I’ve gotten more than a handful of messages on The Baller on a Budget Instagram as well as emails about where I get my distressed jeans, and the truth is that I usually find them at a thrift store and then distress them myself! There are several ways to distress your own denim, and all of them involve tools you may already have at home. You just need a pair of jeans to work on and you can make your own DIY distressed jeans within minutes.
I strongly advise working on a scrap pair of jeans before distressing ones you intend to wear because the first time I tried this DIY project, I messed up the holes and the finished product looked very strange. If you don’t have any scrap denim lying around, you can experiment on some unwanted denim of yours or go to your local thrift store and grab a pair for less than $10.
The jeans in the photo above were only $3 at my local Goodwill and a practice experiment for this tutorial. If you notice the distressing, the threads are a bit “kinky” since the denim is a stretch denim, so also consider the type of denim before buying. Regular denim will not fray in poofy kinks like these jeans did.
Keep reading below for 3 methods to create the most popular distressed denim trends!
- A ruler – any ruler will do
- Heavy-duty scissors – regular scissors will not work as well and may take more time and effort to cut
- Chalk or soapstone marking pencil
- A seam ripper or razorblade (the razorblade takes a bit longer to do, but it works)
- A good pair of tweezers – if you’re going to be distressing more than one pair of jeans, save your good pair of tweezers for your brows and get another pair! Cliganic has some really cheap tweezers for $5 that are great.
- A cheese grater with a handle – I prefer using one with a handle because it gives me better control and minimizes the risk of cutting yourself!
#1: Frayed and distressed hems
Frayed hems are one of the quickest ways to create that designer denim look. It is a very popular trend in high-street fashion and jeans at the stores with frayed hems are usually $100 or more. I personally love fraying the hems of my jeans because I’m very short and curvy, so getting a size pant that fits my booty is more than likely going to be very long. This is a simple and chic way to add some flare to your own DIY alteration.
Step 1: Measure
Using a ruler and chalk or soapstone, measure 2 lines – the lowest one will be the back hem, and the higher one will be the front hem. If you don’t like the uneven hem trend, you could alternatively cut just one line.
For my jeans I measured a 1.5-inch difference in between both lines.
Step 2: Cut at the bottom line
No picture for this step, as 1) I forgot and 2) it’s pretty straightforward to cut the hem of the jeans only at the bottom line.
Step 3: Rip the seam
Using a seam ripper (you can get one at your local dollar store), razor blade or sharp and pointed scissor, carefully pull both sides of the seams to reveal the thread holding both pieces of fabric together and cut the threads. You only want to cut the threads up to the second line you have created. This will create the uneven hem.
Step 4: Measure again and then cut
Using your ruler and pencil, measure another line above the front hem. I measured about 1 inch here. This area will be the area that will have loose threads. Make sure that you are sure this is the spacing that you want before cutting!
After you have decided your measurement, cut along the line with a scissor, but do not cut up the hem to cut the rectangle of fabric off. It will still be attached. You are just cutting a horizontal slit!
Step 5: Pull the threads
Using a pair of tweezers, gently begin pulling a few short threads running vertical from the 1-inch piece of denim. As you continue to pull, the threads will become loose and you will be able to pull more in a bunch. Be very careful that you don’t pull any horizontal threads off!
Step 6: Gently separate horizontal threads to speed up the process
Now that you have created a considerable gap in threads, you can gently pull on a group of horizontal threads and wiggle them free from the short vertical threads. This is a quicker and efficient way to remove the vertical threads without pulling them out one-by-one. Again, be very careful that you don’t rip the remaining horizontal threads!
Step 7: Distress the edges
After you’ve finished pulling out all the threads, it’s time to distress the edges. Using the tweezers, gently tug at the threads of the indicated areas checked in white in the picture above. Wiggle the threads left and right to loosen up the threads, but do not pull them out. You just want to tweeze them in short strokes to create distressing. Avoid pulling the threads downward because this will create ripples in your jeans. Be especially careful on the left and right sides as to not rip out any horizontal threads!
Step 8: Distress the back hem
Using the same method in the previous step, distress the longer back hem with the tweezers again.
#2: The cheese grater method
I don’t particularly like to rely on the cheese grater method because 1) it’s quite dangerous actually and 2) they do not create foolproof rips like method #1 does. I do like using the cheese grater method for fraying up the pocket areas, though! Simply run the cheese grater back and forth across the denim until it becomes worn. Threads will begin to appear, and you can ever leave it that way or pick at it with a tweezer. I like to cut off any long and dangling threads with a scissor.
#3: Large rips and holes
This method uses the same technique as when I frayed the hem, but has a bit of variations. Before beginning, wear the pants and decide where you want the holes. You can even mark the jeans with chalk if this helps.
Step 1: Fold one leg in half and cut
By folding the pant leg at the knee, you can cut horizontally to assure the lines are even. It’s very important that you try to keep the line parallel to the way the horizontal threads run!
Start your first horizontal cut at the widest point of where the hole will be – I bent the knee to show you where my deepest cut is. Going upwards and downwards you want to make the cuts gradually shorter, so the top and bottom-most cuts are smallest.
It will look like this:
Alternatively, if you don’t want a rip that is round or a circle, you can opt to do two simple horizontal lines for a big square.
Step 2: Pull out the vertical threads
Just like we did for the frayed hems, pull out the vertical threads of each section. When you clear up a bigger space, than you can tug gently at the longer horizontal threads to seperate them from the vertical threads.
Step 3: Distress the edges
Using your tweezer, gently tug at the edges just like we did with the frayed hem to loosen up the threads.
Final step: Laundry
When you’re finished distressing your denim, make sure to toss it in the washing machine to settle the fibers that have been pulled. This will create a more finished look.
Let me know in the comments below if you try this project! Don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for more easy DIY projects.