The adventure into the world of quality heritage denim can, for many, be a slippery slope, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? Many of us will have dipped our toes into the indigo waters by trying a comfortable mid weight denim, which forgoes elastics, synthetics and cheap labour, in favour of durability, consideration, and timeless style. But once you know the feeling of a great pair of jeans on your legs, it can be hard to look back at your wardrobe in the same way. Quality denim in the 21st Century is built on tradition and legend, mapping the social and political landscapes of the last 150 years, and throwing up certain expectations, from consumers in search of quality, and the perfect fit. One name which is never far from a denim enthusiasts’ lips, is the almost mythical ‘Union Special 43200G’ chain stitch sewing machine.
So what is the 43200G, and how did it earn its place in denim’s rich history? Let’s take a look.
Beginning its life in the early years of the 20th Century, the ‘Union Special Sewing Machine Company’ of Huntley, Illinois, developed the 43200G as a bag-sealing machine for rapid industrial use, but it wasn’t long before it found its true calling. Levi’s, Wrangler, Lee, and Carhartt all knew that the best way to hem their early model jeans was with this machine, and this machine only. Inspired by the roping effect achieved by this unique chain stitch hemming machine, the Levi Strauss Company used the first generation models of the 43200G throughout the golden age of their denim production, until cheaper, more cost efficient options were made available to the quickly expanding business. Their need to produce clothes for the masses soon resulted in the machine falling out of favour, but here at Son of a Stag, we’ve kept our collection of vintage machines ticking along nicely.
The beauty of these machines is simple; A folding device allows the hem to be fed into the jaws of this denim behemoth, while an incredibly powerful presser foot holds your jeans in place. Following this, a delicate balance of tensions in the upper and lower threads creates a chain which offsets the hem, and causes those incredible roping effects which have become so beloved within heritage denim. And, while modern machines have tried to replicate this result, none have even gotten close. Legend has it that ‘Union Special’ ceased production of the 43200G simply because it became too expensive to build, resulting in a machine which is now as rare as it is indispensable. And that reasoning seems sound; these machines were built to withstand the end of the world! A solid body houses an intricate system of loops, hooks, and thread paths, which run together on such a knife’s edge of margin of error, that it is almost poetic, and while much of a tailor’s skill lies in the precision of the hand, or the placement of a stitch, this is really one situation where it pays to have the right tools!
At Son of a Stag, we pride ourselves in putting in the leg work to find the very best denim manufacturers from Japan, and the U.S.A, and take the time to consider every piece in our inventory, to make sure that the quality stands above all others. Every jean which we alter for our customers goes through one of our collection of trusty 43200G machines, maintained in our dedicated workshop, and what’s more, we offer complimentary chain stitching on any jean bought from us for the duration of its life.
So, if like us you want the very best from your denim, then why not treat it to the best, with the Union Special 43200G, denim’s original work horse!