By Annabelle Short on
15 Sewing Projects to Recycle Old Jeans
You love your jeans! Fitted or flared, acid wash or just a classic blue, there's something about a pair of jeans that makes them hard to let go, even when they're worn or damaged beyond repair. But never fear! There are lots of ways to make old jeans new again and give them a second life as something fun or practical. Check out these ideas!
1. Blue Jean Rag Rugs
Even if your jeans don't have much solid material left, you can still turn them into something useful! This braided rag rug doesn't even require sewing or special tools to make, which is perfect for denim, since it can be too tough for some sewing machines. Cut the fabric into long, narrow strips, removing any rivets and metal fastenings. Make sure to also remove pockets, and avoid seams as much as possible, as these can make your rug lumpy. Loosely knot strips together, and begin to braid. This will be the center of your rug, if you're making it round or oval. Make a braid that's about half as long as you want your rug to be, and then begin braiding in the opposite direction, linking into the original length of braid by pulling each strip through the loops along the side. Check out this tutorial for a full explanation!
2. Gardening Apron
Sturdy fabric, plus built in pockets and a waistband already attached? You're halfway to a gardening apron already! Cut away the legs of the jeans and all the material in front of the side seams, including the zipper, but leaving the waistband intact. The back of the jeans becomes the front of the apron. Stitch along the edges of the raw material about ¼" from the edge. This will give you a raw, frayed edge without letting your apron fall apart. Alternatively, you can double-fold bias tape to finish the edges and provide a pop of color.
3. Boho Skirt
There are lots of ways to change your jeans from pants to a skirt. The biggest challenge is dealing with the curve of the crotch seam. Make sure you either cut the legs off high enough to avoid this, or that you change the line of the seam to allow it to lie flat. The easiest way to transform your jeans into a skirt is to cut them off just below the bottom of the zipper, being sure to keep the front and back pockets. You may have to adjust the length of your skirt in the back to account for the depth of the pockets—or you can create a hi-lo skirt! To the bottom of your newly cut jeans, stitch a panel of loosely gathered fabric. Cotton voile is great because it's so lightweight and breezy, but you may need a couple layers as it can be semi-transparent.
4. Frayed Denim Flowers
Bits of leftover denim are perfect for making these shabby-chic embellishments. Trace the outline of a simple flower onto several piece of denim. Stitch around the outline—brightly colored thread makes for an excellent design feature here. Cut the flowers out, leaving extra space the edges, then snip into this space to create a fringed edge and encourage the denim to fray up to the stitch line. Layer these flower pieces together, and stitch together, adding a button for the center. Add your denim flowers to all kinds of projects, from headbands to purses to pillows!
5. Jeans Pocket Coin Purse
Not looking to make your jeans into something wearable? How about turning one of the back pockets into an easy coin purse? It's as simple as adding a clasp to the top of the pocket, or a zipper, if you prefer. It's also a great excuse to try out all those embellishment techniques you've been eyeing, from rivets to rhinestones and everything in between!
6. Market Bags
There's a surprising amount of fabric in a pair of blue jeans, and even a bit worn and frayed, it's quite sturdy, perfect for whipping up some bags to take grocery shopping or to the farmers' market. For optimal fill-ability, add a gusset to help the bag stand open, like this version.
7. Denim Cuff Bracelets
Another great scrap busting project for those leftover bits of denim. All you need is a length of denim long enough to go around your wrist, with a bit extra for overlap, and your closure method of choice. Everything from snaps to buttons to leather lacing, or even findings meant for making ribbon jewelry. All that's left is to embellish to suit your personal style.
8. Keepsake Quilt
Despite its reputation as a workhorse of a fabric, denim can also be quite homey and comfortable. Save up squares of denim to make a beautiful patchwork quilt top. You can even include jeans pockets or existing embellishments on some of the squares to remind you of the jeans that make up the quilt. Remember to use a denim needle in your sewing machine when working on this project, and slow down when crossing over bulky seams.
9. Pocket Placemats
Heading out for a picnic? Turn old jeans into convenient placemats! Cut rectangles of denim to the size required, and pair with a second rectangle of backing fabric for color (red gingham, anyone?). With right sides together, stitch the two rectangles around the edges, leaving a gap to turn the placemat right side out. Clip corners, turn, and press. Top stitch around the edges (this will also close the gap where you turned the placemat). Cut one of the back pockets from your old jeans, and apply it to the placemat, stitching slowly through the layers. When you're packing for your picnic, you can tuck a napkin and silverware into each pocket, roll up the placemat, and store the whole thing in your basket!
10. Scrappy Ornaments
Since denim will fray, but not too much, it's an ideal material for shabby chic holiday ornaments. You can even get the kids involved with helping to cut and stitch them together! Just make sure to do any heavy duty stitching yourself, as denim can be too tough for little hands. Check out this resource for some ideas!
11. Denim Coil Coasters
Think denim rug, but in miniature! Rather than braiding up a lumpy coaster to protect your tables from water stains, though, these dainty coiled coasters rely on your sewing machine and some thin cotton cord. Cut strips of denim with no seams, and use them to wrap around ¼" cotton cord. Using a denim needle and heavy thread, set your sewing machine to a zig-zag stitch and start coiling up the denim-wrapped cord, joining each loop to the last with the zig and zag of your stitches. Keep going until your coaster reaches the desired size, then back stitch and trim the cord and leftover denim close. Ta da! A set of these stylish coasters also makes a great gift.
12. Outdoor Cushions
Tough and washable, denim holds up well to the elements. Turning your old jeans into comfy cushions for your outdoor furniture is a great use of material! It can be as easy as cutting off the legs and stitching the ends closed to make bolster pillows. Opt for a lightweight synthetic fill, as this will dry faster and is less likely to mold or mildew if the cushions get caught in a rainstorm. Try to keep the cushions out of constant direct sunlight; this will prevent the color from fading too quickly, and help keep the fibers from breaking down due to sun damage.
13. Easy Appliques
Another way to take advantage of denim's beautiful fraying? Cut it into shapes for raw-edged applique! You can even layer fabrics together and use existing holes or wear in the denim to create peek-through or reverse applique. A perfect technique for visible mending or shabby-chic embellishment on all kinds of projects.
14. Pet Toys
Denim holds up well to Fido's teeth or kitty's claws. Braid strips together into chew toys for dogs, or cut out shapes, stitch, and stuff to make quick and easy cat toys. As with all pet toys, make sure to supervise your pets, and remove toys that become damaged. These can easily be choking hazards, especially for dogs that try to eat their toys instead of just chewing on them!
15. Kitchen Hot Pads
Yet another use for those handy back pockets! Cut the pockets free and set aside for later use. Cut two rectangles of denim about eight inches wide and 18 inches long—the precise measurements will depend on your personal preference. Sandwich a piece of cotton batting with these rectangles and secure using your prefered basting method, such as safety pins, basting spray, or hand basting. Always use cotton batting or a synthetic that's rated for high heat so there's no risk of melting. Quilt your sandwich in your preferred pattern (straight lines work just fine if you're not looking for something decorative!), and bind the edges. Stitch the jeans pockets at either end of the quilted hot pad with the openings facing toward the middle. Slide one hand into each and you can handle any hot dishes with ease!