However, simply taking a pair of scissors to a pair of skinny jeans might not deliver the result you want, with holes in awkward places that no longer make the pants wearable. To get started and rip your jeans the right way, begin with these suggestions:
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Understand the Types of Ripped Jeans
Not all rips and distressing are identical, and frequently take some skill in a DIY project. For starters, common distressing options include:
- Holes: The fabric isn’t merely sanded down, and instead, the distressing passes completely through the material, showing some skin in the process. Although rips and holes overlap, a rip tends to be a clearly vertical or horizontal cut, while a hole covers more surface area and exposes more skin. In regards to the rules here, keep holes strictly to one side of the material – for instance, around, right above, or directly below the knee – and avoid having them pass to the other side. Otherwise, this can compromise your jeans’ structure and feel as you wear them.
- Shreds: Also referred to as a ladder if done horizontally, sheds tear the fabric but not all the way through, leaving bits of thread holding it together and partially covering the hole.
- Scrapes or scratches: Also known as an abrasion or whiskering in some contexts, this distressing style involves taking an abrasive material – sandpaper, more commonly, in DIY projects – and wearing part of the material’s surface away, so that it looks thinner, faded, and more textured compared to the rest of the denim.
Using these techniques, common styles for ripping your jeans include:
- Right across the knee: Consider this the fashion blogger edition, with every who’s who out there sporting nearly identical rips across the knees of a midrise, moderately tapered silhouette.
- Ripped and repaired: Involving more holes than true rips, this method involves creating holes around the knee or anywhere on the front. Instead of leaving it open, a piece of fabric is placed behind – denim or another material – for the look of repair while creating an uneven patched appearance. Threads still remain around the original hole, which gets rid of a defined border between the two materials.
- Destroyed denim: As the name implies, destroyed denim takes ripping and distressing to the extreme. While there’s no single way to do it, expect a mix of holes, rips, shredding, fraying, and distressing.
How to Rip Jeans
Considering all of these methods and end goals, it’s tempting to take a pair of jeans and start cutting away with a pair of scissors. Yet, unless you’re intentionally aiming for haphazard (and aren’t going to be too concerned with the final product), planning is integral to this project:
Think About Denim Type
It’s becoming rarer and rare to find pairs of 100-percent cotton jeans. Even Levi’s adds a touch of spandex for stretch and comfort, and that’s not to speak about the spandex-heavy spray-on jeans out there and thinner formulations incorporating polyester.
Ideally, you want to start with a mostly cotton combination, or else the elastic fibers holding the fabric together will be visibly apparent and won’t create a clean shred. As a tip, consider starting with thrift or vintage options, as you’re more likely to find a fully cotton fabrication.
Avoid New Jeans
Never just buy a pair off the shelf (even secondhand) before wearing them first. You want to see how the material fits and falls on you. This will provide more insight into the best spots to rip holes and distress the material and, frankly, help avoid awkwardness later on.
Wash Your Jeans
Although you may have washed your jeans several times before, having a literal clean slate and rougher appearance makes it easier to rip and distress the fabric.
Make a Plan
As we’ve said already, you don’t just want to take a scissor to the fabric to create a few rips and holes. Instead, either for symmetry or to make sure you’re targeting the right spots, start marking up your jeans before you take any action.
After putting on the jeans, take a piece of chalk or a pencil and then draw where you would like the rips and holes. Then, remove the jeans, lay them down on the floor, and make the marks more defined.
For a few suggestions:
- Keep holes concentrated around your knees and away from your thighs.
- Examine the number of rips your jeans will have. Around two to three rips are serviceable – anything beyond this tends to be overkill – and you can reserve distressing for the rest of the material.
Gather Your Tools
To create holes, you’ll need a scissor – preferably one small enough for nails – or a penknife on hand. For distressing, sandpaper, steel wool, tweezers, and a pumice stone are all options, as is a cheese grater.
So that the distressing doesn’t go through to the other side, have something to put inside the leg of each jean – newspaper or cardboard tends to work.
Making the Rips
For how to rip your jeans at the knee, take the scissors or penknife and do one of the following:
- Cut directly across and through the material and take the tweezers to fray the edges.
- Scrape the area surrounding the lines you drew. Go back and forth over the area, until you start to see white threads emerge from the blue.
- If you’re doing this over a larger area to create a ladder rip, separate the strands as you fray the material, leaving a few in place.
- Attach a denim patch behind the hole for more of a ripped and repaired appearance, if that’s what you’re aiming for.
- Consider matching the hem to the knees. Use the tweezers or penknife to pull out the fibers to fray the edge.
How to Distress Your Jeans
Along with all techniques listed above for how to rip your jeans, continue to distress the fabric through the following methods:
- Fading: This starts during the wash phase and should involve a pair you’ve been wearing for the past few years. Either wash them in a solution with a higher percentage of bleach, have them sit in a 1:1 water-to-bleach solution, or take a paint brush to apply the bleach manually before having them sit overnight.
- Fraying: With sandpaper and tweezers, consider going over the jeans’ edges – near the waistband, hem, and pockets – to scrape away the material until you start to see more white threads.
- Scraping: This distressing technique involves taking a small tool, like tweezers or even a bobby pin, and scraping away at the surface until small holes start to form.
- Sandpaper: Take sandpaper, the pumice stone, steel wool, or cheese grater and go over patches of the material until it develops a rough, coarse texture or starts to show small holes.