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Upcycling Stretch Denim – Face your Fears!

Everyone has at a pair of jeans (or several) and eventually they wear out.

If you’ve chanced on this blog then it’s likely that your first instinct when something gets a bit worn out is to upcycle it – good for you! There are plenty of ways to upcycle old jeans.

But if you are a bit wary of using a sewing machine on your stretch jeans in the name of upcycling you are definitely not alone! That was me not long ago!

I’m going to tell you how I conquered my fear of upcycling stretch denim and give you some tips so you can too!

upcycling stretch denim jeans

So I had this really done in pair of stretch jeans – both knees had gone and the fabric was wearing thin in the usual places too.

Unlike non-stretch jeans ripped knees in stretch jeans isn’t cute – you don’t get the boho look frayed bits of denim across your knees, you get strings of thin black elastic…not a good look!

upcycling stretch denim jeans

I of course forgot to take a photo of the full pair of jeans before I cut them up – so this is the nasty aftermath!

Still plenty of fabric left for more projects too! I’m not going to promise to use it all though as I am still recovering from how long it took me to upcycle my husband’s two shirts when I set myself that challenge!

If you aren’t sure about how to cut up your old jeans before reusing them then check out my post that has my updated technique – including a video tutorial – for how to cut up old jeans to save the most useable fabric.

Drawstring Bag Project with Upcycled Stretch Denim

I had recently bought this drawstring bag pattern from Sotak Patterns.

There are 3 versions of the bag in the pattern and one of them called for a contrasting bottom and drawstring casing, so I thought I’d experiment using my old jeans in place of those cuts of fabric.

I was a bit nervous it would end up all puckered or ill-formed (which is why I’d never sewn with stretch denim before!) but I figured I wouldn’t know unless I tried!

[I’ll just clarify that the pattern doesn’t call for upcycling stretch denim, so you won’t find anything about that in the pattern. This was a straight out substitution of stretch denim for the recommended fabric in the pattern.

You could make the same swap in lots of other patterns including some of the free ones linked to in this article.]

I figured if it worked it would probably end up pretty cute and if it didn’t it could be a practice run at the pattern!

upcycling stretch denim jeans - drawstring bag
Finished bag with my upcycled stretch jeans in the ‘medium’ size.

In the end it worked so well I used some more of the stretch denim in a smaller version (the pattern also has 4 size options – so far I’ve tried the medium and the mini).

upcycling stretch denim jeans drawstring bag mini
Mini version of Sotak Pattern’s Drawstring Bag using upcycled denim jeans and a fabric remnant

[If you are wondering about the other fabrics used scroll to the bottom where I’ve listed the materials used for this project and where I got them.]

I’ll tell you how I used the stretch denim in this particular project and as I go I’ll give you my run down of top tips for using stretch denim in any upcycling sewing project or pattern you might want to try it with.

Tip 1: Plan your Cutting

So of course I started by cutting my fabric as per the pattern.

The only complication with doing this with upcycled jeans is you have to find the spots where you can find a single piece that is long enough and wide enough for what you want.

You obviously don’t want seams or pockets if you are using it as a straight replacement for a piece of fabric (you can include those intentionally in some projects but it wasn’t going to work for this one!).

I was able to get the sizes I needed for the medium bag from the thigh area of my jeans – one benefit of wearing a slightly larger size jean that I would like!!

For the mini bag bottom and the drawstring casing I was able to get that from the leg area which is narrower as these were ‘skinny’ jeans.

So the one issue with how I cut these is that I had a limited choice for what direction to cut them in, so I couldn’t pay attention to the direction of the bias in the way that you are meant to. I figured it was pretty stretchy in all directions so I might as well just cut it where I could get the size I needed!

If you are a more experienced sewer than me, and the thought of ignoring that crucial element gives you the hives, then you might want to figure out the direction of the bias on your jeans and plan your project accordingly, which might even mean changing projects if this means you can’t get the size you want in the direction you need!

The cutting was easily the hardest part to get right and I did have to re-do a couple pieces because they didn’t finish an even size – no doubt because of the stretch.

Below is my top tip for cutting that I wish I had followed!

Tip 2: Pattern Weights

So I didn’t actually use pattern weights myself but I will be using them next time.

My main issue with cutting the stretch denim was that however I manipulated it I would end up tugging it in some way which threw my cutting off. If I had used pattern weights I could have moved my ruler around to cut all 4 sides without having to handle the actual denim as much.

Tip 3: Separate Rotary Cutter or Scissors

cutting stretch denim rotary cutter

This is a tip for cutting any kind of denim really, not just stretch denim. Stretch denim actually tends to be thinner than traditional denim so it’s arguably not as much of an issue but I still think this is good practice.

Basically you don’t want to be blunting your good fabric rotary cutter blades on a thick fabric like denim. So either do your cutting with an old blade that is reaching the end of it’s life cycle anyway or assign yourself a separate rotary cutter or pair of scissors for working with denim fabric – stretch or otherwise!

Tip 4: Interfacing

The pattern for the drawstring bag I was making called for using an iron on interfacing on the back of the main fabric pieces.

The one I used for the medium bag (and the one the pattern recommended) was Pellon SF101 (equivalent to Vlieseline® Vilene® Iron on Fusible G700 in the UK).

I applied this to both the stretch denim pieces and the fabric remnant I was using for the upper pannel of my bag.

I think using this interfacing made a huge difference. I think it gave the denim a structure that not only helped the bag hold it’s shape once it was finished (which is largely why it is used) but also made it more stable to sew with.

I used a different thinner interfacing for the mini bag (because I didn’t have enough of the Pellon SF101) and I did notice the difference.

Tip 5: Use a Denim Needle

denim sewing needles

This is a pretty obvious one but definitely not one to skip. Even if your stretch denim is quite thin – mine was – don’t risk it!

Denim needles are inexpensive and you’ll have the peace of mind that you won’t be breaking a needle in the middle of your sewing project.

Tip 6: Use a Higher Tension

I am not an expert sewer and not an expert on sewing machine tension settings. BUT…I do know that when I am working with a thicker fabric or several layers I need to up the tension on my machine.

Even though my old stretch jeans were relatively thin, not much thicker than a thick canvas cotton, I still put that tension up just to be on the safe side. I had it at 7 (I have a pretty basic Janome machine) and left it there the whole time I was sewing for this project.

Tip 7: Don’t Skip the Top Stitching

upcycled stretch denim
Panel piece for my drawstring bag BEFORE the topstitching

This is more of a finishing tip that is true of any bag making or sewing project – top stitching just always makes it look nicer. But for denim I think this is doubly true as we are so used to seeing top stitching on the actual jeans we wear.

I missed out some of the top stitching on the mini bag (because I was on the phone to my sister and not giving it my full attention) and I regretted it later.

The medium one where I put all the top stitching in looks way better to me.

See the photo below for the difference. I remembered the top stitching around the top for both but I forgot it where the panels meet in the lower half of the bag on the mini version.

upcycled stretch denim bags

Upcycling Stretch Denim into Drawstring Bags

upcycled stretch denim used in drawstring bags

I’m really happy with my finished bags and I’ll definitely be making more now that I’m no longer afraid of sewing with upcycled stretch denim!

I’m using them to try to organise some of my fabric scraps.

The idea is that the colour of the main panel of fabric will give the clue to what is inside. So the medium one has grey and blue offcuts and scraps inside and the mini floral one has – you guessed it! – floral themed scraps.

What do you think? Will I be able to keep this storage system going? I have my doubts….but the bags sure are cute!

Have you tried sewing with your old stretch jeans? Let me know how it went and any extra tips you have in the comments!

Materials Used – Drawstring Bag

If you like’d this idea and you want to come back to it later don’t forget to Pin it!

drawstring bag with upcycled stretch denim

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Rebecca Braunm

Friday 17th of June 2022

I love your article. You write so was like reading a short story that I couldn't put down and had the added benefits of the pattern links and how tos. When ever I see the finished bag or bags, I will remember you!!! Thank you for contributing to the world!! You are so amazing!!

Kristen Hubert

Tuesday 28th of June 2022

That is so sweet of you to say! So glad you enjoyed it! x Kristen

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