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5 Ways to Upcycle Old Jeans

An old pair of jeans, before I turned them into something else.

An old pair of jeans, before I turned them into something else.

What Can I Do With My Old Jeans?

Jeans are one of the most popular articles of clothing today. They’re comfortable, durable, and just plain look good. However, they—like all things—eventually wear out and can be mended only so many times.

You don’t need to throw them out when they get in too rough a shape. With a little innovation, you can use them for quite a few different things. See how you can reinvent them below!

The fun, flippy skirt I made with my old jeans.

The fun, flippy skirt I made with my old jeans.

1. Make a Jean Skirt or Cut-Off Shorts

Since the first place that usually gets worn out in a pair of jeans is the knees, one of the easiest things to do with an old pair is to cut them off at the knee and turn them into a new pair of shorts. As long as the waist and hips still fit, there's no reason why you can't convert them into summer wear.

If you don't care for the raggedy look, you can hem them relatively easily. All you need to do is the following:

  1. Cut off the worst of the fraying.
  2. Fold the edge over by about a quarter inch and press that fold in place.
  3. Fold the edge over again.
  4. Press the fold and pin it in place.
  5. Secure it with the default single line stitch on your sewing machine. It's possible to hem them by hand, but sewing machines save on time, energy, and pin-pricked fingers.

Provided you don't mind a little extra effort, it's surprisingly easy to turn an old pair of jeans into a skirt, instead. Many different ways of doing this exist, which means you can make your new skirt in any style you like.

Ideas for further customization include:

  • a crochet hem.
  • embroidered detailing.
  • sewn-on patches. Patches are fun because you can either make them on your own, remove them from something you no longer use, or buy them from quirky shops around town.

These are especially great options if your jeans have pockets or belt loops you're especially fond of. Instead of giving up on wearing something you love, you can keep rocking it with a whole new style.

A simple handbag made out of an old pair of jeans.

A simple handbag made out of an old pair of jeans.

2. Upcycled Jean Bag

One of the easiest things to make on your own is a handbag. You can find numerous free patterns online or use an existing purse as a template. I personally like this idea because my husband's jeans get ripped up so severely that I can't convert them to something that requires a lot of fabric.

You can make messenger bags from the body of the jeans, and the legs provide fabric for smaller bags. It's also possible to use parts from different pairs of pants if you have multiple pairs that need some love.

  • The little handbag I regularly use was made from an old pair of my hubby’s jeans and fabric scraps from an old project. It’s held up well and is casual enough to match with almost everything I happen to be wearing.

How Big Can You Make the Bags From Old Denim?

Depending on how much fabric you can salvage from your jeans, your handmade bags can be an impressive range of sizes.

  • The pictured bag is great for a wallet, cell phone, keys and a couple of other small essentials. You loop it around your wrist and off you go.
  • Messenger bags, on the other hand, can be used as shopping bags or book bags. I take mine out on thrift store outings, and I've even carried it around a local convention to carry extra food, water, and whatever goodies I purchased.

I got a lot of comments and compliments on my bag. People are always impressed when I let them know I made it myself, and out of upcycled clothing, too!

3. Bag Lining or Patches

Because denim is thick but flexible, it’s great to use as lining for fabric bags. It offers them the shape they need without being too rigid. It also adds a little more durability, and, depending on the color, won’t show through thinner fabrics.

For crochet or knit bags, it stops things like pencils falling through. If the crochet stitch is big enough, the denim can add an interesting backdrop to the yarn.

What Can You Do With Denim Scraps?

It's also easy to make patches out of the scraps you've cut from the old jeans. You can use them to mend clothing you still want to use or as decoration for one of your new creations. By using scraps as patches, you're wasting very little while developing a fashion all your own.

  • While bag linings might take a little more fabric, patches are great because you can make them out of jeans that are otherwise unusable. If you're layering your patch over something, just hem around the edges for a nice, clean look.
  • You can customize them with other pieces of fabric, fabric paint, beads, or even embroidery.

I've also had fun putting patches under tears in the knees of other jeans. You can reinforce the patch with some sewing tape, and then stitch around the frayed tear with thread that matches your jeans. You'll then have that interesting frayed look with denim peeking out of the tear.

Get creative, and have fun with it!

This is just the pocket from an old pair of my jeans. I punched holes in the corners and tied a length of suede through them.

This is just the pocket from an old pair of my jeans. I punched holes in the corners and tied a length of suede through them.

4. DIY Wall Art

Jeans pockets have an interesting look to them. Women’s pockets, in particular, usually have some sort of ornamental stitching or embroidery.

  1. Cut around the pocket without actually cutting into it. When you're done, you'll have a tiny, flat bag.
  2. Punch two holes into the top at either corner and thread cording through it. I used some old leather cording, but things like hemp or even yarn are possibilities. If you know how to do macrame, you can probably come up with some very unique knot work patterns.

There we have it: a simple bag to hang on your wall. It's a fun accent piece and storage for small objects. Who doesn't love multifunctional decorations?

You can experiment with a seemingly infinite number of ideas. Another option is to cut the waistline of the jeans from the body while keeping the belt loops intact. Secure the fabric to a wooden base to help it keep its shape, run a belt through the loops, and use clothespins to hang pictures off of the belt.

A very comfortable pillow for back support. This only took me about fifteen minutes to make.

A very comfortable pillow for back support. This only took me about fifteen minutes to make.

5. Sew Pillows

You can make all sorts of pillows! The round pillows used for back support are especially suitable for jeans conversion. Although jeans legs taper, they’re still very handy for making this type of pillow.

Since denim has such a rustic look, it fits in with many family rooms and bedrooms with minimal ornamentation. This type of pillow also offers great support to the lower back.

Other ideas you can look into for reusing your old jeans are:

  • Patches for quilts
  • Cat toys
  • Bedding for small animals
  • Handmade paper

When you stop to think about it, there are countless options to check out for your used jeans.

Comments

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on March 28, 2013:

Thank you! The pocket holders are a lot of fun. :)

Have fun with the ideas!

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on March 28, 2013:

These are wonderful ideas! I especially liked the pocket, which you turn into a pen/ pencil holder. I am definitely going to try some of those ideas.

Thanks!

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on March 15, 2013:

Thank you! I hope you enjoy them! :)

Joy from United States on March 15, 2013:

wow...great ideas and I am going to apply these.

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on February 06, 2013:

Have fun with them! :)

Samantha Harris from New York on February 02, 2013:

Oh I'm definitely going to try out the pillow and bag ideas!

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on February 01, 2013:

Thank you very much!

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on February 01, 2013:

Thank you! I hope the ideas work out, and have fun with them!

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on February 01, 2013:

Thank you! With the number of jeans the hubby shreds during landscaping season, I figured I better do something with them other than toss 'em.

If you get the chance to post a picture of the finished product on pinterest or somewhere, it would be great to see what you came up with. :)

livingsta from United Kingdom on January 31, 2013:

Very interesting and useful ideas here. Thank you for sharing!

Voted up and sharing!

RACHITHA CABRAL from Mangalore on January 31, 2013:

: ) Loved the Creativity of old jeans being used. Regretting giving away many that didn't fit. Will definitely try your ideas out! Thank You

Claudia Mitchell on January 31, 2013:

Great ideas. I am in the process of making a denim quilt and we always have old jeans around. Shared and pinned.

Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on January 27, 2013:

Thank you! I hope they work out for you. :)

I kept coming up with more, but I'm lacking some of the materials to try them out.

Emmyboy from Nigeria on January 27, 2013:

Very nice ideas. I might try them out one of these days...