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Follow the Seam by Nigel Roth


As the USA finds itself fighting another civil war, this time to protect black citizens from institutional violence rather that to free them from the horror of American slavery, there is a seam running through every protest.

At first you might think it's a weak seam, but this one has been reinforced over generations, rivet by rivet, by rivet.

It began some time at the very end of the Middle Ages, when a sarta emerged from the back room of her workshop in Genoa and declared to anyone who would listen that she’d created a new material to beat off competition from her French counterparts. Proud of her accomplishment, she imagined the French market going bananas over her new product.

Those French counterparts worked hard to challenge this original, and came very close, and the tailleur in Nimes would have been just as excited to debut his own creation.

For her French customers, she called her material simply Genes, after her hometown. And in reply, he called his product de Nimes, after his.

And so, five hundred years of historic symbolism began with Italian sailors splicing the mainbrace in their jeans and French farmers swigging their saison in a pair of denim slacks.

From that point forward, jeans have always been with us. And, if you examine any of the photos from the recent protests you’ll see them being worn by protesters on all sides; peaceful marchers expressing thoughtful ideas, looters and trouble-makers, Facist counter-protesters, and those cause-oblivious people apparently drinking coffee as the throng passed them.

And yet, if I said paint your living room denim blue, you’d more than likely balk at the idea; that colour probably wouldn’t be your first choice for easy material and furniture matching, or complimentary accessorizing.

But when it comes to jeans they're apparently essential, as they match with just about everything. Imagine your closet without them. No sailor could; no farmer could, and no North American could, after 1871.

That’s because a Latvian drebnieks called Jacob Youphes, who arrived in the US in 1854, created the jeans you’re wearing today. While working in San Francisco making horse blankets and miners’ tents, he was asked to make some hard-working pants for a hard-working hardwood wood-worker, which he duly did, with a bolt of material from an acquaintance called Levi Strauss. Soon, they were in business together, using Youphe’s (who Anglicised his name to Davis, rather like Friedrich Trumpf did when he arrived from Bavaria some years later) patented copper riveting to strengthen the seams.

While the modern spelling of ‘jeans’ is down to the Swiss merchant Jean-Gabriel Eynard, who coined the phrase ‘bleu de Genes’, the stage wa