January 14, 2014

Tutorial: DIY Distressed Denim Jeans & Cutoff Shorts

If you follow me on Pinterest then you have undoubtedly rolled your eyes at how many times I Pin destroyed denim. Cut offs, boyfriends, skinny jeans, no matter. I love it all. I have a shit ton of jeans and continue to buy a shit ton of jeans because I LOVE denim. Especially old and vintage denim; it makes my eyes glazy and swirly. The other thing about thrifted denim is that you’re relatively safe in destroying it because you won’t be out too much money if you hate it in the end. On Pinterest, I have a board juuuuust for denim if you suffer from the same illness as me: BILLIE JEAN, YOU'RE MY LOVER.

Like most things I decide to do myself (the hard way), I began by searching through the droves of tutorials on Pinterest and on the internet because, well, not all tutorials are created equal. I watched them all. Eventually I had targeted a look that I wanted to achieve:

And I found a Free People video tutorial that was amazing:

I assembled a variety of tools to use and decided on a process that included much of the video above, plus some additional methods. It's not the only process, but it's the one that worked for me.

In addition to 5 pairs of pants and 4 pairs of shorts (in a variety of washes, types, $ value, and style by the way), I gathered the following items:

Salt - 2 containers of it, though next time I will use kosher because it is rougher on the threads
2 sheets of 400 grit sandpaper
rubber sanding block
electric hand sander with 300 grit sandpaper
hard surface, narrow enough to fit inside leg holes (I used a broken cutting board)
white chalk
scalpel blade
needlenose pliers
5 gallon bucket with lid

The first thing I did was soften my jeans. I turned them inside out and sanded them with a hand sander. Then I turned them right side out and did it again. This takes a steady hand and patience - and no, you absolutely will not sand a hole clean through. Believe me, I tried a few times.

Next, I put 3 pair at a time into a 5 gallon bucket of tepid water with about 3 cups of salt, dissolved. I soaked them for 6-8 hours. The salt helps to break up the tough jean fibers and the crystals soften the edges of each thread.

After the saltwater soak, I squeezed the water out of the jeans, rolled them up, and put them in my freezer for a day. Seriously. (Incidentally, the freezer will kill any bacteria on your denim when dry; many people don't wash jeans - they freeze them instead.) Do not unroll the jeans when they are frozen because they WILL break - and not where you want them to. The next day, I carried the frozen jean rolls inside and thawed them in cool water in the bathtub.

After they thawed, I squeezed them out and hung them to dry on a wooden rack. I didn't allow them to dry completely, just enough to work with. I wanted to destroy them more before the washing step because that process helps fray them even more.

Once they were 90% dry, I worked with one pair of jeans at a time.

1.  Lay the jeans INSIDE OUT on the floor
2. Using 400 grit sandpaper, sand the entire insides of the legs of the jeans by hand. This will soften and break stiff fibers. Be prepared to vacuum when you're done.
3. Lift the front pockets up and out of the way so that any deconstruction over the pocket area won't actually put holes in your pockets.
4.Using white chalk, highlight the areas that you want to deconstruct. Use example photos to be sure and try on the jeans to find the actual spot where your knees bend, and mark it.
5. Put the cutting board up inside the first leg to protect the other side of the jeans (and your work surface) before you begin
6. Using a thin razor or scalpel blade, make small cuts side to side. Make multiple cuts about 1/4 to 1/2" apart.
7. Continue slicing your jeans in any areas you want to fray, paying close attention to natural wear spots like the tops of pockets, back of hems, and the knees. I also personally like the top of thighs, over toward the sides. I did the back pockets by putting the cutting board inside the pocket so that it didn't cut all the way through.

Once all of  my jeans were sliced, I used more sandpaper to roughen up the edges of the holes I made. Some tutorials use a microplane grater at this point, though I did not.

Then I put my jeans into the washing machine and covered them with cool (not cold) water and a gallon of vinegar. Yep, I said a full gallon. It's a whopping $3. Don't worry, they won't smell like pickles for long. I let them soak for a couple of hours. The vinegar acts as a natural fabric softener. As a plus, vinegar also retains color so don't worry about any fading with this step.

After they soaked, I ran the spin cycle and then washed (on cool) as normal with light detergent. I added a pair of old tennis shoes into the wash with them to keep them beaten up and moving around. If you have liquid fabric softener, add it to help stretch and soften the denim in the rinse cycle. I don't, so I used a couple more cups of white vinegar.

When the wash cycle was complete, I dried the jeans (with the clean shoes). Yes, I watched the dryer like a hawk to make sure they didn't shrink. But if you hang them to dry, they will feel stiff again. I dried mine on low to medium heat for about 20 minutes, yanking them when they were still just a little damp. I put each pair on right away to squat and stretch them in.

Once they were completely dry, I took the 400 grit sandpaper to them again. I rubbed all of the holes I made as well as all of the seams, tops of pockets, and fly.

These holes all have so much potential. I can't wait for the years to wear them in more!

A WORD ABOUT STRETCH DENIM: You can absolutely fray your full-of-spandex jeggings, but they will NOT look the same as 100% cotton denim. They just won't. The elastic threads fray differently. I was okay with that fuzzier look, but be prepared for that.

A WORD ABOUT JEAN SHORTS: I put several pairs of shorts through the salt and sandpaper process above. I did a tutorial on how to make them HERE, but I have adapted my process since then. I like to rip my legs off instead of cutting them now. I ripped them once by accident and haven't turned back since. Cutting them is too "perfect" for me anyway. So I work from the crotch out. Put on the jeans and measure down a bit longer than you want the inside seam of the shorts to be, then snip the inside seam in that spot. Take the jeans off. Then give it some muscle and rip toward the outer seam of the leg - hopefully in one fell swoop. They won't be even and that's the best part. If you have an oops and rip too far or too high, don't freak out. Save a piece of denim and then sew them back together. They're supposed to look beat to crap, so don't be afraid to do just that. Then make some holes with the scalpel and go nuts.

During this project, I was working with an old pair of Miss Me jeans. I know, roll your eyes. They looked great on my butt, okay? However they were a lot more blinged out than my usual style and as a result, I didn't wear them very often. I was on the verge of selling them when I decided to include them in this experiment instead. I also decided to de-bling them. Google told me to use a screwdriver and a hammer to wedge under the inside of the diamond rivets, and a pliers to pull on the diamond front. After 2 blood blisters and a bastard in a red dress, my husband assisted in this portion of the destruction. He removed all 6 diamond rivets from the pockets in about 90 seconds, with zero injuries. Jedi showoff.

I loved them more already. Then I decided to remove the huge, leather M tag on the back, too. I popped the silver rivets off without incident and used a seam ripper to separate the tag from the waistband.

Oh my goodness. I LOVE them. They are so soft and worn in and they still make my butt look fabulous. They are now my FAVORITE!

The final step in distressing your denim takes the longest. Put in a good movie, turn on some good overhead lights, and grab your tweezers.

You want to pull out the blue threads between those razors slits. This is what makes the white frayed squares. And you need to pull only one or two at a time, so be patient.

The photo below is one that I Pinned, which may show this step in my process better than I could explain it:

You will also need your vacuum cleaner at the end, and possibly a husband to clean the ceiling fan.

I love every single pair that I wrecked. This project was a total success!

Try it!

And now:

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1 comment:

  1. Thanks for compiling this amazing post. I was wondering what designs are in and out to pick up my first Dress. This has given me a clear idea.
    We have also more option for jeans: Distressed Stretch Skinny Jeans.