Ultimate Guide to Recycled Denim Crafts

Closeup detail of hands stitching blue denim fabric with a sewing machine.
Denim can be recycled to make a variety of creative crafts.
iStockphoto.com/David Hernandez

Thinking of junking your worn-out or ill-fitting jeans? While some of your denim duds may be in decent enough shape to donate to your local thrift shop, others may be destined for the dump. But wait -- before tossing those trousers into the trash, think again. You can transform your faded fashions into denim designs of all shapes, sizes and uses. Recycling and reusing denim for crafts large and small will save you money and free up space in both your closet and your local landfill.

Turning your old jeans into something new and useful might seem like an impossible feat. But the number of different ways you can reuse your old jeans is surprising. From household items to fashion accessories, the possibilities are seemingly endless.


In this article, you will learn how to transform pairs of old jeans into several different fashionable and household items. You'll see how to make one of two different denim handbag styles. Both are simple to make and don't require much more than needle and thread. Then you will learn how to make potholders for your kitchen. You'll need to pay attention to the fabric content label of your jeans for the potholder project, since certain fabric blends are not heat-resistant. And while we're on the topic of safety, as with any craft project, be sure to supervise children closely while they're working with scissors and any other crafting tools these denim projects require.

You will also learn how to make another household denim craft: one of two denim rugs. You can choose to make either a braided denim rug or a fringed denim rug, or both if you're feeling extra-crafty. And finally, you will learn how to make a variety of fashion and home accessories, such as flower pins and placemats, from your old jeans.

Get carried away on the next page, where you'll learn how to change your old jeans into a chic handbag or tote.


Recycled Denim Handbags

There are two different basic handbag styles that you can make from your old denim jeans. The first handbag style is the "booty bag," which has the seat pockets of the jeans on the outside of the bag. The second handbag style is the denim tote bag.

The "booty bag" is a cinch to make because you can simply cut off the legs and use the existing front and back sides of your jeans as the sides of your bag. Use fabric scissors to cut your jeans a few inches below the back pockets but above the crotch seams, which are extremely difficult to sew through. Allow enough fabric so you'll be able to sew the bottom together. After you cut the jeans, set aside the legs for other craft projects. Turn the remaining piece inside out. Sew the bottom edges together. When you turn the piece right side out, you should have a pouch with the open waistband at the top.


Now add handles and embellishments so the pouch becomes a handbag. You can use any fabric for handles, making sure you securely stitch them onto both sides of the jean pouch. Jazz up your bag by adding a lining, a zipper or fastening device and decorative embellishments [source: Jay].

If you prefer a pocket-free purse, you can opt for the sleeker tote bag design. Use the legs that you set aside from the previous handbag design or cut pocket-free pieces from your pant leg. Using the hem of the pants as the top, turn the piece inside out and sew the cut edges together. That way, you only have to sew together one side instead of three sides. Turn the piece right side out and sew handles on to the open hem at the top. Decorate the outside of the tote bag with buttons, brooches or other items to suit your mood [source: Martha Stewart].

Now that you have a handle on handbags, read on to keep your cool in the kitchen with recycled denim potholders.


Recycled Denim Potholders

You may think potholders are simple to make. Simply stitch together two fabric squares with some padding in the middle and you've got a potholder, right? Not exactly. If you want to hold scalding pot handles or lids with your potholders, you can't use just any fabric. You will need to use heat-resistant materials. Fortunately, recycled denim is a very good fabric that can offer some heat resistance [source: Starr].

When selecting the denim that you will use for your potholders, make absolutely sure it is 100 percent cotton denim. A variety of fabric blends may be used in today's denim fashions, but pure cotton is best for avoiding burns and preventing the chance of fire [source: Starr]. You will also want to think about the material for the inside of the potholder. To make a truly recycled potholder, consider using old towels or old mattress pads. Just make sure whatever padding you choose is also 100 percent cotton [source: Steinbring].


Once you have gathered your materials, sit down and plan the design of your potholder. For instance, rather than using two plain denim squares, stitch with various cotton thread colors or use different denim shapes to make your potholders unique. You might also want to attach a loop for hanging purposes [source: Steinbring]. Cut out your design and layer the front piece, the padding, the hanging loop (if you're using one), and the backing. Sew together all four sides with the loop in one of the corners. Then get cooking!

On the next page, learn how to banish bare floors by turning jeans into denim rugs.


Recycled Denim Rugs

If you have a considerable pile of used jeans, you can make two different recycled denim rugs: the braided denim rug and the fringed denim rug.

Making a braided denim rug is quite simple if you know how to weave three strands into a braid [source: McCoy]. To make a braided denim rug, you will need several pairs of jeans and lots of blue thread. First, cut the jeans into long, thin strips. Stitch the strips together end to end, creating three long denim strands. Next, begin braiding the three strands together. You may have to cut and add more strips to your existing strands in order to reach the desired braid length. When you have reached your desired length of braided denim strips, start coiling the finished braid in a circle. Keep the coils in place by stitching them together with thread.


If you struggle with braiding, consider making the fringed denim rug. Like the braided denim rug, this project requires a lot of denim strips. You will also need a sturdy fabric for the back of your rug, such as heavy-duty denim or burlap [sources: All Free Crafts, Martha Stewart]. Lay the first strip of denim down at one end of the backing and sew the strip down the middle so that both sides of the strip face outward. Continue sewing denim strips until you reach the other end of the backing material [source: Martha Stewart]. Sew up any loose ends and toss the rug in the washing machine. The ends of the denim will fringe with repeated washing and general wear and tear, creating a soft and fluffy yet durable surface under your feet.

From floor coverings to floral embellishments, read the next page to find out how to use recycled denim to make flower pins.


Recycled Denim Flower Pins

Recycled denim flower pins can add a feminine or decorative touch to just about any article of clothing you might own. Since they're removable, you can pin them anywhere you like. Here are two ways you can make your own recycled denim flower pin.

You can make the first recycled denim flower pin without ever lifting a needle and thread. Take a pair of jeans and cut off at least 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) from the bottom hem of the pant leg. Hold one end of the fabric in your hand and start rolling it together with the hem side up. As you roll, you will notice that the layers resemble rose petals. Dab glue on the layers of the cut bottom edge and pin them together until the glue dries [source: Craftbits]. When the glue has dried, glue a pin to the back of the rose to so you can dress up a drab raincoat.


You might like to try making the second recycled denim flower pin if the hems of your old jeans are worn or ripped. Cut a 1.5 inch (3.8 cm) wide piece of denim the length of a pant leg. Sew two parallel stitches 1/8 of an inch (4 mm) apart, close to one edge of the fabric. Pull on the thread so that the fabric gathers. Start coiling the gathered edge into a spiral and sew the edges together by hand. Sew a pin to the back of the spiral and add the spring bloom to your sweater [source: Martha Stewart].

Flower pins aren't the only accessories you can make from old jeans. Read the next page to learn more about different kinds of denim accessories.


Recycled Denim Accessories

You can use recycled denim to make a multitude of accessories for both home and office use, including ponytail holders, furniture slipcovers, hanging organizers, decorated pegboards and table linens.

To make a denim ponytail holder, cut a length of denim, fold it inside out and sew the edges together to form a tube. Turn it right side out and insert a piece of elastic. Sew the ends of the elastic together to the desired circumference. Then hand-sew the ends of the denim tube together to make a complete circle [source: McCoy].


Durable denim makes great slipcovers for furniture pieces. Measure the dimensions of the furniture first. Create a pattern from your measurements and cut denim fabric to size, including seam allowances. Sew together the wrong sides of the denim fabric pieces, turn the sewn piece right side out, add zippers to the cover for easy removal and sit pretty on your new denim seat [source: The Fabric of Our Lives].

Hanging organizers are easy to make from several pairs of old jeans. Remove the desired number of back pockets with a seam ripper and then sew them to the front of a larger piece of fabric. Hang the fabric on a wall and store tools, toys or other items in the pockets [source: McCoy].

Dress up a pegboard with decorated denim. Attach ribbon, buttons or fabric pieces to the denim surface to make a unique pegboard design. Then use the pegboard to display pictures, drawings, cards and other keepsake items [source: The Fabric of Our Lives].

Create picnic table linens from old denim. Cut up an old pair of jeans to make napkins and placemats. Stitch pockets to the left edge of the placemats to hold utensils. Trace the bottom of a drinking glass on the denim fabric and cut out circles to use as coasters [source: The Fabric of Our Lives].

Who knew those old, holey and worn out pairs of jeans in the back of your closet had so many creative new uses! Click on the links on the next page to learn even more about denim crafts.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Links

  • Artists Helping Children. "Blue Jeans Arts and Crafts for Kids." AHC Arts and Crafts. (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/bluejeansartscraftsideasprojectskids.html
  • All Free Crafts. "Recycled Denim Scatter Rug." (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.allfreecrafts.com/sewing/denim-rug.shtml
  • Craftbits. "Denim Fabric Rose." (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.craftbits.com/viewProject.do?projectID=1341
  • Fabric of Our Lives, the. "Decorative Denim." (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.thefabricofourlives.com/denim-rules/Decorative-Denim-in-your-Home/?S=denim-rules
  • Family Fun. "Denim Pocket Purse." Disney Family. (Accessed 4/6/09) http://jas.familyfun.go.com/arts-and-crafts?page=CraftDisplay&craftid=10026
  • Jay, Louise. "Recycled Jeans Purse." HGTV. (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.hgtv.com/crafting/recycled-jeans-purse/index.html
  • Martha Stewart. "Stylish Denim Crafts." Oct, 2005. (Accessed 4/6/09) http://www.marthastewart.com/article/designing-with-denim?lnc=065ed9e51c2ee010VgnVCM1000003d370a0aRCRD&page=1&rsc=articlecontent_home
  • McCoy, Lynnae. "10 New Ways to Revive Old Denim." Bargaineering. Mar 04, 2009. (Accessed 4/6/09)http://www.bargaineering.com/articles/10-new-ways-to-revive-old-denim-lm.html
  • Starr, Laura. "Laura's Potholder Hints." UFO-rphanage. 2005. (Accessed 4/6/09)http://www.ufo-rphanage.com/potholder_hints.shtml
  • Steinbring, Yvonne J. "Lesson 9: Let's use those short strips for Potholders, Throws, and Quilts." Washington State University. April 2005. (Accessed 4/6/09)http://4-h.wsu.edu/clothing/quick_projects/denim/lesson09.pdf