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How to Turn Old Jeans Into a New Bag
There are two things you don't have to do: throw those old jeans out or spend a ton of money on a new shoulder bag. It's surprisingly easy to create your own messenger bag that goes with almost anything from those jeans you'll never wear again.
Before you get started, wash the jeans as best you can.
The pair I used had been worn for landscaping for a couple of years before they finally gave up, so they have all sorts of "character" that can't be removed, short of bleaching. The nice thing about making a bag out of jeans is that you can care for it much the same way as you did while you still wore the garment.
What You'll Need
You won't need much to complete this bag. If you do any sort of sewing on a regular basis, you probably have most of this on hand already. If not, you can pick much of it up online or at your local craft store.
- 1 pair jeans
- 1 yard lining
- Tape measure
- Chalk or a sewing pencil
- Sewing machine - or needle & thread if you're doing it by hand
- Seam ripper
- Patches or scrap material to make them
- Zipper, extra button, Velcro or other closure
- Appliques or other decorative elements
1. Prep the Jeans
- Remove the Legs: First, lie the garment flat, and cut the legs from the body of the jeans. To do this, start at the crotch and cut out towards the outer edge of the jeans. As you do this, keep your line as straight as possible. You may want to take a straight edge, like a yardstick or notebook, and trace a line from the crotch to the outer seam to use as a guideline. Once the legs are removed, cut through the stitching of the crotch.
- Next, Cut Along the Outer Seams: This will give you two pieces of fabric: one made out of the front of the jeans and one made out of the back.
2. Make the Messenger Bag's Flap
- Remove the Zipper: Using a seam ripper, remove the zipper from the fly. This will get a little tricky towards the bottom of the zipper, since there's a lot of fabric folded into that tiny spot, but keep at it. When you're done, you'll have a scrap of fabric that was removed as well. Scraps are always good for future projects, so you can save it for later, if you'd like.
- Keep Cutting: Once the zipper is gone, keep cutting along the seam that made up the crotch so the front of your jeans will be two separate pieces, joined by the button.
- Level the Measurements: Pants are designed to fit the human body, so they're not cut straight. The slight curve of the hips makes sewing a bag from them a little tricky. The way I got around this is to measure the width of the waistband, and used that as my target measurement. In this case, I got 20 inches, but different sized jeans will generate various sizes.
- Overlap the Fabric and Trim Excess: Now, overlap the fabric until it lies flat on your cutting surface and measure the width at the bottom. In my case, it matched the top pretty closely, so I didn't need to do much trimming. If the measurements are too far apart, trace a line perpendicular from the outer edges of the waist band to the bottom of the piece. Measure the space between the two lines to make sure it matches the top before cutting.
- Pin It: Once the measurements match as closely as possible, pin the fly closed and the inner pockets to the denim.
3. Finish the Flap
- Finish the Front: Since you're working on the wrong side of the fabric, you'll need to feel for the outer edge of the fly with your fingers. Trace a line with your chalk along the outer edge that you feel, all the way down to the bottom.
- Add Patches: This is the point at which you'll add the patches, too. Since the tear was right by the pockets, I just added the patch between the pocket and the denim, so the contrasting fabric would show through the tear.
- Sew: Sew the fly closed, and continue sewing on down the line that you've traced. Also, sew along the edges of the pockets. I used a simple straight stitch for this.
- Trace Outline on the Seat. Now that you have the front of the jeans squared away, trace the outline onto the seat of the jeans. Sometimes, the back pockets will be too widely spaced to fit well on the space allotted. If that's the case, use your seam ripper to remove them before cutting them to match the front. Once the cutting is done, sew them back on.
Be careful just to stitch around the edges and leave the tops open if you want to use them as storage. There will probably be a difference in color, but you can either leave it be or camouflage it with patches, bleaching, or other fabric treatments.
4. The Legs (the Front of the Bag)
- Now it's time to turn your attention to the legs. Cut along the inner seams to open them up, and decide which one you'll use to make the front of the bag.
- Since I was working with carpenter jeans, I wanted to make use of the nifty little pocket on the leg, so that's the one I used for the front.
- On the wrong side of the denim, trace along the edge of the seat of the jeans. Once you have the shape traced as closely as possible, cut along the lines.
Common Sewing Terms in This Article
The side of fabric visible when project is done.
The side of fabric which won't be seen when project is done.
A tool for removing the stitching between pieces of fabric.
5. Make the Strap
Before you start cutting, you need to know how long to make the strap. One way to do this is to measure the distance between your right shoulder and your left hip, and double that.
For me, that came out to be 23 inches, which turned out to be a total of 46 inches long.
You may want to shorten that by a few inches, because the length of the bag will further down on your body. It all depends on personal preference.
If the final measurement is short enough, you may be able to cut along the length of the leg for one, solid strip of fabric for the strap.
If not, cut two pieces instead. They should be roughly 3 to 4 inches wide for a comfortable sized strap. I only did 2 inches, and it turned out to be a little thinner than I had originally wanted.
6. Cut a Bridge
Lastly, cut a bridge to put between the back of the bag and the flap. There should be more than enough fabric left over from either one of the legs to do this.
It should be as wide as the bag, and about 2 to 3 inches thick.
7. The Lining
Once your jeans are settled, it's time to go at the lining. Trace the pieces you've already cut from the denim onto the fabric you're using for the lining.
I used a lighter, off-white canvas, which worked wonderfully.
You should have enough fabric to cut one continuous piece for the strap when doing this. So, cut one piece instead of two.
As you're cutting, pin a bit of paper with the names of each part of the bag that you're addressing. For example, the flap would be "flap," the back would be "back," etc.
8. Start Sewing
- Sew the denim strap pieces together at one of the short ends, and press the seam open. This will get rid of any discomfort of a ridge of fabric digging into the shoulder.
- Sew the lining to the denim, right sides facing. Only sew along the long edges, but leave the ends open.
- Once they're securely together, turn the strap right side out. This can be pretty tricky, especially if you have a narrower strap. I used a long crochet hook to help me out, but there are products available called tube turners.
- Once it's turned, press it flat and set aside.
- Sew the body: Start with the front piece made out of the leg to the back piece, made out of the seat, together. The right sides should be facing, and the top should be left open. Press the seams open and repeat this process with the lining, as well.
At this point, you'll have two rough bags: one made out of denim and the other from the lining.
9. Sew the Flap and Handles
Sew the Flap: Sew the denim flap to the denim joining piece, and do the same with the lining equivalents.
Then, sew the denim and lining pieces together, leaving the bottom open.
Once finished, turn right side out and press with the iron to flatten.
Sew the Handles: To attach the handles, pin them to the wrong side of the denim bag, and adjust them to the desired length. Once they're where you want them, attach them by sewing a rectangle with an "x" in it. This is just a simple way to make sure they're secure.
10. Put It All Together
- Join the Bodies: Turn the denim bag so the right side is out, and put it into the lining. Sew the front edge together, leaving the back open. Turn right side out.
- Attach the Flap to the Body: Using the sewing machine, attach the joining piece to the back of the bag. Finish it by hand stitching the lining closed with a slip stitch.
- Iron: Once again, go over the seams with the iron to flatten the shape a little more.
- Add Closures: At this point, you can add a zipper or Velcro, if you'd like a more secure closure. There are also some pretty neat hook attachments available which would work nicely with this style of bag.
Enjoy your new bag!
How to Do a Slip Stitch
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on April 22, 2013:
Thanks! If you try it, I hope the bag turns out well!
Claudia Mitchell on April 21, 2013:
Very cool and you know I love to sew. My daughter has an old pair of jeans with sparkly pockets and this would look really cute for her. Nice instructions.
Emilie S Peck (author) from Minneapolis, MN on April 17, 2013:
Thank you! :) It was fun to put together.
Kristen Mazzola from South Florida on April 17, 2013:
Such a cute idea! I would have never thought of something like that! Voted up!