They are cut so the white thread shows but the denim is not showing
Back in the 80's we used power tools to distress the denim. I recommend a sandblaster and/or a belt sander. If you're going for the fully ripped look, use a seam ripper or a razor to make horizontal slits across the legs every inch or so. Ideally, use the seam ripper to start the cut, and then just rip it until it's the width you want. Then wash several times, as Re-design suggests. Further sanding also helps to fray the edges to avoid that just-cut look.
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I believe I saw a "how it works" show on tv a few months back that noted that the same basic method is being used in commercial operations that produce the "off the shelf" distressed jeans. Sometimes I wonder who thought of that idea. It seems crazy (as an adult) to take a perfectly good pair of jeans and go way beyond merely breaking them in (cutting the natural "stiff" of a "true-new" pair) to literally halving their useable life...How many people would pay for a new2 stereos system that had been overdriven thru the wrong speakers at the factory or a car that someone had graciously bumped into a number of telephone poles, snagged curbs with the rims, and run with old oil filled only half way to pre-damage the engine? yeah, I know...fashion.
I'm with you. Back in the day, I did what jeff-o did and just wore the jeans until they were no longer wearable. Working in a scene shop distresses denim just fine without any intentional intervention. I had a few friends that were a lot more fashion-conscious than I was, so that's how we learned about the power-tool shortcuts. Personally, I would never pay for pre-distressed jeans. Even my fashionable friends scoffed at the idea of buying holey jeans at the store.
I remember BuckShot jeans, 1 round of buckshot and 10 wash's later you got something special.
I wear 'em until they look like that. That's old school!
If you cut "most" jeans then wash them 10 times in hot water it will fray the edges. When they fray there is more with thread in the material than blue thread and it shows up more. The blue thread seems to be white cotton thread died blue on the outside. Some jeans, the super long wearing kind are almost all blue thread.