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Denim is made from cotton, but people sometimes mistakenly believe denim is a separate material due to its distinctive image. Denim looks different from other cotton products because of the way it is woven and finished in factories. All cotton goods, including denim, are produced from the soft fiber that grows around the seeds of the cotton plant.

Weaving Process

Denim’s distinctive pattern is known as a twill weave. This is created using finely interwoven blue and white cotton yarns. The fabric pattern is constructed by alternately interlacing the two yarns to create a diagonal effect and produce the fine lines seen on denim jeans. Traditional cotton fiber can be twisted, woven and coiled to create a comfortable feel, but it is not spun in the diagonal pattern peculiar to denim.

Fabric Finish

Cotton and denim derive their different looks from way the fabric is treated during the factory production process. Denim can be pre-washed and sandblasted to create a worn appearance or sand-washed to give it a fashionably faded look. Other cotton goods are also bleached and dyed but to make them appear fresh and vibrant. Denim is typically dyed indigo, while cotton is dyed in all the colors of the rainbow.


Denim is used to make clothes, bags and occasionally covers for chairs and sofas. Cotton is used in a wider range of products including curtains, bedding, rugs, bookbinding cloth and tents. Denim is also perceived differently from other cotton goods. People associate it with jeans and casual clothing, while cotton is associated with a variety of products.


The origin of the word "denim" dates back to late 16th century France. It is an Americanization of the French word “serge de Nimes.” This material, used for making jeans, was a blend of silk and wool, although American weavers were making denim from locally produced cotton by the late 19th century. The history of traditional cotton goes back much further. Archaeologists have found cotton fabric estimated to be 5,000 years old in west Pakistan, according to the Denver Fabrics website.

About the Author

Elizabeth Burns

Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.