How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage

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?

28 thoughts on “How to Break Down Jeans for Crafting and Storage”

  1. 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:

  2. 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!

  3. 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?

  4. I use a little zip razor for seam ripping jeans. I went through way too many seam rippers your way, and tried the smaller thin razor knives with the replaceable snap-off blades. The process is so fast, you’ll never use a seam ripper again fir deconstruction, trust me.

  5. I make potholders with denim and different types of logo material and use the belt loops for hanging The back pocket can be kept on as a mitt.

  6. I just finished disassembling 23 pairs of jeans and I prefer a single edge razor blade to open all the seams. I actually take the pockets separate of the seat fabric – and I have found that if you score once or twice across the tacking seams at the top of each side of stitching, the pockets come off so much easier.

    I’ve recently seen a quilt that uses waistbands, even the loops! It does have the snaps/buttons, so I couldn’t imagine it would be too comfy, but it sure is interesting looking! I’ve opted to not save the zippers… I don’t think I’ve ever replaced a zipper in my life, and the only zippers installed required very long ones, so I don’t save those. If anyone ever comes up with an idea for using them, please share!

  7. I made a rag quilt with jeans to protect the back of my couch where my dog waits for us to return home. She always made the quilt fall off so I thought I’d use 2 waistbands, one for each side of the couch. I cut off a 2-inch piece, including the button and sewed it to a spot on the quilt near the bottom. I then sewed the end of the waistband to the other side so that the buttonhole reached around the couch and fit over the button. This secured the quilt cover tightly and now it stays in its position while she waits for us.

  8. I repurposed a couple of pairs of jeans into a skirt and a pinafore but I only undid the inside leg seams and left the outside seam (took off waistband, zip and pockets). Then I wrapped the leg fabric round myself more or less horizontally of course it spiralled a bit so not straight, but what it made use of was the shape those jeans had assumed by being worn by their previous owners so the fabric wanted to curve and follow my unstraight body. The resulting garments were asymmetrical but intriguing and very comfortable. And the darker patches where the pockets had been came up in odd places and added to the character. That’s the thing I like most about the deconstructed denim from jeans is the dark ghosts of the pockets and seams.

  9. I save waistbands and have used them to attach to my own jeans. I have a favorite pair that were low, low rise. They were great when I was young and skinny. However now I’m older I wanted a higher waistband, I added one from my stash. Now they are the perfect height and with the double buttons and row of belt loops they are even more interesting.
    I’ve also used waistbands in aprons I’ve made, I keep the button and hole in tact, and will add extra button holes if needed to tighten at the back, or at the neck.

  10. I’ve just discovered the world of deconstructing and reconstruction. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long. My grandparents grew up during the Great Depression and I was raised on the stories they told. But I’ve come around and don’t believe in wasting anything!! My husband thinks I’ve lost my mind! I really appreciate the comments and replies made in this blog. Now I know how to take apart all the blue jeans I have. Thanks so much!
    Jill Goad

  11. I repurpose jeans into tote bags and use the waistbands as the handles. I also save the zippers for pouches/coin purses. I am about to make a few ear bud holders for a friend for her children to attach to their back packs. I have aquired some child size jeans and I think the zippers on those will work great. I also plan to use a belt loop attached at one end to add a key ring so they are able to attach to their back packs. The seams of jeans can be tied &/or braided into a great dog chew toy!

  12. A friend of mine has a rug made from the waistbands only. The belt loops and the buttons are taken off, but the rug is super sturdy and backed with a yard and a half of regular heavy denim. It’s a fabulous rug!!

  13. I make pinwheel flowers out of the discarded 1/4 side seams ! Roll them up and they can be sewn together for a trivet or rustic lollipop flowers.

  14. My overweight step-son lost a ton of weight and gave me all his old jeans (Size 40 = LOTS of denim!) I used a few, but didn’t deconstruct the rest because I hadn’t read your blog yet. I think he lost the weight to get a girlfriend. He found the girlfriend and married her, then put all the weight back on! So I had to give all the jeans back – LOL. I’m actually glad I didn’t take them apart. I was able to save him a little money and hear him say, “Ooooh! These were my FAVORITE!” I love all the little parts & pieces. Pockets, labels, buttons, zippers, belt loops, I keep it all.

  15. Those 1/4″ or so seams from the leg sides are great for making handles, apron “strings”, and decorative trim on clothing or handbags.

  16. I cut the inseams off and then run metal wire threw the seam which when bent makes a wonderful braclet
    The pockets with a dome attached make great change purses. I also take kids jeans..line the inside after cutting of the legs and decorate for kids for toy totes or overnight bags for sleep overs. Jean destruction rocks.

  17. You can roll up that seam that you cut off at the beginning and make nice little coasters. I’ve also glued half of a drier ball to one for a nice wool pincushion.
    You can also cut off a 10″ (or whatever size you want) piece of the leg before you remove any of the seams. Stitch across the cut edge, box the corners (I like to do it so it comes out with a square bottom) and you have a nice little basket. If you want a shallower one, you can box the corners so that you have a rectangular basket.

  18. Sherri Schroeder

    I have used the waistbands to make a purse for my daughter would make another one if I could get enough to do another one.

  19. I recently saw a post using the thick outside seams, glued and stitched to make coasters. There was a bowl too but not sure I’d use it. Im going to try it. I don’t sew so I going to make a rag rug using the rubber backing for area rugs. Wish me luck!

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