From Animal Attacks to Zombies! (Distressing Tutorial)

While looking for Wasteland Weekend outfit ideas, I came across a lot of amazing photos of distressed clothing. Though I did my best to re-create some of the looks I saw on Pinterest (Curse you, Pinterest!), nothing was coming out quite right. Though I have experience making clothing, artfully destroying was harder than it looked. I reached out to my friend, Melodie Gore, an experienced costumer, and asked her to help me Wasteland-Up. Mel was super excited to help me destroy old clothes. We made a craft day of it and she was kind enough to explain the process while she distressed my jeans. I was so happy with the results, that I asked her if she’d mind writing a distressing tutorial for Geeky Freaky.

From Animal Attacks to ZoMbiEs!

A Simple Distressing “How To…” by Melodie Gore

First, get your clothing items and craft supplies together. For this tutorial I used the following:

  • Clothing Item! For this tutorial, I used an old pair of my Friend’s jeans.
  • Dremmel or any rotary tool with a sanding attachment and a few different grain belts.
  • Small Razor or Xacto Blade
  • Scissors (Heavy Duty)
  • Movie Dirt (found at SFX makeup stores, online, and some Halloween stores)
  • Loose powder for setting makeup in a dark tan or brown shade (You can easily find these at Walmart, Target, beauty supply stores, and most drugstores, like Rite Aid and Walgreens.)
  • Small, hard object like a piece of wood to use as a divider. (This is so you can separate the front and back of the fabric/clothing, so you don’t mess up either side…too much.)
  • Stage Blood…if needed. (Found almost anywhere online and at SFX make-up stores.)



Before starting, make sure you have your safety equipment on…STEP 1: Place the hard object (meant to use as a dividing, workable surface) between the front and back of the clothing/fabric. I chose to place mine in-between the knee of the pant leg, where I decided I want add some wear-and-tear. This keeps the layers separate, and also gives more stability.STEP 2: Once you choose your sanding grain and speed, take the Dremmel or rotary tool and lightly let it hit and glide along the surface of the fabric. The more pressure you use, the more fibers will pull apart. It’s good to use various amounts of pressure across the material, to create a more natural wear for certain looks. Use more pressure to make the holes larger in the center, where typical wear takes place. Do some experimenting and always go soft before hard.NOTE: If you are distressing a light cotton fabric, try a higher grain paper and less power to. Finding your own speed, and grain will become a personal choice the more you do it. I change things all the time depending on the look and material. Here, I’m using a heavy denim and distressing the knee for some gnarly wear, which requires a rougher grain and a little more power.

STEP 3: To make more dramatic slashes or tears, use a sharp razor  or xacto blade. Use the blade to cut open holes or slash clothing. Once the desired cut is made, use the technique in step 2 to distress the edges, so it looks more organic and not man made. This will make the garment look more believable than leaving unworn edges.(If you are going for a “Recently Stabbed” look, be sure to study how different the entry and exit cuts will look and work on those edges. You can even use a lighter to burn edges to prevent further fraying or to give that fresh “I was on fire!” look.)NOTE: BE CAREFUL WHEN USING SHARP OBJECTS AND FIRE.


STEP 4: Time to add some dirt! There are many different combinations and types of movie dirt and makeup. I recommend finding and using the what works based solely on your personal vision. For this tutorial, I used Coco Tan translucent face powder from Ben Nye and Cinema Secrets black movie dirt (think soot).Start dirtying by generously sprinkling the loose powder (such as, the coco tan) all over the parts you want to look dirty. Rub the powder into the fabric tears and crevices by hand. Once you’re done with the first layer of dirt, add your movie dirt to give your cuts and tears more depth. If you’re using black movie dirt, like I did, it can also be used for singe/burn marks.NOTE: A little of these products goes a long way. I have had both these jars for 8 years and, depending on how much you use, yours can last just as long. Movie dirt comes in every color from Georgia Red Clay to Ash, and is also great for depth on holes, wounds, and details around prosthetics. You can even use it to make monster hand-prints for fun.


There you have it!This is how I distress clothing items for film, print, and fun!

Just keep repeating the steps until you get the desired look you want. Distressing is just another art, so research, experiment, and if all else fails…

~ Melodie Gore

Once she was done distressing and dirtying my jeans, Mel painted on some cool art, and they were good to go! Not only was I happy with how they looked, but I learned a lot watching Mel. Sadly, Wasteland Weekend is over, but these techniques can be used year-round for a number of costuming projects.

And just in time for Halloween!

Follow Melodie Gore on Social Media to see more of her work.

Instagram @melodie_gore

Melodie Gore Official

Melodie Gore on Cosplay Deviants

Melodie Gore on Patreon


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