How To Distress Denim


For some insane reason that is unknown to us, distressed jeans cost way more than your average pair. Your uncle (or some other zany relative of sorts) has probably made some wisecrack about this to you too. What if we told you that distressing your own denim is nowhere near as daunting as it looks? Yes, it will take some time, but you can throw on an episode of whatever Netflix show you’re currently binging, and just go to town. We broke it down into six simple steps.

You will need…

  • Jeans (duh)
  • Chalk
  • Sandpaper, cheese grater or pumice stone
  • Tweezers
  • Safety Pin
  • Box cutter, Small Scissors or an X-ACTO knife
  • Magazine or a piece of cardboard

How To Distress Denim

Step One: Mark the areas you want to distress

We’re sure you’re dying to slice apart your pair of jeans, but let’s not get carried away here. Though it’s fun to channel your inner fashion designer, winging it could lead to a result you were not looking for. You’re going to first try on the jeans you are planning on distressing. Visualize what areas will look best distressed, and use your piece of chalk to mark out the area you’re distressing. Use horizontal lines to indicate the start and finish point (and also the width) of your distress point, and vertical lines to determine the length. It doesn’t have to be perfect, they’re just meant to give you a rough idea of what you’re patch will look like.

Step Two: Protect the bottom layer of your jeans

Inserting an old magazine or a piece of cardboard underneath the area you’re distressing will protect the bottom layer of your jeans. This will prevent your slices from hitting both layers of your jeans (and also will protect the surface you are working on!) You may not have to do this step if you’re distressing thicker denim.

Step Three: Slice it up

Slicing your denim into smaller horizontal strips will make it easier for you when you’re distressing the patch. So, with your scissors, box cutter or X-ACTO knife, start slicing at the top line you marked. From there, make horizontal strips up until you’ve reached your end line. Play with the widths and the lengths of each strip! These cuts don’t have to be all equal, because distressed denim is supposed to look like a pair of old worn-out jeans.

How To Distress Denim

Step Four: Pull threads apart

Once you’re finished slicing, you’re going to grab your safety pin to start teasing out the white threads. If you’re unsure of what threads we’re talking about, they’re the ones that run horizontally. To do this, flip over your horizontal strips and use the sharp end of the safety pin to separate each thread.

Step Five: Tweeze vertical threads out

Now, for the fun part (or the most tedious!) You’ve probably noticed the bottoms of your strips have frayed after teasing out the white threads. Pulling out these short, vertical threads is what will lead to your perfect pair of distressed jeans! With your tweezers, pluck out each thread one by one. You’re done once all of the vertical threads have been plucked out, and you’re left with the long horizontal threads you teased out earlier. Repeat this step until you’ve plucked through each horizontal strip.

How To Distress Denim

Step Six: Fray the edges away

This step is optional, but we recommend it if you’re going for a vintage vibe with your distressed denim. With sandpaper, a pumice stone or a cheese grater, rub along the edges to fray your distressed patches even further. You can even rub this along other parts of your jeans to add variety with your rips and tears. Then, voilà! You should be left with a perfect pair of distressed denim jeans. You can use these steps, too, if you’re working with a denim jacket or a pair of jeans.

How To Distress Denim

What are you going to distress first? Leave a comment below!

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