Ask A North Bay Expert: How To Distress Your Jeans

April 8, 2014 6:00 AM

171162727 Ask A North Bay Expert: How To Distress Your Jeans(credit: Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

CBS San Francisco asked a North Bay expert to provide readers with useful, do-it-yourself tips for distressing a pair of jeans. Here is what Elizabeth, who works at Dharma Trading Company of Petaluma, had to say.

What tips can you give in selecting the perfect pair of denim for this project?

The best jeans to use are 100-percent cotton or jeans with no more then 1 percent of spandex. You can start with new jeans, or jeans that already have some wear. A great source is thrift stores – just check the jeans carefully to make sure they are not too worn in the seams on inner leg, as you want those to be strong. You want distressed, not falling off. If you want a lot of contrast, start with a darker pair of jeans.

What kind of surface should this project be worked on?

You want a clean table to lay out the jeans so you can see your work. If you wish to do any bleaching, or use any paints, then it needs to be a surface you can clean or cover in plastic.

What kinds of tools are needed for this job?

Great tools for distressing jeans include medium grit sandpaper, small micro plane graters, an X-Acto knife, sharp scissors and a seam ripper.

How do you physically make the ‘distressed’ look appear on jeans?

To get started, grab your sandpaper and select an area to rub, such as on the thigh, hip or shin. Rub the sandpaper with the grain of the fabric. It should start to fuzz and lighten a bit. You can also do this with the grater, which will work through the fabric faster if you want a thin area. For holes, use the X-Acto knife or scissors to cut into the fabric. When you wash it later, the fabric will fray up and the holes will show more.

Should you use bleach?

You can use bleach to distress areas or lighten the whole pair of jeans. It is best to do this in a well-ventilated area, as chlorine fumes are not good for you. Use about 1 tablespoon of bleach, to a cup or two of water (depending on how washed out you want it to get) and fill a spray bottle. You can spray specific areas, scrunch the jeans up, and spray so just the top of the folds get the bleach, etc. Let it sit and check on it regularly to see how the bleaching is progressing. Once you are happy with it, rinse it in cold running water, then treat it with a bleach neutralizer like Dharma Trading’s Bleach Stop. This product will stop the bleaching action so you do not end up with holes where you just wanted a faded look.

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How important is reinforcing the holes?

If you have good-sized holes, it can help to do some stitching 1/4″-1/2″ in from the edge to keep the fabric from fraying past that point. You can do the stitching before you wash the jeans, or after the very first wash. It can be fun to use embroidery floss for decorative faux darning or other decorative stitching around the holes.

Would you advise that this work be done outdoors – due to the bleach odor and mess?

The bleaching is definitely best done outside or some place well ventilated. Other techniques can be done inside, but keep a vacuum handy for when you are done to clean up the threads and fuzz.

Where should beginners start – just to get the hang of this process?
We suggest beginners start with the sandpaper, it is the most gradual process and hard to take too far.

Is there anything needed besides bleach products to give the distressed look?

There are other options besides bleach, but most are not really available to hobbyist crafters. Things like enzyme washes and sand blasting require special equipment and safety measures.

When does staining/cutting/tearing become too much, or take on the ‘overdone’ look?

This is really in the eye of the beholder. The key is to take it a step at a time, try the jeans on a few times during the process (except when bleaching of course) and just keep going until you are happy.

For additional questions about this craft, contact Elizabeth and other experts are also on staff to help with this and other crafting questions and to give thoughtful instruction.

Dharma Trading Co.
1805 S. McDowell Blvd. Extension
Petaluma, CA 94954
(800) 542-5227

Kelly Gullo is a freelance writer in San Francisco, CA. Kellys topics are about music and nightlife. Kelly has also written a variety of articles on health and dieting and topics related to the environment. Kelly has a degree in journalism and public relations from Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. Her work can be found at

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