8 easy steps to up-cycle old jeans
Updated: Feb 22, 2021
There are not enough people on the earth to buy the amount of clothes fast-fashion makes. This conveyor-belt cycle doesn't work, so clothes are being made that are doomed never to be worn. Nevertheless, we keep buying clothes. Fast-fashion garments are on average worn just seven times, with the target audience aimed at the young. In the fashion industry, apparently demographically young is eighteen to twenty-four years old. Whereas I think young is as young as you feel.
"Too many clothes kills clothes" (Jean Paul Gaultier).
With this in mind, next time you split the arse out of your jeans, or your child grows taller, do not throw the article away, instead allow me to show you how to up-cycle.
A decent pair of jeans will last a long time and for the record, a long time is not two years. When denim eventually wear out, it does not mean you are gaining weight, it means the fabric is under pressure where the body has curvature, usually around the knee and bottom area. Next time you think you have ruined an item of clothing with a splash of bleach, ink, oil, or curry, remember the rule of 4R: rethink, reuse, recycle, reduce.
I started manipulating denim and experimenting with different design techniques in my late teens. This particular up-cycle is an old school concept of mine. The steps below are detailed and easy to follow, providing you can already sew a button on and hem trousers.
With an old pair of jeans (or trousers) you can make short or long length shorts, an A-line skirt, a cushion or a bag. In fact there are numerous recycling solutions, however here I have kept it simple, so anyone with basic sewing skills can follow my guidelines to up-cycle jeans into an A-line skirt or a pair of shorts. All you need is jeans, scissors, sewing chalk (white household chalk or dry soap also works), cotton thread, sewing pins, and a sewing machine. If you do not have a sewing machine you can still follow these steps until you reach the sewing stage. At which point, take the prepared skirt to a seamstress to finish it off.
Okay, so here is how to recycle an old pair of denim jeans into an up-cycled A-line skirt or shorts:
Step 1: Place the jeans flat on a table or floor. If you have a cat she/he will sit on the material so plan this project when she/he is asleep. Measure your preferred length. If you do not have a measuring tape simply fold each jean leg in half from the knee to the crutch of the jeans, then mark your preferred length (skirt or shorts) with the sewing chalk and cut both legs separately to your desired length. It does not have to be perfect as we will be cutting it again at step 7.
Step 2:If your sewing skills are super basic, maybe opt for the cut-off shorts. Leave a rough edge and turn them up. If your jeans are in good condition, you can neaten the cut edge by turning the hem up twice, so you cannot see the raw edge anymore. Then sew the hem in a contrasting or matching thread. The double-layer turn up should be 1cm in width, as well as the stitch from the hem edge. Basically finishing them off like the original jean hem. If your sewing skills are basic/average follow the A-line skirt steps as it is a super rewarding project.
Step 3: As you can see in this first image, these jeans are already ripped along the crutch double stitch edge. This double stitch edge is exactly where we will be cutting next. Inside the inner trouser leg. Okay, so follow this outer double stitch seam and cut along here with scissors, leaving a 1.5-inch gap from the end of the crutch zip (images 3 and 4).
Step 4: To clarify, we are cutting along the outside of the double edge, where my finger is pointing in image one. Cut along the existing seam on both legs, so we have an A shape in the middle of the jeans. When the jeans resemble image 3 above, overlay all four crutch edges on both sides (image 4-5 above).
Step 5: Once we have overlaid the curved crutch edge at the back, pin it carefully 1cm from the fabric edge, like image 1 above. To remind you, we are pinning along the original double-stitched edge. Everything we stitch and pin should be roughly 1 cm from the fabric edge.
Step 6: Now the jeans are starting to resemble an A-line skirt. The next step is to prepare the cut-off trouser legs and bring our up-cycle to life. Firstly, cut open the inside of each cut-off trouser leg. Cut right along the existing stitch until it is open, like image 3 above.
This is a denim up-cycle so we are deliberately leaving raw edges, therefore we are not unpicking anything. With both legs prepared, place each square (flat leg) on the A-line gap and pin into place. If you wish to use a contrasting side of the fabric (like image 5 above) do so or you could use a completely different piece of fabric.
Step 7: Previously in step 6, we placed the square fabric on top. Here in step 7, we are going to place the other square piece (trouser leg) underneath the front A-line gap (like image 2-3). Underneath not on the top. Once it is pinned, cut across the uneven hem (bottom of skirt) following the curved raw edge (image 4 above).
Step 8: Before we start sewing, check you have pinned everything correctly, that being 1cm from the cut fabric edge, pinning the original stitching to replica the original design technic. Check each element is correct. If you wish to cut off the handkerchief hem do so, or keep it. Now thread up your sewing machine in matching or contrasting thread. Before you sew, cut away any loose unwanted fabric inside (this is to avoid sewing or catching it in error. Carefully and very slowly run the sewing machine footer along with the original stitching, placing the footer onto the original stitching. When you reach a section of the design that does not have existing stitching (like image 1 above), just very carefully and slowly run the footer 1cm from the edge of the raw fabric edge.
Voila, one denim up-cycle A-line skirt.
Always think twice before you throw away old clothes. Particuarly Levi because these jeans are made to last! I have a Levi jacket I upcycled which is 25 years old and I am still wearing it today. Remeber the rule of 4R and for other sustainable recycling solutions subscribe to my blog