How To: Distressed Denim

I love ripped denim. Subtly distressed, extreme-ripped, I don't care. Shredded denim paired with a crisp shirt I think is to our era what the tweed jacket was to the 60's. My victim for this project was a pair of vintage 501's, which have the perfect thickness for shredding. (You'll want to use proper denim that's still relatively soft for best results, so get your hands on some vintage jeans with loving wear in them.)

Distressing denim like a pro is not difficult, it only requires understanding how the fabric is structured. The goal is to remove the vertical threads and leave the horizontal threads in their place. At this point you'll want to make sure you have a vacuum cleaner handy, or else will your working space, and soon all other areas, be covered with tiny pieces of thread and dust.


  • Scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Tweezers
  • Jeans ready to be newborn

I. Start by wearing the pair you'll work with, and marking the edges of the areas you want to distress. Then take a fabric marker and draw lines just inside those markings. Cutting along these lines will leave some room to shred the edges of the holes, and you'll end up with the desired-sized overall area.

I also left some fabric as two strips at the top of the other opening, to create shreds that hang across. I already have a couple pairs with more discreet rips in them, so I wanted these to have a bolder look.

II. Now you'll be ready to start shredding the edges of the openings. First pull out the horizontal threads that got cut, until you get to the first threads that are still attached all the way through. You can pull a few of these away (without breaking them) to expose the ends of the vertical threads. Then take your tweezers and firmly pull the vertical threads out. You'll end up with only horizontal threads that are attached to both sides of the opening you cut.

III. Now do the same thing to the other edges of the opening. Start by pulling some of the horizontal threads away, and pick at the vertical threads to achieve your desired amount of shredded-ness.

IV. To make the openings less rectangular, you can do the following. Using a seam ripper, make a couple of incisions above the opening, shortening in width as you go. Go slowly, it's easy to have the ripper go its own route - you'll want the slashes to be parallel with the edge of the original cutout. Then repeat the steps above to remove the vertical threads from between the incisions, leaving you with more blended edges.

V. Once done with the space between the cut edge and the first slit, repeat the steps for the second one. You can also add some smaller shredded areas elsewhere on your jeans, using the incision technique from above. Other tools that work well for quick distressing are sand paper (the lower the grit the rougher the look) and a fine parmiggiano grater. My done shredded opening looked like this:

VI. Repeat the above on the second knee.

VII. The last step is put the jeans through a (slow) cycle in the washing machine - this will soften the overall shredding and make it look more natural. The more you wash and wear the jeans, the better the distressed look will get - keep this mind also when shredding. If you're second-guessing how bold to go, maybe tone it down just a bit and see what the results of the wash will be like. Also, tumble-drying will fluff up the shredding even more, so check after the wash if the look is already there and air-dry instead.



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4 of 7 comments
  • Angela Laughingheart Angela Laughingheart on Jun 19, 2021

    I like the idea of having something unique and naturally weathered looking. Lighten up ladies !

  • Bet ! Bet ! on Jun 20, 2021

    I can't help but smile at the fashions of today ! In my day if we had jeans /slacks with holes in the knees we would patch them or cut of the legs to make shorts out of them . Today people deliberately make holes in good jeans fact I have been told by teenagers that you can buy them like that !! LOL

    • See 1 previous
    • Rose Rose on Jun 20, 2021

      Go to a thrift shop, buy the jeans and Walla U have designers jeans

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