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Recycling Jeans: Things to do with Denim when it’s Dead

By , April 27th, 2008 | 14 Comments »


I love my blue jeans. They’re a pain to find and when I do, I pay top dollar for something that fits and isn’t too fashionable. I then wear them till they’re holding on by mere threads. I do get good use out of my jeans, but the price I end up paying after a long hard search always comes to mind as I watch them fade away into tatters. I’d love to donate them when they’re gone, but when I can’t wear them, no one really can. Instead, I save my poor un-wearables, folded up on a shelf, until the right project comes along to recycle them. Here are some of the ways that you can use your old denim instead of throwing it out:

1. Make them into shorts. A good lesson from our mothers: any good pair of scissors and a bit of iron-on seaming tape and they’re now a comfortable pair of shorts after a long, hard winter.

2. Make the legs into pillows. I used grommets along the edges and laced the ends either with a fun knit-stitch with fun yarn or a straight lace-up with a belt. I then stuff with a pillow that has worn out its welcome on my bed, maybe with a bit of re-structuring to fit, and toss it in on the couch.

3. For kid-sized jeans, one leg and the waistband can team up to make a wine bag. I did this for a friend of mine by hacking the seat through the middle and one leg clean off, retaining the structure of the belt-loops and waistband for a handle. I turned the remaining leg inside out, folded it up on itself in half for layers, and stitched across the bottom a couple of times for strength. Righting it, I tucked a couple of re-freezable cooling packs between the layers and a pino grigo in the middle. You could also add the pocket from the removed leg as a place to keep a bottle opener.

4. Make a purse. Cut legs off in Daisy Duke-fashion. turn inside out, seam across the bottom. Take a strip of one leg that includes the seaming for strength and attach to the waistband with fasteners of your choice, or use a fashionable belt. There are great examples of this project on Etsy.

5. Make paper with your jeans. Take some time and cut your jeans into bits and strips (cutting with the long threads). Then shred them down using a wide-toothed comb. When you’ve turned your blue jeans into a pile of string and fluff, mix with the pulp made from shredded paper and water run through a food processor. Using a screen to lift the pulp, press the excess water out and lie flat to dry (iron for thinner sheets). Use as you would any hand-made recycled paper.

6. Denim coasters. Quick and easy: cut jeans into 3″x 3″ squares. Pour frosty beverage. Place denim between beverage and beautiful wood finish. For extra pizazz, cut denim into other shapes.

7. I love denim in the snow. If you turn a leg inside out, wrap with a layer of flannel or a fluffy fabric and stitch securely, when you right your project you have a beautifully recycled hand muff. Wear with your favorite denim jacket, or your white fur coat.

8. Somehow I missed when leg warmers came back in, but, you can make a pair with your old jeans’ legs. Cut to the desired length, then, for proper fit, up the inside seam and re-seam. Turn them inside out and embellish the ends with lace, a piece of t-shirt, or just hem the jeans neatly. Patch any holes in the jeans to match or contrast, and turn right-side in. Great with knit skirts, for a reversal.

9. Turn your jeans into a belt holder. With a leg of jean, rip out the side and inside seams. Sew horizontal lines across the leg making horizontal pockets in varying widths for the varying widths of your belts. Clamp the top of the jeans with a skirt hanger, and slide it neatly into your closet. This idea was inspired by a knitting needle holder.

10. Use your blue jeans for patches. Other clothes get holes in them, too. Patch your favorite sweater with denim elbows. To attach denim to knits, turn knit wrong side out and stitch twice around the hole before adding the patch. This will help keep the knit from unraveling, even when hemmed to another fabric. Add a pair of pockets to the sides of some pants for a twist on the cargo pant, or just add extra pockets to the cargos you have. And there’s nothing like shuffling around in a pair of jeans that are actually three or four of your favorite pairs of jeans patched together. (Note: Any denim sewing should be done with denim-grade needles and tough thread. Your machine will thank you.)

All over the crafting and recycling world, old jeans are a precious commodity. If nothing else, send your jeans to become Green Insulation, of the Blue Sort, by Bonded Logic. Where to recycle: GUESS by Marciano will have denim drop-off locations in select US stores during the month of April 2008 and in additional US and Canada stores during the month of May 2008.” In any case, your jeans can be worn, but good denim will never go out.

Image courtesy of aphasiafilms

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  • Amber says:

    a while ago I either read online or in a news paper. Anyhow jeans can be turned into a skirt. Just cut before, but I found this on another website:Open up the inseam, then open the front center seam starting 1″ below the zipper. Now, the back seam start opening 6″ below the waist.

    Back to the front: Overlap the front right over the left side. Adjust for shape. Sew a wedge shaped panel to fill in the hole. Same for back.

  • Trent Hamm says:

    I just use a “downgrading cycle” for my jeans. They go from public casual wear down to around the house wear and further down to garden/yard work wear and from there into “rags under me while changing oil” use.

  • April says:

    Have you ever seen a denim quilt made with old jeans? Or a denim rag quilt? I made one for my nephew for Christmas last year. I cut old jeans into different sized squares and sewed wrong sides together to form a hem that I then cut in small increments. After washing and drying, the hem was frayed into soft pieces. It looks great and it’s a pretty substantial quilt. It also has all sorts of cool pockets in it and I added some sports patches here and there. I’d kind of like one for myself now!

  • Pat says:

    I made a denim floor cloth for my deck out of old jeans from my children. Just sewed patches together like you would for a quilt and then turned the outside edges under and sewed. Then coated it with 3 coats of polyacrylic on both sides. Waterproof rug for the deck!

  • Jim says:

    Denim is being touted as a “green” alternative to fiberglass insulation. I’m sure we will all be hearing more about this in the future. They shred and weave it into batts similar to fiberglass insulation. It doesn’t have the potential health concerns of fiberglass. They didn’t mention the fireloading issue.

  • MES says:

    If you’re crafty, you can make potholders using a pocket and a patch from the leg. I’ve done this a few times and they turn out really nice and sturdy.

  • silver fox says:

    My idea is similar to Trent’s. I mend and patch older jeans, and wear them for gardening. There’s not much left of them after that, and they become mechanic’s rags. Then they end up in the woodstove, since our recycling program doesn’t accept cloth items.

  • Kristen says:

    I’ve made several pairs of pants into skirts recently…it was a lot of fun and not hard to do. Simplicity’s website has easy directions.

  • allie says:

    i think the best way to recycle your old jeans is to give them away to charity. I think making them into pointless around the house items that you’ll never use is a waste. Put your jeans to good use. I give mine and my kid’s jeans and other clothes to Purple Heart.

  • joan sautter says:

    Can you please update this info as to where and when I can donate used jeans NOW in the San Francisco, CA Bay Area? I am particularly interested in the use of jeans for insulation in homes and would like some leads on where to donate the used jeans I’ve been collecting for a while. Of course, other uses would be fine as long as they involve recycled jeans. Thanks!

  • kaitlyn says:

    my student council activity is recyling jeans and we wanted to know more information about using jeans in an environmental way?

  • yoda says:

    I love blue jeans! I am venturing into making yarn! Do any one know of a how to website or any good idea’s on this subject?

    email me too!

  • yoda says:

    opps! making yarn out of blue jeans”Denium”

    thanks again


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