Queens of the Neighborhood: A Tutorial

A denim-jacket DIY.

I love customizing jackets. For me, it’s not only about having an item of clothing that I can wear with anything–it’s that it says something about me. I use my jackets as a canvas for screaming: “HEY GUYS THIS IS EVERYTHING I AM/LOVE/BELIEVE IN.” And thus complete strangers can take one glance at me and instantly know what I’m all about. And a custom jacket is of course a key component in any badass gang: the Pink Ladies, the Man-Eaters, the Pin Pals–what would they be without their jackets? As much as your personalized jacket is all about you, it can also be about being part of a group, sharing tastes and beliefs, and creating unity between you and your friends.

My own mini girl gang (we currently refer to ourselves as Mermaid Tears) includes, but is not always limited to, me, Ava, and Mirren (last seen in the Queens of the Neighborhood photo album). (We adopted Sasha for the shoot.) For this fun-packed extravaganza, we each got our hands on an Urban Outfitters vintage denim jacket and brainstormed about ten thousand ideas for materials, techniques, and imagery so that we could show the world we mean business. We hope to inspire you to think of then thousand ways to customize your own denim jacket.

Left to right: Eleanor, Mirren, Sasha, and Ava.

We started off by working on what we’ve dubbed our “homework sheets.” These are photocopied templates that can be colored in and bejeweled in preparation for making your dream jacket. If you really want to do your homework, and if, like me, you never got over the joy of coloring books, grab your own template here.

My design:

Mirren’s design:

Ava’s design:


Eleanor’s jacket

First, I tie-dyed my jacket. I should note that I tie-dye all the time, and by now I usually just make it up as I go along. If you’re a beginner, it’s probably a good idea to follow the instructions that come with the dyes.

1. Cover your work area with newspaper. Then fill an empty spray bottle with watered-down bleach, and spray the jacket all over to lighten it up. The ratio of bleach to water is completely variable. Start with a lot of water and a little bit of bleach, and slowly add more bleach if you feel the fabric is not getting light enough. You don’t want to immediately overdo it, as too much bleach can eat away at the fabric. Do this outside or in a well-ventilated space, as the fumes don’t smell great, and working with bleach is not 100 percent risk free. Give the bleach a short while to set (I waited about 30 minutes), and then put the jacket in a cool, gentle wash.

2. Once your jacket has dried, you can get to the tie-dyeing. I decided to use pink, orange, and purple dyes. I poured about four ounces of dye into each tub, along with 2-3 gallons of very hot water. Then I added two tablespoons of salt to each tub. (The more salt you mix in and the hotter the water, the less likely the dye is to fade. If you want a faded look, you can put in a little less salt, use cooler water, or wait a shorter amount of time for the dye to set before washing.) I dipped various areas of the jacket into the tubs, and sprinkled some dye mixture onto other parts. Sprinkling salt on the jacket at this stage can make a nice speckled effect. I recommend wearing gloves, which I did not do (and consequently I had red hands for days afterwards, which raised eyebrows in my place of work). I let the jacket dry overnight before hand-washing it in cold water and allowing it to dry again. Washing is important, as it ensures that you won’t start leaking rainbows in the rain, and it fades the color a little so it looks more subtle.

3. I found a gorgeous vintage belt at a market stall and stitched it to the collar of the jacket. You can easily find pieces like this at markets, boutiques, or online. You could also use fabric, trimmings, and/or other embellishments. If you want to make your collar detachable (so you can mix and match it with other jackets and outfits), you can attach it with safety pins instead of sewing it on.

4. For the back of the jacket, I found a flower ribbon in a local craft shop, and I cut out the flowers to appliqué onto my jacket. You can cut shapes out of any printed fabric, or make your own shapes. Next, I used anti-fray glue on the edges of the flowers before sewing them on. Then, to compliment the mirrored collar, I bought some mirrors (you can get these from a lot of craft stores), which I stitched in the center of each flower.

5. After seeing Meadham Kirchhoff’s Fall 2012 collection, I was inspired to make my own googly-eye buttons for the cuffs of my jacket. I bought a pair of stuffed-animal eyes from a craft store. These normally can be simply punched through fabric, but as the buttons on denim jackets are hard to remove, I decided to saw the backs of the eyes off, using a small hacksaw on a cutting board. Be careful if you do this! I had my parents help me with this part! Then I superglued the eyes over the original buttons.



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  • Aria August 16th, 2012 3:05 PM

    Totally awesome jackets! Will definitely try this at home.

  • rainysister August 16th, 2012 3:15 PM

    I love this! I have a denim jacket in my closet that I’ve been wanting to do something to for the longest time. This gave me lots of ideas.

  • Susann August 16th, 2012 3:17 PM

    Really cool and super creative!

    Fashion in Pepperland

  • Adrienne August 16th, 2012 3:24 PM

    So inspired right now! This is my favorite DIY thus far, and the article includes every single detail which is really great. :) Thanks Eleanor!

  • Pearl August 16th, 2012 3:24 PM

    So many cool DIY ideas! I’m gonna try these soon on my vintage denim jacket.

  • larvaa_ August 16th, 2012 3:48 PM

    Yayy! I’ve been waiting for this tutorial, I’ll totally be trying bits and pieces on one of my denim jackets possibly even some old jeans?! \m/

  • streaked lights August 16th, 2012 3:52 PM

    After your Queen of the Neighbor shoot, I couldn’t wait for a tutorial. And now it’s here! DREAMS DO COME TRUE.

    Haha, anyway, I love love love Mirren’s jacket. The cherub painting + silk flowers had me screaming! And now that I know that you can actually paint of denim… well, the possibilities are endless!

    Anoosha Draws

  • kendallakwia August 16th, 2012 3:52 PM

    this is so fucking cool… I wish I had the talent to do stuff like this!

  • Ben August 16th, 2012 3:53 PM

    I’ve had a denim jaket for a while that I never wore and I wanted to customize it soon! Thanks for all the ideas!

  • Sea goddess August 16th, 2012 3:54 PM


  • Annie92 August 16th, 2012 3:55 PM

    This is the BEST DIY EVER!!! I’m totally gonna do this. Thanks rookie!

  • Rhiannon August 16th, 2012 4:21 PM

    I know you’ll probably think this is such a TERRIBLE CRIME but I….don’t. own. a. denim. jacket.

    So if I was to do this, do you think I should aim to find one in a charity or vintage shop (I’m in England and we don’t possess beautiful thrift stores) ?

    • dianeisnotmyname August 16th, 2012 6:10 PM

      Well… I live in the US, but I’ve always found really cheep denim jackets at Goodwill, so I guess your equivalent is a charity store. Check out the men’s section if you can’t find a good one in the women’s section- the men’s section is where I always find the best jackets and flannels.

      • Rhiannon August 17th, 2012 6:03 PM

        Yeah – thanks!! I’ll do that next week, mwahahahahaa
        When I eventually escape to the U.S, I will buy the entire contents of a thrift store.

  • Naomi August 16th, 2012 4:47 PM

    wowzas, this is amazing

  • TCB August 16th, 2012 4:48 PM

    This is JUST. SO. RAD. I just finished fixin’ up my denim jacket a couple months ago ( but now i wanna buy ANOTHER one and do ALL of the bleaching and tie-dyeing.

    • Whatsername August 16th, 2012 7:46 PM

      Haha, loving the cake with the Hole lyrics! That’s adorable.

  • Flower August 16th, 2012 5:01 PM

    Customized jackets and kind of my passion. I wrote a story last summer about someone who uses a jacket to record their entire life (I did submit it to. Rookie but didn’t hear back. ) My favourite all have millions of patches and badges and this is so perfect.

    • mubymuu November 19th, 2012 12:32 PM

      I immensely adooooorre your blog and ive only just read the first post (which is generally a good sign) its got a gguuttspaa that i cant put my finger on.

  • firstcomestherain August 16th, 2012 5:46 PM

    I love demin! I need to try this.

  • kendallkh August 16th, 2012 7:34 PM

    I’m so glad you guys made this DIY omg as soon as I saw those photos I knew I had to make a jacket like that

  • Whatsername August 16th, 2012 7:43 PM

    Great tutorial. I have a plain denim jacket I plan on screwing with once the weather cools down. Band patches all around, ayy.

    {I totally died laughing when you said each jacket is from Urban Outfitters though. Thrift stores are LOADED with denim jackets. Why waste all that money on overpriced “vintage”? Isn’t DIY about making awesome personalized stuff for cheap?}

  • Pollyana August 16th, 2012 7:52 PM

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I once sat behind a girl in my Geometry class who drew an exact replica of herself topless, the collar is where the neck started and yes, she even drew her nipples. :/

  • mar9ar3t August 16th, 2012 8:05 PM

    My mind was blown by this DIY! Using a coin purse to make elbow patches?? Pure genius. And the tie dying turned out so pretty!

  • Maddy August 16th, 2012 8:43 PM

    these are soo gorgeous and I adore the rose petals. they look real. i will have to puzzle through the tutorial for them later. I keep going to Saver’s to look for a denim jacket to do stuff to but I can’t find one! maybe st. vincent’s? anyway never considered using clothes as an outlet like this and it actually working! :)

  • Sphinx August 16th, 2012 8:53 PM

    I love DIY stuff like these!
    I wanted a jean jacket for the longest time, and I finally got one as a Christmas present last year…
    I customized it by putting spikes on the lapels, sewing a “Do It Yourself!” patch on one of the arms (like the Vivienne Westwood one) and filling the front with band pins.
    On the back I used safety pins to put a photo of Bikini Kill, with “I’m so sorry if I’m alienating some of you, your fucking culture alienates me” written over it, and I still want to write “Kamikaze Grrrl” on the top.

    (I love the Wallace Collection, the rococo idea is great!)

  • aliceee August 16th, 2012 9:37 PM

    beautiful. I must do this!!

  • LeatherStuddedFae August 16th, 2012 11:02 PM

    OMGOMG! Thank you for making a DIY tutorial on these! <3 I love you, guise.


  • nengmega August 16th, 2012 11:03 PM

    Omg Ava, your horse embroidery is total awesome. I also love the idea of the silk roses!

    living in daylight

  • Serena.K August 16th, 2012 11:09 PM

    i fell in love with eleanor’s jacket in that photo album! i’m so glad you posted a diy post for it! now i shall have a tie-dye denim jacket to call my own.

  • Jessica W August 17th, 2012 1:06 AM

    You have no idea how much I wanted this tutorial after looking through the Queens of the Neighborhood photos.
    Like I cannot begin to explain how much I wanted this tutorial…
    So in short, THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!!!
    The Lovelorn

  • Lucille August 17th, 2012 1:09 AM

    So Rookie!LOVE it, gotta try it out!


  • TessAnnesley August 17th, 2012 2:13 AM

    omg can the mermaid tears have an australian division so i can join

  • ivoire August 17th, 2012 2:59 AM

    oh my!!!!!!L thses are so fab and girl gang-y!!!!!!! i am super excited to go and diy my mums old denims now. COIN PURSES AS ELBOW PADS:BEST IDEA.

  • AlicesPlatforms August 17th, 2012 3:50 AM

    Now, I’m off to find a jacket to bleach, tie dye and customize! @_@

  • Olivia August 17th, 2012 7:42 AM

    omg elle i didn’t even notice the belt collar piece!!! genius!! beautiful!!!

  • rockslita August 17th, 2012 8:04 AM

    Wow, this is SO amazing!

    Rosalie from

  • amazeedayzee August 17th, 2012 1:26 PM

    This is so cute ;_; Definitely my next project. I loved the Queens of the Neighborhood photos.

  • Rhiannon August 17th, 2012 6:08 PM

    I love Sasha’s custom Topshop shorts.!

  • SweetThangVintage August 17th, 2012 10:03 PM

    Oh my goodness! I need to send you guys a picture of the jacket I customized!

  • whodatgal August 18th, 2012 7:12 AM

    So fudging amaze <3 <3 <3 <3

  • willow August 18th, 2012 9:36 PM

    wahhh this is brilliant I’m so excited to try this! except I def won’t be getting my jacket at urban outfiters, they’re hella unethical and awful

  • guiltfreedonut August 20th, 2012 10:15 PM

    This is so perfect. I have a bunch of stuff I want to DIY. I love the mirrors on the collar!

    I did this to a Lady Gaga jacket. I feel super bad-ass everytime I wear it (not because it’s Gaga), but because of the super bad-ass skull pin I added on the front(:

    Here’s the link to where I made it:

  • marimba_girl August 22nd, 2012 11:06 AM

    What is the best way to hand sew patches on denim? I don’t have a sewing machine or friends with one and I am looking for the best approach.

  • Teal.Skye August 29th, 2012 11:32 PM

    This is really nice. Inspired to go distress, vandalize, and -love- my jackets now. <3

  • Loops September 17th, 2012 11:31 AM

    Something to do with the denim jacket decomposing in the back of my cupboard! :’)

  • linandunicorns September 23rd, 2012 9:50 AM

    Omg ! You are AWESOME !
    You have done an amazing job :D

  • April 29th, 2013 12:15 PM

    Oh dear, i love you so much for doing this.