Distress Signals: How to add character to your clothes

Tired of paying too much for distressed and vintage looking clothes? Well do it yourself! Learn how to get that great look with everything from jeans to sweatshirts. This lens will feature project ideas, techniques and tips, detailed how-to's and step by step instructions to get that destroyed and distressed look.

The Distresser's Toolkit

everything you need

Okay, so you've got a boring sweatshirt or a pair of jeans that could use some character. The following items are what I like to call "The Distresser's Toolkit" and they are essential for taking your common clothing and making them unique and special.

Besides a flat, stable work surface and some ingenuity, here's what you need to get started.

1)Sandpaper - This is one of the most basic tools in all of distressing, but also one of the most usefull. I like to have both the coarse and fine grain sandpaper, as both have different uses and effects. Sandpaper is used for adding wear to elbows, knees, seats, and is also good for adding wear to the cuffs and hems of your garment.

2)Kife - Having a good, sharp knife is almost as important as having sandpaper when distressing your clothing. Kives have several uses. Using the kife's sharp, flat edge, you can apply specific spots of wear to an item. Rubbing a knife across the grain of the denim can also accelerate wear. You can also use the tip of the kife for smaller areas or to make thread marks or cuts in specific spots.

3)Pumice stone or other abrasive rock - Using this to distress and area can give you a completley different feel from sandpaper. This can smooth out and dull the fabric without eroding too much of it.

4)Bleach and a small paintbrush or bleach gel pen - This is critical to get a faded look on either an entire area or specific part of your garment. For jeans you can apply bleach with the brush to the desired area, and with the gel pen you can apply it directly. For t-shirts or sweatshirts, submerge the item in a bleach/water mix. The longer you leave the bleach on, or the longer you leave the garment in before washing, the more dramatic the effect will be.

5)Seam Ripper - This is essential for breaking seams around pockets or embroidery. Using this sparingly can really give your garment a lived-in feel.

The Prep

How to get your stuff ready

When picking something to distress there are usually two options.
1)Something older
2)Something you just bought

If the item that you are going to distress falls into category 1, you can skip this step all together.

The goal of prepping your garment is to give it that worn, broken-in feel, and there are several ways that we can accomplish this.

The first, and most important thing when prepping your garment for distressing is to wash and dry it. This begins the break in process, and shrinks it down before you do any work on it. This is important because you don't want to do a lot of work on an item, only to find that it doesn't look the same when it comes out of the dryer.

After this initial washing and drying, wash it at least two or three more times, with heavy amounts of fabric softener. You might also find it helpful to throw in an old shoe or other washer and dryer safe article that can knock around against your garment.

Another options that can add an aged look and feel to a garment is sun drying. Either wash, or simply soak your garment in water and place it out on your driveway, or another area it will recieve direct, hot sunlight. Make sure to do this twice, once with each side, to ensure even fading.

Coming soon: Project Ideas and step by step guides...

Project Idea 1: The Hoodie

Make that sweatshirt look vintage.

So you have a brand new sweatshirt or one that you've had for a while, but could use a new twist. Let's roll up our sleeves and make something cool.

The first step in the process is the prep. If your hoodie is older, then this wont be as crucial or as long of a process. If it's brand new, however, it might take a little to get it ready. For tips on how to soften, fade, and break in your hoodie, check out the post above.

After your hoodie has been sufficently prepped, it's time to get down to business. You'll find that any distressed hoodie has work done on one or a combonation of these places: cuffs, bottom, front kangaroo pocket, hood edging.

Distressing on a hoodie comes in two forms: cutting/tearing and fraying.

Small cuts or tears work the best on the cuffs and bottom of the hoodie. Be sure to use the sparingly, as overdoing it can seriously damage the garment. Also, small snips in the double-stiched side edging of the kangaroo pocket add some excellent texture.

Fraying with sandpaper works well on all the areas of the hoodie. When fraying the cuffs, I've found this method to work the best: Take the cuff of the sleeve and grab it around the wrist area so it bunches up and you end up holding it with the ends of the cuff coming out of the top of your hand like a boquet. With your other hand, take the sandpaper and run it across the bunched up ends to fray them slightly.

You can also fray the kangaroo pocket or, if possible, the applique or stitching on the front.

Finally, a great place to do some fraying is the hood edges and lining. When fraying the inside of the hood linging, your goal is to expose small areas of the string that tightens the hood. Be sure to only expose small areas. Also using the same method as described for the cuffs, you can fray the edges of the hood.

Thats it for now. Remember the name of the game when distressing sweatshirts is moderation. Don't go overboard or you'll end up beating up your sweatshirt so much you can't even wear it. If you want, buy a cheap one to practice on.