Hello, jean-sewing enthusiasts! Today for our Jean-ius series, Melissa and I are discussing fading and distressing.
Distressed jeans have been fashionable for decades now, and don’t seem to be going anywhere. There is just something inviting, comfortable, and chic about a pair of perfectly-worn jeans. Most RTW anymore jeans come at least a little bit distressed; the fabric softened and the color faded. But most denim fabric does not. So how’s a home-jeans-maker to get that RTW distressed look?
You can either distress your denim before or after sewing. I did a fun bleach treatment to the entire yardage of the denim on used on my son’s faded-out jeans I blogged HERE. The choice is up to you, and you’ll get different effects depending on when you distress, before or after. Doing the distressing first will get you more randomly placed, all-over distressing. Waiting to do the work after the jeans are sewn gives you a bit more control on placement. For my distressing in this post, I started with a freshly-sewn pair of jeans.
The pattern is from Burda Style 3/2014, pattern #115. This was my third time sewing this pattern, but this is my favorite pair yet. The denim is from Pacific Blue Denims and is the best quality I have ever sewn with. It’s a designer blend, like I mentioned yesterday, with a 2% lycra content and 10oz weight. It’s perfect and you can feel the quality. It was great to sew with!
I have done a bit of distressing before, and let me tell you, starting with high-quality denim is a big bonus! It holds its structure better and doesn’t snag. In fact, one of my other pairs I sewed with this same pattern (seen here) somehow snagged an elastic thread, and there is a strange pucker through the left thigh now that neither steams nor washes out. But this denim took my destruction attempts like a champ and I LOVE how they turned out!
So let’s go over some methods of distressing.
The basic and least scary is softening your jeans. Just use regular sandpaper. I don’t really pay attention to grit, just use whatever I find in our garage. I also use a rubber glove because the texture of sandpaper makes me want to crawl in the fetal position and whimper. If you have similar sensory issues, that don’t extend to sweaty palms and latex, then rubber gloves are a must.
You also need something blockey to wrap the sandpaper around so you can hold onto and control it more easily. I used a Melissa and Doug milk carton wooden toy because it happened to be laying at my feet and I’m lazy. But let’s just say “resourceful” instead.
Start sanding up and down. Avoid side-to-side as that can stretch your fabric out, especially if the quality of your fabric isn’t as good. As you sand, you’ll quickly see and feel the fabric begin to soften. You’ll also produce a TON of lint. Don’t wear white or do this next to your kid as they eat cereal. <—that’s for me to remember next time. I sanded, or brushed, my entire pair of jeans to soften them up completely. Some areas I focused a bit more on, but most of the jeans I left just a nicely softened and not too worn.
You can stop whenever you feel you’ve achieved the desired amount of softening. If you keep going, though, you’ll start to wear through the fabric. I wanted a few worn spots and holes, so I sanded just to the beginning stages of holes in a few key spots- at the hip pockets and upper thighs. I didn’t actually break through the fabric, but just almost. Also, take care over stitching. You can all too easily sand away your stitching. So keep the sanding light and easy over stitches, focusing more on the folded edges next to the stitches to get any desired fraying in the areas.
Whiskering is another distressing technique. It creates lines of wear. These lines occur naturally at areas of bending: the backs of knees and front hips. You can add them yourself to give your jeans a well-loved look.
To add whiskering, put your jeans on and mark the areas where your jeans fold when you bend and sit (backs of knees and the front hip area). Have someone help you, if it’s easier, but things don’t really need to be super exact or precise. After removing your jeans, take the fabric in that area and make a few tucks across the grain. Baste the tucks with your sewing machine or a wide hand stitch. Sand across those tucks until the white starts to show more than the blue of the denim.
Remove your basting stitches.
I also did a few less-obvious whiskers down the length of my legs simply by bunching the fabric with my hands, holding firmly and running the sand paper up the length of the bunched fabric.
Okay, now here is where the phrase “less is more” really comes into play; adding holes to your new jeans. Don’t go too crazy, making your holes too big or wide. Once you start a hole, especially at the knees or bum, it’s going to grow quite quickly and naturally all on its own as you wear the jeans. So keep things small for now. If you want to keep the holes in check, and not let them grow too much on their own, you can add some decorative and functional stitching around the outside of the hole, about 1/4 inch away from the edges on all sides.
Okay, with those warnings out of the way, let’s rip some jeans! Some people use a razor blade, but I like to use my seam ripper because it’s easier to hold and I feel like I can control it better. Either way, make sure to not go through both layers of denim (front and back) as you rip. Just make a small slit horizontally across your fabric.
Now, take tweezers or your seam ripper, and start picking out the vertical threads (called the “warp”). Leave the horizontal threads (called “weft” or “woof”) in tact as much as possible.
You’ll soon start to get a nice little hole. It’s best, like in whiskering, to try the jeans on first and determine where you want the holes. Generally speaking, I like a few small holes at the upper thighs and the knees. The fun part of distressing, though, is you are in charge and you get to make your jeans unique and to your preference.
One last tip. Avoid too much distressing, particularly holes, at the seams. You don’t want to compromise the actual structure of your jeans.
Now you have a great pair of comfortable, hip jeans!
Special thanks to Pacific Blue Denims for providing the denim for the jeans in this post. I can’t recommend their fabrics enough. They are fantastic quality, great service, and unbelievable selection. Check them out HERE
And don’t forget to check out Melissa’s fading tips at Melly Sews today, to customize your denim even more