Denim is a garment that’s all about individuality. Every day that we wear them, they change: telling the story about what we do in them and who we are. It’s why people are so fiercely committed to their favorite pair, wearing them until they practically disintegrate on their bodies. For people who want a truly unique look but don’t want to wait years and years, denim distressing is something you can do at home with just a few simple tools and tricks.
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Know Your Starting Material:
The type of denim you start with will ultimately affect how it wears over time. Denim can be anywhere from 6 ounces (per square yard) in weight up to 20+ ounces. The heavier the denim, the more resilient it will be to wear and tear. It’s important to know where your denim falls in the spectrum, since the weight and amount of distressing you do will greatly affect how long your pair of jeans will last.
Tools of the Trade:
Because how denim wears is such a part of our love affair with blue jeans, brands purposely fade and age their denim to give it a vintage, worn look. For your distressing project, all you need are some items found around the house.
- Sandpaper (preferably 220 grit or higher): For light distressing and breaking down the denim fabric.
Single-edge razor blade: For ‘scraping’ away surface threads and cutting seams.
Scissors: For full-on hole making.
Block of wood or deck of cards: As a backing to ensure an even surface and that you only distress one layer at a time.
Bleach: Only for the bold. Make sure to place cardboard under the affected surface to avoid bleeding.
Know Your Natural Wear:
When distressing denim, it’s important to work horizontally across the fabric, since that will break down the ‘warp’ threads and leave the ‘weft’ (vertical threads) intact. Distress the appropriate areas for a look that’s authentic for you.
- The Knees: Work horizontally with light sandpaper to preserve the weft fibers if you don’t want a full-on hole. Or go at it with scissors for a blown-out rock ‘n roll look.
Back Pockets: To imitate ‘wallet wear’, take a deck of cards or block of wood and place it in the pocket before sanding.
Upper Thighs and Backs of Knees: This is where ‘whiskering’ occurs because of how the denim folds and creases. To re-create this look, you’ll have to lightly sand the jeans while wearing them to ensure the right look.
Side Seams: This is an area where ‘less is more’, because they’re a key structural component of jeans. Lightly sandpaper side seam from the knee up for an authentic look, but be careful not to go too far or your jeans will fall apart on you.
Though many people may not think about it, how you wash your denim can affect how it looks in a big way. Ultimately, a rule of thumb for increasing the life of your jeans is to wash them once a month or less.
To lock in the color of your denim, add one cup of white vinegar and a quarter cup of salt to the wash and follow the wash label instructions.
Drying Your Denim:
Since it’s made from cotton, how you dry your denim can greatly affect how it will fit you over multiple washes.
- Outdoor Drying: This is a general no-no, since exposure to the sun will weaken the denim fibers and also ‘bleach’ your jeans over time.
Air-Drying: When air-drying, lay the jeans flat. Since denim gets quite heavy when wet, hanging the jeans will result in stretching, ruining the fit.
On-Body Drying: Purist swear by wearing your denim wet and letting it dry on your body, claiming that it’s the only way to get truly form-fitting jeans.
Machine Drying: While this is okay for pre-shrunk denim, higher-end raw denim should never see the inside of a dryer, since it’s prone to shrinking up to 10%.
Avoiding the Wash:
If you’re going to go hardcore and avoid washing your jeans for months on end, it’s important to give them a break every now and then. Though the concept of a ‘freezer’ wash – putting your jeans in the freezer to kill odor-causing bacteria – is popular, scientists have proven that it doesn’t work. The best option? For every few days you wear them, let them hang in a well-ventilated closet for a day to allow odor-causing elements to disperse.
No Matter What, It’s Going to Take Time:
With all denim distressing, the old adage ‘less is more’ is worth noting. Even though you may want blown-out holes or intense shredding on your jeans, those things will occur through natural wear; all you want to do is get the process started. Go too far with your distressing and the denim won’t last. The best elements that go into making a pair of jeans uniquely ‘you’ come with time and patience.