12 Ways to Upcycle Denim

Here at Gumtree, we believe denim is like fine wine: it gets better with age. So instead of throwing your old jeans away, why not take the plunge into the world of upcycling denim? Our gallery is full of fantastic ideas to inspire you, from making a classic tote bag to a pair of earrings.

12 Ways to Upcycle Denim

Upcycling jeans

1. A case for your smartphone

It’s not all about clothes – denim is so tough, particularly the reinforced bits like the waistband and pockets, that it can make a sturdy and durable case for any type of mobile device. We’ve seen a pretty cool phone case made out of the waistband of a pair of jeans, with the jacron label on one side and an inbuilt belt loop on the other. All it takes is some careful measuring, cutting a length twice the size of your device with as much spare fabric as you need and then sewing up the sides.

2. A tote bag with ready-made pockets

You’ll be able to find many patterns for making a roomy tote bag. But it’s also possible to just make it up as you go along. After cutting open the jeans all along the inside seams, you’ll probably be able to see how your bag can go. Using the waistband as the opening on top, you could repurpose a section of the inner seams as straps. They’re already reinforced, so as long as you do a good job of attaching them to the sides, they should stand up to almost any amount of weight you care to throw in. A cut-out flower or pattern in a contrasting fabric scrap will make a cheerful addition.

3. A denim rag rug for the kitchen floor

This particular old jeans craft is not as straightforward because you’ll need a weaving loom and some large heavy-duty scissors to cut your old denim jeans or jacket into strips. Once that’s done, though, the hard work is over and the fun begins. You can follow the loom instructions to make the basic warp, which is your framework. Then you can weave in the strips as you would for wool. One hack is to use an ordinary hair grip like a giant needle to thread the strips under and over the warp.

How to make clothes from old jeans

How to make clothes from old jeans

4. An easy-peasy pair of shorts

You only need a pair of scissors to make some denim shorts, and it’s such a simple job that most of us have already done it. It’s best done by folding the jeans, checking that the legs are evenly matched, and cutting both legs at once to ensure they’re the same. Fraying the ends of the legs for a funky finish is optional.

5. Making a denim skirt

Making a denim skirt from an old pair of jeans is almost as easy as shorts. But it does involve a little sewing as well as cutting. You’ll need to trim the legs a little longer than for shorts and then unpick the inner seams. You can then join them up by sewing the two sides together. Joining them directly will make a fitted body-con-type skirt. Or inserting a little triangle of fabric between the original seams will give the skirt some flare. You could use a shape cut from one of the lower legs or go for contrasting fabric for a patchwork effect.

6. Creating a skater-style skirt

A skater-style panelled skirt is a simple upcycled denim project. That’s because it makes use of the original structure of the jeans around the top. The first cut needs to be straight across the hips, below the level of the zip fastening and back pockets. Then it’s just a matter of cutting panels out of the fabric of the legs. They should be a little wider at the bottom than the top, and you’ll need enough panels to go all around the hips, joined together, with the wider outline at the hem making a flared shape.

Things to make with denim

7. How to make a dress out of jeans

Unless you’ve got lots of experience of making dresses, it’s a good idea to start with deconstructed jeans and a sewing pattern. That way, you can match the pieces of fabric to the paper pattern and be sure you’ll end up with the size and shape you want. One popular style for denim is a shaped bustier-style dress. For something more casual, you could go for a pinafore-style dress, using the reinforced waistband for straps.

8. A sofa tidy for remote controls

There’s something so satisfying about repurposing the back pockets of an old pair of jeans. A sofa tidy always comes in handy for storing remotes, pencils and your TV glasses. This project involves turning the jeans upside-down and cutting them off below the back pockets. You can then reassemble them with the legs attached to the top of the waistband to give you the length to fold over the arm of the sofa. The back will hang down the side, complete with pockets just waiting for your bits and pieces.

Upcycling jeans

Recycled denim sewing projects

9. A gardening apron

Somewhere to store your tools and string when you’re potting or planting is a super-handy piece of gear for gardeners. The hardwearing fabric, built-in pockets and waistband of your old pair of jeans mean they’re halfway there already. Once you’ve shortened the legs to the length you want, all you need to do is cut away the material in front of the side seams, including the zip, leaving all of the waistband untouched. What was the back of your jeans now becomes the front of the apron. You could finish if off with stitching 1cm from the edges. This helps the shape will hold together and you can get nice frayed edges. Alternatively, you might want to bind the edges with contrasting bias binding for a pop of colour.

10. Outdoor cushions

While we’re in the garden mood, how about some outdoor cushions for your garden bench? Denim is so tough that it’s practically weatherproof, so if you forget to bring them in from the rain once or twice, it probably won’t do any harm. You can cut a deconstructed denim jacket or jeans into diamonds to make a pretty geometric patchwork quilt. Or why not do it the easy way and simply join up the pieces to make a cushion-size cover? If you create a flap at the open end, it’ll save putting in a zip, and it’ll also make it easier to dry out the filling if they do get wet.

11. Denim jewellery

This is a real fashion thing right now. If you browse online for a denim jewellery tutorial, you’ll discover a deluge of ideas that are original and quirky. When you’re sewing with denim scraps, almost nothing gets wasted because you can make bracelets, badges and brooches as big or as small as you like. One idea that we’ve seen uses six triangular cut-outs of raw-edged denim arranged into a flower shape. Sewing a spare bead from a broken necklace into the middle will make the petals stand up. If you fasten a safety pin to the back, you can fix it to whatever outfit you like.

12. Denim earrings

Making your own denim earrings is easy if you get hold of some jewellery making equipment. We’ve seen hoop earrings made out of a seam and square sections of fabric with long frayed edges becoming a standout pair of wispy earrings. But our favourite has got to be an earring collection featuring the rivets you find on the pocket corners of worn-out jeans. Carefully stitched together into a sphere, they make sparkly earrings that’ll catch the light as you move.

If you feel inspired to start your project but don’t want to spend long hours with a needle and thread, why not take a look at Gumtree for second-hand sewing machines? Upcycling denim is just one of the ways that you can join in the current trend. You could extend your repertoire by browsing some of our other upcycling articles such as How to Get Started With Upcycling and Upcycling Ideas You Can Try at Home.