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Do you find the thought of ripping your own jean distressing? Well, not anymore!
Jeans date back to the late 19th century and have since been a staple in millions of people’s wardrobes. But as times change, so do fashion styles. Enter the rise of distressed and frayed jeans.
Given the high price of a quality pair of jeans, you may be hesitant to buy a pair of distressed jeans just to keep up with the trends. But if you have an old pair you’re planning to throw away and love DIY, here’s how to distress jeans and give your old clothes new life.
Picking Your Jeans
Aside from looking through your closet for old jeans, you can also opt to browse consignments and thrift shops for a second-hand pair of jeans. Ideally, you want to find a pair of jeans that fit you well.
For color, light and medium-wash jeans look best when frayed. Darker jeans look too freshly dyed to have that edgy ripped look, but you could make it work if you wanted to.
Gathering Your Tools
There are two types of distressed jeans: holes and frays.
- If you want clean holes, use sharp objects like
- If you want a frayed style, use rough and abrasive surfaces like
You will also need a medium to large table where you can lay your jeans flat. You will also need tailor’s chalk (or a pencil or regular chalk) and a tape measure.
You will also need a small block made of any material that won’t easily break (e.g. wood, metal, hard cardboard, etc.). It should be small enough that it can pass through your jeans’ leg holes. The block will be used to protect the backside of your jeans when you begin distressing it. If you don’t have a wooden block, an old book or hard cardboard will do.
Step 1: Mark your ripped area
Lay your jeans flat on a table and use your tailor’s chalk to mark the area you want to rip your jeans. If you want straight line cuts, use your ruler to draw lines and measure out your preferred width.
Be careful where you choose to make your frays or rips. For the typical distressed jeans look, mark it a few inches above your knees. Some frayed jeans styles also have multiple ripped areas, but be careful not to overdo it.
If you put it in the area directly on your knees, the hole is bound to grow bigger over time. If you’re going for a distressed look, the thin fabric may eventually snap and turn into a big hole.
You also may not want to make your mark too high in your jeans. If it’s too high, a portion of your underwear may show when you put on your jeans.
Once you’ve marked the area you want to rip, insert the block into your pants and place it beneath your mark. This will prevent your cutting or fraying from reaching the back part of your pants.
Step 2: Prepare your jeans
Whether you’re trying to achieve distressed, frayed, or ripped jeans, you have to thin out the spot you want to rip up. Using one of your abrasives (i.e. sandpaper, steel wool, etc.), start rubbing the area of your mark.
This step will help loosen the fibers of your jeans and give it that worn and faded look. This makes it easier to do the next step of distressing your jeans. How long this step will take depends on how thick your jeans are and how loose they need to be to achieve your intended style.
If you skip this step and opt to cut your jeans immediately, the result will look like you’ve simply cut holes into your jeans. You’ll want to fray your jeans first to give it that natural worn look before cutting lines into it.
Step 3: Fray your jeans
Using one of your sharp tools (i.e. knives, x-acto knife, box cutter, etc.) you’ll want to run across your chalk lines but not completely cut open. What you’re trying to do is loosen your jeans’ fibers and create frays for that natural distressed look.
You’ll know when to stop when you begin to see thread coming out of the fabric. Tug at the string until it comes out. This will be the frayed perimeter of your rip.
Step 4: Create your hole
Using your fabric shears or scissor, cut a small hole. We’re going to be ripping these by hand later (we’ll explain why in a bit), so don’t get too excited about making a huge hole with your scissors.
You just want to create a hole you can start with for the next step, around half an inch or less. You’ll want just enough room to insert your thumbs in and grip at the fabric with both hands.
Step 5: Rip your jeans by hand
Using your hands, rip your jeans to your desired size. This is much better to do than using a knife or scissors to make your hole as it will tear the fibers in a non-uniform fashion, making it look like a real hole and not one that was cut, which will look unnatural.
As you rip your jeans, tug at the threads to loosen it up to make the hole look more natural. It also gives your jeans more texture and character.
Step 6: Achieve your desired style
There are different styles of distressed jeans. For your simple ripped jeans, continue to tug at the threads until you achieve the desired effect.
For larger holes without the threads, simply cut much bigger holes onto your jeans. You can cut vertically if you’re trying to create larger squares in your jeans. Simply fray out the perimeter of the holes for a natural ripped effect.
Cut away the threads completely for a cleaner look. You can also cut the threads so that they’re not covering your legs but are dangling on the sides of your jeans.
Step 7: (Optional) Repeat in different areas
Once you’re satisfied with your first hole, move on to the other side of your jeans. If you’re looking for a simple distressed look, doing one or two holes in similar areas may be enough. But for those edgy and daring enough to have more holes in their jeans, keep repeating the process until you’re satisfied with the result.
Step 8: (Optional) Reinforce your jeans
Over time, your ripped jeans will eventually grow bigger. If you want to prevent this, sew around the perimeter of the hole. Use a white thread or a blue thread that matches the color of your jeans. You can do this by hand or with a sewing machine, but if you want to do the former, use a thicker needle.
This step is optional, so if you don’t mind your holes to grow over time (without a seam, it eventually will), then you can leave it as is.
Step 9: Wash your jeans
After the whole process, your jeans may have pencil marks or residual chalk marks. Chalk can be easily removed by dabbing a damp cloth over these marks, but if you prefer, you can just have your jeans washed before using it.
To prevent your distressed jeans from getting damaged in the washing machine, turn your jeans inside out. This prevents the outer frayed side from taking on damage.
- If you have black jeans. Distressing jeans work best in lighter-colored jeans. If you want to do distress black jeans, consider bleaching or sanding your ripped part before starting to achieve a semi-natural ripped look.
- Do each hole one by one. To avoid overdoing your frayed jeans, finish one hole and see how it looks before moving on to the next one. Too many holes in your jeans may look nice, but you may find it unwearable once you put it on.
- Avoid going too large. Unless you reinforce your ripped jeans, those holes will grow over time. Make sure you reinforce your rips if you don’t want the holes to get too big.
Don’t throw away old jeans that have gone out of style. Instead, find a way to make it look better, like by distressing your jeans. Looking fashionable does not have to be expensive, and DIY is not always reserved for the experts. Give it a go, and you might find yourself looking like you’re wearing expensive jeans that you’re wearing for much less than the cost of designer jeans.