There is nothing quite like pulling on your perfect-fit pair of jeans: they’re perfectly worn and ultra-comfortable. Once you’ve found your unicorn pair, it’s a smart idea to invest in a few different colors and finishes so you’ll have a suitable denim look for almost any occasion. Further your options by distressing one or two pairs of your favorite jeans yourself.
Not only is a DIY distressing job fully customizable to your tastes, but it's simple and easy to do too. Grab a pair of light-to-medium wash denim in a classic cut, then add a few rips and holes using this simple tutorial to master that threw-this-on chicness you’ve been pining after.
Equipment / Tools
- Craft knife
- Safety pin
- 1 Pair of jeans
- White chalk
Ensure Your Jeans Are Clean
Wash and dry your selected jeans, and steam or iron them if necessary. Be sure your craft knife is sharp enough to cut through denim, and that your chalk is light enough to show up on the fabric.
Mark Your Desired Cut
Try your pair of jeans on, and make a few marks with chalk where the pant leg hits your knee. Four short dashes to mark a rough rectangle will do the trick. If you want to distress other areas, mark those in chalk as well. One kneehole and a smaller frayed rip on the opposite hip pocket looks both designer and balanced.
Prep the Surface for Cutting
To protect the bottom layer of denim from your sharp tools, push a sturdy piece of cardboard up the pant leg you intend to cut. No scrap cardboard on hand? Try a thick magazine or a bunched up bit of fabric—anything from your recycling bin that will stop a blade from slicing through to the underside of the pant is perfectly acceptable.
Slice Several Cuts
Make a series of horizontal cuts using your craft knife (or a very sharp pair of scissors) inside your chalk marks, tapering them as you move toward the top and bottom. Ultimately, make five to seven cuts that form an oblong shape, with only the middle cut extending all the way to the side chalk marks.
Implement Your Safety Pin
Open a safety pin and use the sharp end to carefully unravel the denim at the knee. Poke the point in through the sliced edge, and gently tease out the white horizontal thread. You’ll need to unravel one thread at a time, gently loosening it from the fabric’s weave by running your safety pin along it. Small blue vertical threads will begin to release themselves as you unwind more white threads, so gently tug them free with your fingertips or a set of clean tweezers.
Working from the middle of your intended hole toward the top, then bottom, helps maintain the shape of the tear with little risk of thread breakage. That said, work slowly and carefully, too many broken white threads can look messy and cause your jeans to lose their integrity.
Roughen the Edges With Sandpaper
Using a small bit of medium-weight sandpaper, roughen-up the edges of the newly made hole. If you plan to make other tears or distress other areas of the denim, move your protective stuffing, mark with chalk, and cut carefully. If your jeans are able to be put through the washer and dryer, put them through a quick cycle to further the fray slightly. If you don't wash your jeans, smudge the chalk away with an unused dryer sheet.
Wear Your New Jeans
Rock your freshly-distressed, couture denim with a favorite tee for a perfectly lived in weekend look, or try a blazer and heels to capture that chic juxtaposition of edgy-and-feminine. No matter how you wear your new jeans, take care when pulling them on—a big toe caught in a knee hole can break those crucial white threads or tear the rip too wide.
If the holes open further during your regular wash-and-wear, however, use a regular needle and thread to run a few wide stitches the length of the hole to reinforce the remaining white threads. Or, go for a more crafty look and use a contrasting color embroidery floss. There are endless ways to continue to customize your denim, even after distressing them by hand, so don’t retire a favorite pair of jeans until you absolutely have to.