Recycling old denim jeans (project links)

Sometimes I think my whole commitment to the green movement stems from my natural pack-rat-throw-nothing-away-if-it-might-be-someday-useful nature.  It gives me a reason to rationalize that particular aspect of my personality and make it into something positive.

Blue jeans, for example.  (And khakis, and other-colored twill pants–whatever.)  I think I’ve mentioned before how my son seems incapable of wearing a pair of jeans more than a few times without ripping out the knees. (I’m pretending the “wear ripped up jeans” look is still the fashion, most of the time.)  Then there’s that plastic bin of size 10 and 12 pants I will realistically never get my post-childbirth rear end into again. (They’re fairly beat up anyway.) I kept them, eternal optomist that I am.  But I know the truth.

Then somewhere I discovered websites with information about how to recycle and repurpose old jeans, and my whole being lit up–a new project! And I don’t have to buy stuff for it, I actually have it all in my closets!

Blue Jean Quilt–This is by far the most common link one finds looking for uses for old pants.  You do need (or really, really want) a good sewing machine.  I have not made one of these yet, but I’m working on collecting the materials for it.  The easiest version is to cut a bunch of squares of equal sizes from your various denim castoffs (putting a strategic pocket here and there is a cute touch), sew them together into strips, and then sew the strips together into a rectangle or square of whatever size you want.  You then need to find backing material–for a big quilt you could probably find a plain blanket or sheet, either new or from a thrift shop, or the fabric store usually has some wide muslin.  For a smaller quilt you could buy some cute fabric off the bolt. (These usually come in either 45″ or sometimes 58″ wide, and then just get enough for your length.)  Sew your jeans piece to your backing piece, wrong-side out, leaving a hole to turn it back right-side out, and then sew the opening closed. (Do this slowly–sewing machines don’t generally care for denim anyway, and the seams may be too thick for your machine.) Most sites I’ve seen do not recommend adding batting in between the layers–the denim is pretty darned heavy, especially if you have a blanket for backing, and is seriously warm without the help.

For quilting the layers together, you have a couple of choices–the easiest would probably be to thread some cute yarn through a needle and tie-quilt it in the middle of each square; you could tie little bows or knots at each juncture.  Or, if you’re feeling adventurous (which I seldom am, I’m too lazy) you could Quilt It Properly with running stitches in whatever pattern you wish. 

protect the tech bagProtect the Tech pocket–So far, this has been my favorite project (they are very good instructions, too!), partially because it’s just a good item, but also because after having made one item by the directions, it’s become really easy to make bags, purses, backpacks, etc. without a pattern at all. 

Jeans Purse: Easy-peasy.  Essentially, you chop across the jeans from side to side right about at crotch level and sew across the bottom.  Make a strap out of part of the legs, and then decorate the heck out of it.  An easy version of this pattern, with photos, can be found here. (I made one of these for my daughter and decorated it with a lot of pink ribbon and buttons and stuff.  She loves it.)jeanspurses

Bags/purses/totes in general are great things to make from old jeans or pants.  The beauty of it is all those awesome pockets already in there, sewn and finished and ready to go.  An old pair of cargo pants, for example, is a real treasure–there are pockets everywhere.  Find a basic pattern for a lined purse or tote almost anywhere (Wild Ginger has great free software for accessory patterns that lets you dictate the size and shape of all kinds of things from hats to purses to what-all), and plan it around the pockets that already exist in your castaway jeans, and you’re in business.  

Essentially, after all, making a bag of any kind involves a couple of rectangles sewn together. Make a purse by sewing a flap on top.  Make a laundry bag by making a bigger bag and adding a drawstring. Make a backpack by putting in a drawstring and (maybe) a flap and straps to wear it over your shoulders. Make a lunch bag by making a smaller version and pinching in the bottom to make it flat on the bottom. And so forth.  Once you get daring, you’ll find yourselves adding linings and embellishments.  And the beauty of it is that since you didn’t spend anything on the fabric, if you royally screw it up you can scratch it and start again with a new pair of jeans. (Save the pieces of the messed up bag to make part of that quilt, though! :-))

Here are a few of the sites I’ve found with some good ideas:

Twenty-five things to do with old jeans:

Someone else’s idea of twenty-five more things to do with old jeans:

How to recycle jeans into a skirt (sewing knowledge needed, sort of, for this):

Bootie Bag purse (with a no-sew option):

Make a braided rug:

 The list is fairly endless, actually–and there are so many possibilities that I will most likely embrace my now larger-than-pre-kids rear end (not literally, of course) and chop into some of those size 12’s pretty soon to make that quilt. 

(UPDATE: if you found this interesting at all, check out my guest post over at The Green Phone Booth about crafts made from recycled felted wool sweaters!)


J (time to go move the crockpot to the next phase for this coming week’s homemade yogurt…now that school’s in session and we’re packing lunches every day, I can’t stand going through two of those quart plastic containers each week, which is what it would amount to…)


Posted on August 30, 2009, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. My mom made each of us kids a jeans quilt out of our old jeans when we graduated high school. I love mine and hope to do the same with my kids’ jeans.

  2. greenmomintheburbs

    I love that…another one I heard of was to make the jeans quilt but then also combine that with cutting out and ironing/sewing on pattern sections of favorite/meaningful t-shirts. But what a cool thing to have!

  3. I love this!! Just bought a sewing machine after lusting after one for years. I remember Erin mentioning the jeans quilt and, well, your son and mine must be related because every and I do mean EVERY pair of pants he owns are riddled with holes. Bookmarking this for future ideas!

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