I never thought I would someday be writing about how to distress jeans. It’s really quite simple and not very expensive. The reason for the high cost of this look in designer jeans is the fact that it is more often than not achieved with a high labor cost. The processes involved require a great deal of attention to detail and cannot be fully automated.
Let’s do this one step at a time.
How to Soften and Fade Jeans:
If you have time, all it takes is a series of washes. But if you’re like most of us, you want that look now. The secret is simple: bleaching. Here are some simple instructions to control the process:
- Use rubber gloves, bleach is deadly on your hands
- Lay your jeans out on an old sheet or towel that you no longer care about
- Protect the table from the bleach
- Flatten out the jeans
- If you want to completely separate the effect in the front from the back, slip some plastic bags inside the legs
- Use a sponge to apply the bleach. Dip it in the bleach and squeeze the excess out
- Avoid dripping, remember any drip of bleach will have an effect on the fabric
- Stroke the pant’s legs from top to bottom with the damp sponge
- Continue down to the hem, emphasizing the areas you want to fade more
- Work quickly, as the bleach will damage the fibers of the denim if on for too long
- Do both legs, and turn the pants around
- As soon as you have finished “drawing” your bleached pattern on both sides, wash the jeans in cold water, a full cycle without any other clothes
For a more even all-over bleach:
- Use a wash cloth instead of a sponge
- Apply the bleach-dampened wash cloth to the jeans, pressing to transfer the bleach in as uniform a manner as possible
- Try not to over bleach by positioning the wash cloth without overlaps
- Cover all of the pants, including pockets and seems, then wash as above.
A spray bottle with bleach and water can also create great effects. Please wear goggles!
How to Distress Jeans:
You will recall that this involves the partial removal, through wash and friction, of the superficial layer of indigo and some breaking of the filaments and controlled fraying. All that it takes is abrasion!
You can use any of several tools, just be careful. They are sharp. Also be careful not to overdo the rubbing, no matter what tool you use, and to do it just where natural wear would occur. I personally find phony looking signs of deterioration, such as “whiskers” or fades in the wrong places, to be just that, phony.
Practice with an old pair or with an inexpensive new pair. You need to get a handle of exactly how much each of the following tricks will affect the look of your jeans.
Here are some suggested tools and techniques:
- A knife: You will need to place a block of wood inside the leg to offer some support and an adequate surface to press against. Rub the surface of the pants as though “shaving”, in any direction. Achieve the look you want, but respect the integrity of the fabric.
- A cheese grater: With some practice, you can achieve some very special looks with a cheese grater. The rougher side will produce a very interesting pattern of abuse on the denim.
- Sand Paper: This is my favorite tool, as it comes in many different “grits”. “Grit” refers to the number of abrasive particles per square inch of sandpaper. The lower the grit the rougher the sandpaper. Start with a medium grit and work up to a finer one for more control. You will achieve better results than with a knife. You can also find abrasive “sponges” in different grits. These are great to work with, as they are very easy to hold. The more localized control that sandpaper offers will allow you to selectively fray pockets, hemlines or any other part that you think will add to the natural worn look that you are after. You will also be able to more naturally blend the worn out areas with those not so worn out. Do not weaken the stitching, this will only shorten the life of your creation. Place objects in the pockets, such as a round or rectangular drink coasters, and sand around their shape. This gives a very realistic worn wallet effect.
- Pumice Stones: These are also very effective tools for sanding denim. They work great for roughing up the edges of cut holes. As with the sandpaper, you can moisten the pumice in bleach.
- Power tools: You can also use power tools with grinding tips or other abrasive attachments. They will help you do things faster but at the risk of overdoing. A Dremel Moto Tool is probably the easiest to handle and there are special tips with sandpaper attached.
How to Destroy Jeans:
You can make holes in jeans by overdoing any of the above methods. The trick is to make the holes look natural. Grind away at the fabric slowly. Try not to localize the worn area, spread it with diminishing wear the further you get from the intended hole.
The area around the hole should be worn out as well as bleached to further blend the hole with the surrounding fabric. “Finish” the edges with a pumice stone or sandpaper dampened in bleach. Also dampening a sponge with bleach and applying it to the outer edges of the hole will add to the natural worn look.
Ripped jeans are a bit different. The rip is not necessarily from wear, and should not look the same as a worn out hole.
I don’t care much for this look, but if that’s what you want, here is how to do it. I recommend using a sharp pocket knife. Be careful, they are very sharp. Rub the blade of the knife perpendicular to the line of the rip that you want. Continue until you create a slit, then fray the edges, exposing the threads that are perpendicular to the rip. Do this until the hole is the size that you want and the edges are fuzzy. A wash and a dry will further mess up the edge. To some extent, this will control further fraying.
To reinforce this newly created hole, turn your pants inside out and place an adequately cut piece of fabric around it and sew it. An iron on will work as well, but the stitching, done either by hand or with a sewing machine, will make it look much better.
I prefer not too many holes, 3 to 5 should be enough. The current trend, however, seems to be for more smaller holes, as though struck by shrapnel!
Use paint, oil, or bleach. Think about “natural patterns” that could occur in everyday activity. Maybe you leaned into a large greasy gear at the factory? Or you dropped the roller or the top of the can of paint on your jeans when helping your friend paint his apartment?
Don’t over do the stains, you can easily cross the line from chic to drab!
Learning how to distress jeans will not only save you tons of money, it’s also a great way to personalize your wardrobe. If this is a look you want, and have the patience to do it, give it a try.