Learning how to distress jeans can help you save money and give you a unique pair of jeans with rips in just the right places. 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 distressed denim pants, skirts, and shorts. This tutorial will show you how to make distressed jeans with rips, bleach, frayed areas, and embellishments.
How to Distress Jeans Tutorial
With the distressed jeans look, it’s best to work on your old jeans or purchase used ones at thrift stores. They’re easier to work on since the fabric is already a little softer than usual. If you purchase new jeans to distress, wash them a few times first to soften them and to ensure they won't shrink further after distressing.
With that in mind, below are the items you need for this project and the steps we recommend you follow for distressing jeans.
The tools and materials you need to prepare for distressing jeans are easy to find. You most likely have them in your sewing or arts and crafts arsenal already. Most of these are inexpensive if you need to purchase them.
- Cutting Tools - Razor, cutter, scissors
- Distressing Tools - Tweezers, fine sandpaper
- Marking Tools - Safety pins, chalk or pencil
- Protective Tools - Protective gloves, old magazines, newspaper, or cardboard.
- Jean Coloring Tools - Bleach, coffee or tea, unused paintbrush
- Patch or other embellishments
Now that you’ve prepared all the items required 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 jeans that you can easily follow and master.
How to Distress Jeans, Step by Step Instructions
Step 1 - Fade the Jeans
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 3 different methods. Choose the technique that works best for you.
How to Fade Jeans 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.
Safety First - 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. Read the safety instructions on the bleach bottle first.
- Take a paintbrush and dip it in the solution. Start brushing through the areas of the jeans that usually fade. That can be the side seams, knees, and pockets. To get different shades of fading, brush bleach at different times. The areas that have bleach on them the longest will be the palest.
- 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.
- Wash and dry the jeans.
You may also soak the DIY distressed 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 true 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. (Hot water will take out some more of the dye but be aware that it can also shrink the jeans if they are new.)
- Let it dry under the sun for two to three days, ensuring you check how faded they look so you don’t overdo it.
How to Give Jeans a Patina (Yellow Look)
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 following 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 areas 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. 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.
How to Stonewash Jeans
Stone washing gives a naturally distressed color to your jeans using a pumice stone. This can be done by hand washing the jeans and rubbing them with the stones. Pumice can be found at garden centers or even chemists.
Once you have hand-washed your jeans, wash them a second time to remove any residue from the stone. You may have to repeat the pumice wash a couple of times to get your desired distressing.
Step 2 - Mark the Areas to Rip or Cut
Some tutorials on how to distress jeans suggest that you lay the item on a flat surface to mark them, but we recommend wearing them instead. This way, you can easily identify the jeans’ parts you want to distress further.
- 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 for a more natural look.
- 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.
Step 4 - Slit, Slice, or Cut Jeans
Put on your working gloves to protect your hands and fingers throughout the process of how to distress jeans.
- With your cutter or scissors, start slicing 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. It’s also best for them to have different lengths for a more authentic distressed look.
How to Distress Jeans with a Cheese Grater
A cheese grater can be used to create rough areas of distressing on the jeans. Place a small cutting board in between the layers of denim. A piece of cardboard is not usually enough to protect the other side.
Rub the grater against the denim in one direction with a consistent amount of pressure. Keep rubbing until you are satisfied with the amount of jean distressing.
Step 5 - Fray the Jeans
Take a safety pin or seam ripper 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. Removing the blue threads will reveal the white threads that are typical of jean distressing.
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.
How to Fray Jeans Bottoms
Before you start to fray the bottom of the jeans, you will need to cut off the original hems. Just make sure this doesn't make the jeans too short for you. When deciding where to cut, consider that the fraying will shorten the jeans further by another inch or perhaps more after washing.
There are several methods of fraying edges depending on the look you want. Read my article on how to fray fabric for more tips and tricks to get unique frayed looks.
The easiest way to fray the hems is to sew a line where you want the hem to fray up to. Then cut long strips up to that line. Use a seam ripper to remove the horizontal threads to reveal long white frayed threads.
Get your scissors and start trimming some of the top seams around the jeans’ waistband, 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.
Step 6 - Add Details and Embellishments
You can also add embellishments to blue jeans for 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 7 - Wash the Jeans
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 adjustments. Take the sandpaper and carefully rub off the unwanted edges or threads.
How To Distress Jeans - Tips & Tricks
Here are some tips to get the best results making distressed jeans:
- 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 or 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 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!