You Should Reclaim the Zippers from Your Old Pairs of Jeans

Reclaim the zipper from old jeans

I have been on a zippered pouch kick lately, happily using up all my scraps and stash to make handy little pouches for pens in my backpack, or bobby pins in my kid’s ballet bag, or notions to take to my community’s Mending Day… really, anything that one could possibly put in a pouch? I’ve sewn a zippered pouch for it!

The key to sewing all the zippered pouches that my heart can handle is the stash of tons of reclaimed zippers in my notions bin. They are all taken from old pairs of jeans, and all the perfect size for a zippered pouch.

If you sew, and especially if you enjoy refashioning clothing or upcycling pieces to give them new lives, you should be reclaiming the zipper from every single pair of pants that wanders through your workshop. The zippers from old jeans, especially, are super sturdy, with metal teeth rather than plastic. Yes, it is time-consuming and tedious to seam rip the zipper. And yes, I do have to do the thing where I push my glasses down my nose so I can peer nearsightedly at the seam I’m ripping since I am, alas, getting too old to focus close-up on things, drat the passage of time.

But having a large supply of super sturdy, 4″-6″ zippers is worth the fuss! It’s a money-saver (zippers are cheap, but they aren’t free!), a time-saver over running to the store and back, and a resource-saver, since without you, that lonesome zipper would end up in a sanitary landfill for the rest of time.

Here’s how to squirrel away your own stash of zippers reclaimed from old jeans!

You will need:

  • beat-up old jeans.ย Is it better to donate or upcycle? I sew with denim often, so I do not donate my family’s old jeans. I bought those jeans with my own money with the understanding that after they had outlived their usefulness as clothing, they were going to live a second life as my personal crafting fabric! After all, I have quilts to make! If you, however, prefer your unwanted-but-still-functional clothes to be reworn rather than refashioned, then just ask around for jeans that are ripped (ripped in a bad way, of course, because my kid recently paid genuine money for jeans that were ripped “in a good way,” and she did not appreciate my wise advice that when winter hits, she should wear her nice wool long johns under them so her knees don’t get frostbite) or stained.
  • seam ripper.ย Spring for an excellent seam ripper for this project, not that janky little two-inch one that came with your sewing machine.

Step 1: Investigate how your zipper is sewn to the jeans.

Reclaim the Zipper from Old Jeans

Zipper stitching is generally fairly standardized. The photo above should be a fair guide to what you’ll see when you examine how your zipper is stitched into the jeans.

At the top, you’ll see that the zipper tab on each side is stitched inside the waistband. At the bottom, you’ll see the tacking used to keep the zipper from coming unstitched in a spot where it undergoes a lot of strain.

Reclaim the Zipper from Old Jeans
This zipper has two sets of tacking, both of which will need to be seam ripped.

Turning the pants inside-out reveals that the sides of the zipper are usually held to the fly with two lines of stitching. You’ll need to seam rip the bottom of the fly to see the bottom of the zipper, where that stitching will continue.

Step 2: Seam rip all the things!!!

Seam rip the fly.

Put on an audiobook (my kid and I are listening to Frankenstein this month, and wow, Victor SUCKS!!!), grab your bifocals or simply accept your worsening vision and hold the jeans four inches from your face, and congratulate yourself for buying a quality seam ripper that won’t bruise your precious fingers.

I like to start by ripping out that tacking at the bottom of the fly. Doing so will allow you to see the bottom of the zipper and evaluate what needs to be ripped there. In the photo above, you can see that the fly’s top stitching is also holding the zipper in place and so will need to be removed.

Next, I like to rip the waistband stitches to free the top of the zipper tab on both sides. After that, I rip the serging on the button-side of the fly that conceals the two lines of stitching holding that side of the zipper.

Finally, my big reward is getting to run my seam ripper down each side of the zipper twice, ripping out the last of the stitches holding the zipper. Unpick enough of the stitching at one end that you can fit the ball of the seam ripper into the seam, and all those stitches will rip as smooth as butter! The fabric is so sturdy that you don’t even have to worry about ripping the fabric! Bliss!

Reclaim the zipper from old jeans

Here’s my secret pro tip. You can actually follow this method to replace a wonky zipper on a pair of jeans that you love! Carefully seam rip out the old zipper, then stitch a previously reclaimed zipper down in its place.

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