a lot of denim brands in SF are focused on entirely raw jeans. While great - we think washes can be done tastefully and beautifully. We'd like to hear more about your explorations into washing? 

Washing and distressing fabrics is one of Jack/Knife’s newest ventures. None of us had ever considered the idea of pre-washing garments until recently. Awhile ago we sourced a hemp/cotton blend selvedge chambray from Japan for our new series of work-shirts, and discovered on accident that the fabric is undeniably more beautiful after washing. We are in the experimental phases of distressing and pre-washing, but we are having a hell of a fun time addingJack/Knife’s character to our first series of shirts. 

Loren Cronk out of Brooklyn, NY is a huge inspiration in this regard. He does beautiful work in the way of distressing and pre-washing. The philosophy in his studio is that each pair of jeans he makes and distresses should be considered a piece of art. We try to apply the same mindset in the Jack/Knife work shop. 

What's next for JackKnife? 

What all of us at Jack/Knife are looking forward to most at the moment is jeans for women. We are still in the fabric sourcing phase but there has been a lot of development already in the way of design. 

There is a lot to happening already in 2012. We are launching an online shop at the end of January, which will feature our barn coat, two styles of jeans, the work shirt, ties, bandannas, bags, and a type of wallet. A video production team out of NYC is coming to the the work shop at the end of the month to shoot a short-film style video of us that will be featured on our website. There is a badass Moto-Jacket in the prototype stage that I am excited to see develop in the next couple of months. We have started a denim apprenticeship and that has already brought a wonderful addition to the Jack/Knife family.Jack/Knife as an operation is growing everyday, and there is a great deal of very fulfilling work ahead.

Expect lots from these guys. More on Jack Knife

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