Tools + Supplies breaking-down-jeans2014

Published on June 3rd, 2014 | by Julie Finn

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How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage

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How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage

About once in a blue moon, someone will give me just a giant amount of blue jeans, like an entire Rubbermaid bin’s worth.

Now, I craft with old denim pretty often, but I can’t store a giant Rubbermaid bin full of blue jeans until the next quilt inspiration hits!

The thing is, though, that there are a lot of uses for old blue jeans, but rarely for every single part of the jean. If you know what you like to make (quilts for me, purses and skirts for you, perhaps?), then you’ll find that you can make your old blue jean storage much more neat and efficient, as well as space saving, by cutting the jeans up very carefully, just so, and storing them in their parts.

Here’s how to get the most out of your jeans stash, AND get that giant bin out of your craft room!

Back pockets. EVERYONE wants those beautiful back pockets! If it’s just the back pockets that you want, go ahead and cut them off the jeans and store them separately. Either get out your gridded cutting mat and clear plastic ruler and neatly cut them out with a border that you’ll find useful, or, if it’s literally just the pockets that you need, grab and seam ripper and simply take them off.

That’s actually how this particular stash of blue jeans that I just finished breaking down came to me–with all the back pockets taken off with a seam ripper. I often craft with the back pockets, as well, but as I plan to overdye and then piece a couch cover using this particular stash of denim, having the extra fabric without the bulky appliqued pockets attached is really helpful.

Zipper. Choose the right pair of jeans, and you’ll also get for yourself an incredibly sturdy zipper of any length between two-ish and six-ish inches. Use the seam ripper again to get at the zipper; you’ll find that it’s sewn down really well, but it’s just stitches, and stitches can come out:

How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage

Store the zippers with the rest of your sewing notions.

Fabric. The best fabric swathes in blue jeans comes in the pants legs, and may or may not include the knee. The most efficient way to cut out each pants leg into a fabric section is this:

  1. Cut up the entire inseam, from the bottom hem of one pants leg, up to the crotch, and down again to the bottom hem of the other pants leg.
  2. Do this again on the other side of the inseam to cut out that bulky seam entirely.
  3. Cut up the center front seam and center back seam and through the waistband to separate the pants legs.
  4. Cut the bottom hem off of each pants leg.
  5. For each pants leg, start cutting just inside one center seam, cut up to the lowest torso seam, cut across to the outer seam, cut down until you’re lower than the spot where the front pocket is sewn into that seam, and cut up and over to the center seam on the other side. I don’t have a use for front pockets or belt loops or waistbands; do you?
  6. If the outer seam is too bulky to sew through later, cut it out as well. I decide this on a case-by-case basis.
  7. Examine the fabric that you have left. Cut away any worn spots, stains, or rips:

How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage

Fold the remaining denim fabric neatly and store it, noting any particularly special pieces, such as those with interesting embroidery or patch pockets.

That sums up all the parts of the jeans that I can use! I no longer look like a hoarder with a giant Rubbermaid bin full of ripped, old-fashioned blue jeans on my study floor. Instead, I have a small stack of pockets, a bunch of zippers in my notions bin, and a couple of large (but still smaller than a bin!) stacks of folded denim waiting to be overdyed black.

Did I leave out any parts of the jeans that YOU sew with? If so, how do you store them?

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About the Author

I'm a writer, crafter, Zombie Preparedness Planner, and homeschooling momma of two kids who will hopefully someday transition into using their genius for good, not the evil machinations and mess-making in which they currently indulge. I'm interested in recycling and nature crafts, food security, STEM education, and the DIY lifestyle, however it's manifested--making myself some underwear out of T-shirts? Done it. Teaching myself guitar? Doing it right now. Visit my blog Craft Knife for a peek at our very weird handmade homeschool life; my etsy shop Pumpkin+Bear for a truly odd number of rainbow-themed beeswax pretties; and my for links to articles about poverty, educational politics, and this famous cat who lives in my neighborhood.



  • Claudia Mazzie-Ballheim

    I also use old jeans to make bags and other things. And over time I’ve figured out that deconstructing them first saves me lots of time later. My process is very similar to yours. (I also do the same with shirts.) To store the smaller pieces, I have dedicated plastic bins with labels — “zippers,” “waistbands” (includes belt loops too), “pockets,” “labels,” and even “inseams.”

    Here’s what i do with inseams btw:

    http://creativeupcycling.blogspot.com/2013/07/the-inside-scoop-on-re-purposing-blue.html

  • Tina

    This is a great idea for breaking the jeans down. I have an old suitcase with a t-shirt/denim quilt in progress. It’s been in progress for about 3 years (maybe longer). I will keep this in mind for when I start acquiring more denim to finish it!

  • yuki kokoro

    I use the waist bands for bags handles. Very sturdy!

    • http://www.craftknife.blogspot.com Julie Finn

      Ooh, I bet! I’ve also heard of crafters using those thick side seams, but there’s no way that I, at least, could get a needle through them.

  • oasisoriginals

    I use the zipper in my bags, and try to keep most of the character.

    http://www.oasisoriginals.net/recycled.html#shoppingbags
    I love recycling denim.

  • HippieMom

    I’ve used front pockets from corduroy pants and a square encompassing the jeans zipper in patchwork skirts. I’ve also contemplated making a skirt using the top portion of jeans cut across at the crotch. So while compressing my jean/cord/khaki stash sounds good, I hesitate to chop up clothing without a project in mind.
    A question about dying cut fabric, don’t you end up with a lot of fraying? Or do you dye after sewing?

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