DIY: My First Attempt at Distressed Jeans

Hey everyone!

Distressed jeans can be so expensive in stores, but I love the look of them.  I had an old pair of basic jeans that I haven't worn for a long time because of how they've faded over the years.  So instead of throwing them out, I decided I'd try to give them a new life and distress them myself!

I definitely didn't come up with these techniques alone... Google and Youtube are pretty awesome. What I used was a steak knife (yep...) and an electric sander (you could use sandpaper, but the electric sander is faster).  I didn't want to completely "destroy" my jeans, so I didn't pick up the scissors once.

I wanted to use this picture as a bit of a guide as to "where" to distress the jeans:
Source: American Eagle website

My jeans I will be working with:
Just a plain pair of jeans from American Eagle.

I started working on the fly and the pockets first. I used the knife only for these parts.  These pants were pretty worn in the spots that I "distressed" so it was easy to 'break' the threads.  Basically you scratch the knife back and forth, opposite to a sawing motion. (If you use the sawing motion, you can cut right through the jeans... Unless this is the look you're going for.)


Then I moved down towards the thigh area and did this with the knife as well...

Then my fingers started hurting. Lots! Handling the knife over and over was hard and painful...  I was at my parent's so I asked my dad if he had any sandpaper. He got me an electric sander, which was even BETTER than I had hoped for!  The sander wasn't too strong, so I had to hold it/rotate it over the knee areas for a few minutes.  It wears out the denim and eventually gets down to the white threads.

This is what I did with the sander/knife. I focused on four main spots: high on the thighs, and the knees.  I did some small spots on the pockets at the back, but nothing too major.

I then put the pants in the washer and dryer.  I read somewhere this helps add a bit more distressing to the holes.  When they came out, they didn't look too different. I slipped them on, and got my foot caught in the knee hole on the right leg, which ripped it pretty good.  But I'm actually really happy with how it turned out!

I have a few things to note:
  • Obviously there isn't a lot of distressing. Partly because it took me a bit over an hour to do what you see (and figure out the right technique).  But also, I didn't want to go too overboard.  If I decide I want more in the future, I can easily add some later.
  • Also, this is a very time consuming process. It sounds simple, but if the denim is tough, the knife and sander can have a hard time going through it.  
  • It's best to start off somewhere where if you make a mistake, it isn't very noticeable. This is why I started on the pockets.
Stay tuned for an outfit post with my "new" distressed jeans!


  1. Hey, those look great! My mom is pretty strict about "paying money for jeans that are already worn out", so maybe I can convince her that distressing jeans I already have is OK. :) Can't wait to see the outfit post!

  2. Great DIY! I will have to try this!

  3. This is awesome! I've always wanted to try distressing or bleaching my jeans. Good to know that it's a time consuming process.

  4. So there is a reason why some stores charge more for distressed jeans :) It's more time-consuming that I originally thought. You did an awesome job though! Can't wait to see modeling pics!

  5. Wow good job on DIY. I think if I tried to do this I would just have blunt holes :)

  6. Thanks for sharing! I'll be trying this out soon!


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