DIY Perfectly Distressed Jeans

Yesterday I talked a bit about the latest trend of distressed jeans which I’m loving! I experimented with a few techniques this weekend to distress your own pair (since it seems absolutely ridiculous to pay for a new pair of distressed jeans) and made some interesting discoveries about how to distress and how to prevent the little knee hole from becoming a big saggy, baggy one.

Modeling by Hanalei, Styling and Photography by myself

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).

diy distressed jeans

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.

Keep reading to see the DIY instructions on how to make your own pair of distressed, ripped jeans..

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 ofย  jeans. But it’s totally up to you, you can see more distressed jean inspiration on the post yesterday.

Materials: 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 1: Put 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 2: Cut a small hole (not too big!) and place a piece of wood inside the leg.

Step 3: Rough 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.

You can see the spots I roughed up above. 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.

But I did wash this pair above before I let my model take it for a spin, and it frayed up perfectly.

wardrobe: Thrifted Goldsign jeans distressed, Sam Edelman boots, Target heart sweater, vintage Levi’s leather jacket, bike from Bikes Direct


Finding Goldsign jeans at the thrift right now is completely epic – that is one of the latest jcrew partnerships.

Really? I didn’t know! It actually looked like a teeny bopper brand. HA! No wonder they were perfectly skinnied to the ankle ๐Ÿ™‚

This is brilliant and beautiful photos! I’ll have to search for the perfect pair now to distress!

I would also like to point out that playing kickball everyday during recess will give you the perfect distressed knee!

Seriously though, my dark wash skinny jeans fade so badly in the knee over time, so this is the perfect solution to give some of my favorites a new life.


Oh, this is fantastic!!!
The part about the sandpaper block I knew, the never thought about the bleach (I feel dumb right now).

Thanks for this post! ๐Ÿ™‚ I’m ALWAYS in a hunt for the perfect pair of distressed jeans – but they either don’t look good on me or have the torn parts in a way I don’t like.

I feel like “Bingo!”


I agree! I hate the manufactured distressed jeans. they never look real, it’s impossible for them to since they’re made by machines

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