How-To DIY Distressed Jeans

Credit for these tips/tricks goes to Liz Stanley from

DIY Distressed Jeans


Here are three tips before getting started:

Tip #1: Try to pick a pair of old jeans that already has a lighter wash and are already pretty worn. That’s why a goodwill is a great place to look for pair. Dark washes won’t look nearly as legit, even though if you’re like me, that’s usually what I’m drawn to when purchasing jeans. I was lucky enough to grab three pairs at my local goodwill for under $10 each so I had some room for experimentation.

Tip #2: One thing that makes distressed jeans today more modern than the pair you wore in 1995 is the cut of the leg. Go for tight, skinny cut pair that hits right at the ankle, and avoid any bootleg cut or flare (unless you’re looking for a boyfriend style which I wasn’t).

Tip #3: The bigger the knee hole you start with, the more saggy it’ll get. So stay with small for now, it’ll grow on its own, and I’ll show you how to avoid making the knee hole grow too big and saggy.

Getting started:

As per my post yesterday I spent some time thinking about what kind of distressing I should do and I came up with a mixture of frayed spots + skinny holes at the knee on a slim pair of  jeans. But it’s totally up to you, you can see more distressed jean inspiration on the previous post.


I experimented with a paint stripper brush, coarse sand paper block, scissors, and bleach. I also used a wooden block to provide resistance (it’s gotta fit in your jean leg). The coarse sand paper block worked the best so I stuck with that and also used a bit of bleach and scissors.

Step 1Put on the jeans and mark either side of your natural knee with a safety pin. Make sure to do it when your standing otherwise the hole will sag if you mark it when you’re sitting.

Step 2Cut a small hole (not too big!) and place a piece of wood inside the leg.

Step 3Rough it up reeeeeal good with a course (60) sandpaper block. The block works well because you can work on a specific corner which allow you more accuracy. You can use a paint stripper block as well, it works essentially the same. I tried a cheese grater which was way harder to control the spot you were scrubbing.

Step 4: Now using the same sandpaper block (no scissors) rough up a few more spots until the white thread shows beneath. Only use scissors if you’re trying to make a hole.

After looking at a lot of pictures online there always seem to be getting worn on the knees, right above the knees, right below the pockets and on the pockets. I liked doing a bigger pocket hole fray because there was the fabric of the pocket beneath to prevent any actual skin showing that high up on your leg.

How to prevent the hole from getting bigger: Liz from Cotton and Curls had some good advice here but I took it a step further. In addition to reinforcing it around the side with stitches, I added a small piece of iron on patch onto the inside of either side of the hole and reinforced on top of that with stitches so there is no freaking way that hole is going to get any bigger. Seems super secure, I tugged and pulled and everything is holding together great. Seems as though the hole getting bigger width wise is what makes it saggy.

Next up I experimented with bleach: I tried washing a pair with a half cup of bleach- nay, didn’t notice a difference. I tried scrubbing around the holes with a bleach stick. Didn’t notice a difference, I think bleach sticks are watered down. I then tried directly applying bleach to lighten the middle of the jeans and that worked, but too well. It became way too light too quickly. So my conclusion was: no bleach. Just find a pair that’s already the shade you want. 

To see step-by-step photos visit Liz here: