Earth Day Denim Upcycle — Part I

It’s earth week! This is the second day of an earth-friendly blog hop. (See the other hop stops at the end of this post.) And we’re paying homage to Mother Earth while we renew our individual efforts to save our home. Mars is not a suitable habitat for humans yet so forget that as an option. Now Venus, she’s pretty hot… but nah! still not an option. Back to Earth…

I have two projects on the go for reusing textiles, but I’m saving the other one for a different post. I wouldn’t want to overwhelm anyone or make them puke with all my greenness. This is the first of a 3-part (or more) upcycling series to turn my old worn out jeans and my ex’s washing-machine-ravaged (I may have “accidentally” set the wash cycle to Heavy Duty) work shirts into something new and edgy. It’s the only way he and I will get back together so I’m having a little fun cutting his… ahem! … shirts. Sadistic fantasies aside, I’m sharing Part I today. And I won’t can’t tell you where this is headed. You’ll have to come along for the ride. Believe me when I say, where we end up will be as much a surprise to me as it will be to you.

* This post contains affiliate links. If you visit one of those pages via my link, I may receive a small commission from the seller, at no additional cost to you.

Denim Upcycle — Part I

To be honest, when I started preparing for this post, I had no clue what I was going to do; what I was going to do it with; or how I was going to do it. I looked around my apartment and my eyes landed on the pair of old jeans that I had just pulled out of the laundry. They didn’t fit right and I hated them with a passion; really, I wore the horrid things because I had “nothing to wear” and immediately regretted it every time I left the house in them. This was just the excuse I needed to take scissors to them guilt-free.

To make the project seem less vengeful against that pair of ugly jeans, I pulled out my huge plastic bin of “stuff to upcycle” and retrieved some more jeans that my butt had outgrown, plus some of the afore-mentioned shredded shirts. Let’s focus on the jeans here and next post we’ll work on the shirts. (I need more time to cackle in glee at the thought of chopping them up. But I’m not bitter or anything.)

Step 1

Random denim collection

Four jeans and some random denim bits from the archives under my bed.

Get those old denim clothes out and inspect them. Look for interesting features that you can use as accents in whatever you plan to make. (Actually, Step 1 would be deciding what you want to make. But since I skipped over that and decided to fly by the seam of my pants, we’ll call that Step 0.)

Step 2

Cut out accent pieces

Cut out the important bits

Cut out those features you want to keep, making sure to leave at least a 1/2 inch allowance around them. We’re talking pockets, fly, belt loops, back yoke, waistband, decorative seams, distressing, etc. You’d be surprised at some of the ways you can use these parts. Don’t forget to visualize them sideways, upside down, cut in half… Put those cutouts aside.


Pile of featured pieces

Step 3

Remove unsightly areas

Remove the badly worn or stained areas

From the remaining fabric (which at this point pretty much consists of the legs only) cut away any holes, lumps, stains, or badly worn spots. Some wear can be used to your advantage because you’ll be interfacing the fabric. But if it’s threadbare, get rid of it. I had to give up on most of the very light stone-washed jeans because I’d been painting in them and the legs matched my dining room walls.

Step 4

Press all the remaining pieces well, taking time to inspect them again and clean up any imperfections, remove tags and lint, and get the cat hair off. If you don’t have a helpful cat, your job just got easier.

Clean up fabric pieces

Clean up tags, lint and loose threads

Step 5


Reclaimed panels

Nice and tidy, aren’t they?

Straighten up! — your edges. You can make each piece a random quadrilateral or triangular shape (Yes, you will have to look that up if you forgot your elementary mathematics.) I straightened my short edges but left the curves in the long sides because I live dangerously like that. And also because I wanted to keep the distressed look from the seams.

Step 6

I know you have some cheap, lightweight, fusible interfacing sitting around so go grab that now and apply it to the backs of all the pieces. Don’t be stingy! Use the interfacing and thank me later.

Interfacing cross grain

Apply interfacing cross grain

Note: If your cheap interfacing is non-woven, which I highly suspect it is, be sure to apply it with the grain perpendicular (more math/maths) to your denim’s warp grain. Parallel to the weft is right too. It will eliminate the variations in stretchability from all the different jeans you just destroyed.

Step 7


Sticking it to the joints

Have some fun assembling a jigsaw puzzle with your bits and pieces. (Remember that you’ve put your feature pieces aside. Don’t include them at this stage.) But let your imagination run wild. Be as unconstrained as possible with your combinations. See that glue stick in the photo? Don’t do that! I thought, since I’m experimenting, I’ll try the glue stick method of holding the pieces together. All I got for my pains were warped and wobbly seams and clumps of dried glue, which meant an extra hour unpicking and scraping. Use Wonder Tape. It saved me from myself.

Step 8

Sew your pieces together to form one very large panel of fabric.

assembled denim panel

One large panel of denim just waiting for a pattern

You can use the technique shown in this video. Or you can overlap the edges and stitch over the top like I did. I chose to do it this way because I wanted to be able to sew along the curves, and I also wanted the cut edges to fray in the wash.

Speaking of fraying, my nerves are frayed and my attention is wandering off so this is where we all get to take a break. Those are enough steps for one day, and I gotta boot this purry kitty off my lap.

If you need to have a project in mind before you start slashing at your clothes, try this simple pouch or this lovely quilted tote, both free. I especially like this one, personally. Share with me in the comments if you have something in your closet that is just begging to be upcycled. Or ask me a question.

Meet you back here in a few days with some work shirts for Part II!

Marsha Law Sig2

PS. I don’t really hate my ex. I like him a lot more than I did before the ex-ing happened.

Check out all the stops on the Earth Day Blog Hop:

April 18:
Vicky Myers CreationsCoral and Co.

April 19:
Seam of My Pants

April 20:
EYMMCreate 3.5

April 21:
PenSeb&RoxCandice Ayala

April 22:
Lulu & Celeste (Round Up post)

Hanging out on …



  1. Great tutorial, thank you Marsha!

  2. Oooo! This would make a GREAT beach blanket/drop cloth! I’m going to be on the look out at yardsales etc for jeans to use for this project. 🙂

    • I know, right! Now that I’m sewing again, I’m kicking myself for all the jeans I threw out between my size minus-5 and whatever I’ve reached now.

  3. OOOO another idea Is I’m going to save the pockets to put on the corners/middle of each edge and put rocks in these to weight it down. I’m so exited!

  4. Great tutorial! I thought I had more jeans to upcycle than shorts/pants the kids need but making them into panels would be a great way to salvage them all.

  5. Ooh looking good so far, interesting to see where the project goes:) I love working with denim, its so versatile, just wish my sewing machine liked it as much as me!!

What are your thoughts on this post?