If you follow the blog you probably know by now that I tend to get sucked into different types of upcycling at different times. I’m a bit of a serial obsessive like that!
Anyway, the flavour of the month this month is upcycling a huge pile of my old jeans that I dragged down from the loft and finally admitted I would never fit into again!
I first made a couple of drawstring bags – which really buoyed my confidence for sewing with denim (and specifically stretch denim!).
But the big project with all of these jeans (about 10 pairs I think), is a big denim quilt that I made as part of a quilt along.
For this project what I’m trying to do is use up is the leftovers from what I cut out of the jeans for the quilt pattern – namely the pockets.
The majority of what was left ove,r other than teeny tiny offcuts, was the back pockets of all the jeans.
The first thing I made with these was a couple of bedside pocket organisers for my two sons. But I still had plenty left over.
My most recent project with all of these pockets is a Denim Handbag project that uses 5 upcycled jeans back pockets, some fabric scraps and my husband’s old belt.
Get inspired by your unused bits and pieces
I’m not a bag pattern writer and I’ve only made a handful of bags myself so the tutorial below is very much meant as an inspiration piece rather than a proper pattern.
Hopefully, if you decide to give this a go, having the play by play of my upcycled bag will spark some ideas for you about how you can make a bag that you will love out of the unique bits and pieces you have lying around your own home.
Materials Used – DIY Denim Handbag
- 5 back pockets from old jeans
- Several small panels of scrap fabric – the black is quilting cotton, the grey white and yellow were some heavier weight offcuts bought from Louise Brainwood’s Etsy Shop (I often buy bundles of her fabric scrap offcuts as she has beautiful modern prints).
- Iron on Firm Bag Interfacing (optional)
- Two Fat Quarters of cotton fabric for the lining
- One 9″ zipper for the internal pocket (optional)
- One 18″ zipper for the bag closure (optional)
- My husbands old belt & another of his old belt buckles
- A ‘pleather’ fabric sample – used to secure the bag strap.
- Yellow Gutermann Machine Embroidery Variegated Thread
Step 1: Outer Bag Panels
I didn’t overly plan this bag ahead of time. I started by sewing one jeans pocket above the other to form one half of the front of my bag.
I then made the second half of the front of the bag using another pocket and some of my fabric scraps. I was trying to end up with the two halves the same height.
Once I had that first panel finished I used that as the guide for the size of my back panel. It was roughly 16″ x 14″.
For the back, I wanted to echo the front but not have it be exactly the same, so I placed the pockets and the scrap fabric panels in different places.
Step 2: Interfacing (optional)
If you like a slouchy denim handbag look you can totally skip this step.
I wanted a bit of structure for this one, mainly because the outer pockets aren’t that deep and I feel like if the whole back was slouchy nothting I put in them would stay put!
Also the weight of the different materials on my bag panels was so different I wanted to kind of even it out a bit.
So I used a firm iron on interfacing on the wrong side of each panel. I left a gap around the edges for my joining seams.
Step 3: Machine Embroidery
I decided I wanted to add a bit of embellishment to my bag. My sister gave me a set of brightly coloured Gutermann Machine Embroidery Threads last Christmas and one of them was a lovely variegated yellow colour that blends really well with the yellow in my fabric scraps and is a similar colour to some of the existing stitching on the jeans pockets.
I set my stitch length to 4.5 to try to vaguely mimic a hand stitching or sashiko sort of a look without actually having to do the hand stitching! Not sure I’m fooling anyone but I like how it turned out.
Step 4: Bag Lining
I had a couple of fat quarters (quarter of a metre fabric cut) of stripy white and yellow fabric that I used for my bag lining.
I didn’t do any precise measuring for this I just laid my front panels on top of my lining fabric and cut two same sized pieces.
I also cut a smaller piece for an internal lining pocket. I missed a trick there though as I should have saved myself some work and just used up another one of my denim jeans pockets for the internal pocket!
Below is the method I used to make my internal zipper pocket, but again if you are using up jeans pockets like I was just piece the internal lining in the same way as the front and add in a few more pockets! I’m kicking myself I didn’t think of it at the time!
Step 5: Upcycled Belt Strap
Not only do I save all my husband’s discarded dress shirts, I also save all his old leather belts!
For this bag I used a long black leather belt. I think he got rid of it because it didn’t fit anymore because otherwise it looks like it is in pretty good condition.
Depending on the thickness of your belt and the tools you have at your disposal you can punch holes in a belt and hand sew it in place as a bag strap, but that isn’t what I did this time.
Along with his old belts, I also saved another belt buckle of my husband’s that was from a set of interchangeable belts I bought him for Christmas one year (I guess he didn’t love the concept since he didn’t want to keep the buckle!) – basically the set had one buckle and several belt straps – probably one brown and one black – that you could switch out.
Anyway, I cut the tip off of the end of this belt and inserted it into this interchangeable buckle. So what I was left with was a belt with two buckle ends.
This next bit is where I sound like a bit of a strange hoarder… So along with buying offcuts of other people’s fabric scraps, I also often buy other people’s unwanted fabric samples – including a big box of faux leather sample swatches.
I used one of these swatches and cut out two 6″ x 2 & 1/2″ strips to create little looped tabs in order to secure my belt buckle strap ends to my bag.
To make the tabs I folded in each strip of pleather to the middle – similar to how you would start to make bias binding but without folding it over again.
I then used a fancy stitch on my machine to sew across the raw edges and cover them up. I was pretty pleased with how these ended up looking actually!
The photo below gives you an idea of how these are meant to attach to the belt buckles.
Step 6: Bag Assembly
I made a zipper panel for my bag following these instructions which I won’t try to replicate here as it was my first time trying it and I’m not sure I executed it brilliantly!
If you don’t want to faff with a zipper panel you can use magnetic snaps, or even just a button and loop as a closure.
After attaching the panel to the lining and the front panels I then laid the whole thing out with front panels right sides to right sides and lining panels right sides to right sides.
I sewed all the way around leaving a gap for turning at the bottom of the lining and also two small gaps at the seams where the lining and front panels meet – this was where I inserted my bag strap tabs (see photo).
I then sewed gussets in the corners of both the outer bag and lining. If you aren’t sure what a gusset is, it’s how you get the bottom of your bag to have boxy corners. I have a full explanation in this post about making a bench cushion cover – it’s a different project but the gusset principle is the same!
I turned my bag inside out. Folded in the raw edges of the lining back into my turning gap and sewed that shut.
Lastly I inserted my bag strap tabs into the gaps I had left between the lining and the outer bag.
All you need to do is thread the tab through each belt buckle, push the two raw edges of each tab fully into the opening and turn the raw edges of the bag fabric inside as well. Then pin those in place.
To secure the straps in place and finish off the bag I top stitched all the way around the top of the bag – about 1/4″ in. I used a 2.4 stitch length.
Finished DIY Denim Handbag with Upcycled Leather Belt Strap
And that’s it! One finished bag with many fun and interesting pockets! The final bag – not including the straps measures approximately 12.5″ wide by 14″ tall.
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Here are some other denim upcycling posts you might also like: