Learning how to distress jeans on your own can help you save money, as these are pretty costly. Distressed types of jeans were the trendiest in the ‘70s, but a fashion item as cool, versatile, and classic as this always comes back in the picture. In fact, you'll always find many stores selling and brands creating distressed denim pants, skirts, and shorts.
How to Distress Jeans
With the distressed jeans look, it’s best to work on your old clothes or purchase used ones at thrift stores. They’re also easier to work on since the fabric is already a little softer than usual. With that in mind, below are the items you need for this project and the steps we recommend you follow.
The tools and materials you need to prepare on how to distress jeans are easy to find. You most likely have them in your sewing or arts and crafts arsenal already. If none, they’re not expensive, so you can purchase them anytime.
- Safety pins
- Chalk or pencil
- Fine sandpaper
- Protective gloves
- Old magazine, newspaper, or cardboard
- Bleach (optional)
- Coffee or tea (optional)
- Unused paintbrush (optional)
- Patch or other embellishments (optional)
Now that you’ve prepared all the items required on how to distress jeans, it’s time to start working on your piece of clothing. Make sure you have a well-lit working space so that you can clearly see what you’re working on.
Below is one of the methods of distressing your jeans that you can easily follow and master.
Step #1 - Fade (Optional)
Most distressed jeans have faded areas as part of their style. If the item you’ll work on isn’t that old, you can create a faded look through different methods. Choose the technique that works best for you. You may also skip this step and proceed to step 1.A or step two of how to distress jeans, depending on your preference.
Fade with Bleach
Bleaching is simply the quickest method to make any fabric dye fade. Just make sure you follow the steps below, so you don’t end up with white or beige jeans.
- Use protective gloves, glasses and old clothes when doing any bleaching. Ensure you are in a well ventilated area.
- Prepare a bleach solution by mixing one part of water and one part of bleach.
- Take a paintbrush and dip it in the solution.
- Start brushing through the jeans’ areas that usually fade. That can be the knees and pockets.
- Let the bleach sit for a few hours, at most 24 hours, depending on how light you want the areas to appear. Make sure you check your jeans every hour or so to prevent overbleaching them.
- Approximately an hour before the kind of fading you want, brush the seams with the bleach solution and let it sit for an hour.
- Wash and dry the jeans.
You may also soak the jeans in the bleach solution you prepared if you want the whole fabric to lighten. Just make sure you check the jeans more frequently than the method we discussed above to ensure you achieve the ideal faded color.
Fade with Sun Exposure
Allowing your jeans to fade under the sun takes time but is an excellent natural method for the fading step of the process of how to distress jeans. That is especially if you’re too afraid to bleach them or you think bleaching is too harsh. All you’ve to do are as follows:
- Wash your denim item using hot water.
- Let it dry under the sun for two to three days, ensuring you check how faded they look so you don’t overdo it.
Another way to make your denim look old is by giving it a patina look. Patina is the gold luster you see on your old jeans, usually caused by the absorbed skin oil and other environmental factors. The best way to do so is by using coffee or tea, and follow these steps:
- Prepare hot tea or coffee.
- Pour it into a small, shallow pan.
- Soak the areas of the denim that you want to have patina. The best ones would be the back pockets and knees.
- Check your jeans every ten minutes to see if you’ve already achieved the patina look that you desire. Just keep in mind that it appears darker than usual because your jeans are wet. Thus, stop the process once you achieve a patina that is one shade darker than what you really want.
- Wash and dry your jeans as usual, and then proceed to the next steps of the process on how to distress jeans.
Step #2 - Mark
Some tutorials on how to distress jeans suggest that you lay the item on a flat surface, but we recommend wearing it instead. This way, you can easily identify the jeans’ parts.
Stand in front of a mirror and decide which parts of your jeans you want to distress. We suggest the hems, seams, thighs, and knees for a more natural look. Next, mark or line the areas using chalk or a pencil. They don’t need to be straight lines, again, for a more natural look.
Step #3 - Prepare
Take off the jeans and start preparing them for the next steps. Place a sheet of magazine, newspaper, or cardboard in between the fabric to prevent cutting through the other layer of the fabric. It will also ensure you maintain an even surface while working.
Put on your working gloves to protect your hands and fingers throughout the process of how to distress jeans.
Step #4 - Slit, Slice, or Cut
With your cutter or scissors, start cutting, slicing, or slitting through the lines you’ve created earlier, ensuring you don’t cut through the seams. Try to maintain a ½ inch (12mm) width in between each slit, cut, or slice. It’s also best for them to have different lengths for a more authentic distressed look.
Step #5 - Refine
Take your safety pin and start teasing through the threads that came off the cut, slit, or sliced area. To do so, carefully pull out the threads using the pin’s sharp edge. Ensure you don’t break the threads.
Next, take your tweezers to pull apart the fray-eyed areas for a more distressed look. Read my article on how to fray fabric for more tips and tricks to get unique frayed looks.
Step #6 - Adjust
Wear your jeans and check on the exposed threads and frayed edges to see if you’re happy with how they look. If not, take the jeans off and proceed with the adjustment step of how to distress jeans. Take the sandpaper and carefully rub off the edges or threads.
Step #7 - Add Details (Optional)
Get your scissors and start trimming some of the top seams around the jeans’ waistline, bottom hemline, and pockets. By doing so, you can give your clothing a more rugged look.
If you want a softer, distressed style, use sandpaper or razor to remove bits of cotton around the waistline, on the pockets, and on the edges. Carefully rubbing or shaving those areas will lighten the color.
You can also add embellishments to give your jeans a more classic style. Sewing in patches in some parts of the jeans would be perfect. You can also intentionally create a hole in one of the distressed areas and place the patch under it.
Step #8 - Wash and Dry
Machine wash your jeans to give them a more natural-looking frizz. Do the process twice for a better look or style.
How To Distress Jeans - Tips & Tricks
Following the different steps of how to distress jeans won’t be enough to succeed in this project. There are also things to keep in mind, and some of the most important ones are listed below.
- Practice - If it’s your first time distressing jeans, it’s best to practice on a piece of fabric first. Consider doing this a few times to ensure you already got the hang of it, especially since you need to apply the right amount of pressure.
- Plan and Work Slowly - Remember that in the process of how to distress jeans, you’ll rip, cut, or put holes on the jeans so you won’t be able to correct any errors. Although the irregularity and worn or torn look is part of the style, overdoing it can make you look ridiculous instead of stylish. That’s why planning what parts of the cloth to distress and distressing it carefully are essential.
- Forget Perfection - Imperfection has always been part of arts; being creative means breaking some rules. When it comes to how to distress pants, it doesn’t matter if the distressed knee area on the right leg of the pants is the same as the other leg’s knee and the like. It’s also okay if one side has more distressed parts than the other.
How to Distress Jeans - In Conclusion
Bring out not just the rocker or the punk in you but also your creativity by distressing your own jeans! Distressed jeans will never run out of style because you can always pair them with any top and footwear. It is also one of the best ways of recycling your old or almost-worn out jeans.
What’s even better? You can also apply the steps and tips on how to distress jeans we discussed above on any piece of denim that you want to work on. Whether that may be a jacket, shorts, skirts, or mini-dresses, go ahead and add some style to them!