Introduction: Recycled Denim Shopping Bag

About: I am a former zookeeper. One thing you may not know, zookeepers often have to make their own specialized tools, enclosures and supplies. It's just part of the job, because there aren't really any box stores …

Save the world - one pair of jeans at a time.

Take your old jeans out of the closet and turn them into a useful shopping bag!

Lets face it, we all have a favorite pair of jeans that won't fit anymore, but we'll never throw them away. Simultaneously, we use hundreds of disposable plastic shopping bags every year, which are really not good for the environment, even if we do recycle them.

Keep your sentimental old bluejeans, give them new life, and help the environment at the same time.

This bag takes about three hours to make, if you have sewing experience. If you don't have experience, it might take a little longer, but you WILL be able to do it!

To make a bag using this pattern, you will need:

One pair of old jeans with a 26 inch inseam or longer
Small piece of velcro (optional)
Ink pen or marking chalk
Measuring tape

Step 1: Cut the Outside Seams

Cut a strip, 3 inches wide, from the outside of each leg, centered on the seam.

In this case, the jeans are cargo pants, so the strips will be shorter than they would for a pair of regular jeans.

If you have regular jeans, go all the way up to the waist band. Just cut the whole seam out of the outside of the leg, keeping it 3 inches wide.

Step 2: Cut Off the Pantlegs

After you cut the outside seams, the pants will be really floppy, which makes this step a lot easier.

Lay each pant leg out flat, and cut it off as closely to the crotch as possible.

Trim off the bottom hem.

Step 3: Cut Out a Pocket

Cut a square, as large as possible, from the remains of the jeans, to be a pocket.

OR cut out one of the back pockets, leaving about one inch of cloth all the way around.

Step 4: Cut the Pant Legs

Cut 18 inches from the bottom of the pant legs, and trim off the bottom hem if you haven't already.

Left over, you should have two curved pieces of fabric at least 8 inches wide, from the upper part of the pant legs.

Technical note: This example was made with a 30 inch inseam. If your jeans have an inseam less than 26 inches, you will need to modify the pattern by reducing the size of the large pieces to 16 inches or smaller, proportionately.

Step 5: Cutting the Leftovers

From the leftover strips, trim the curves off as shown in the photo, to make straight edges.

Then cut them each in half the long way, so you'll have a total of four strips of fabric that are all the same width. They don't have to be any specific size, as long as they are more than 2 inches wide.

Step 6: Check Your Pieces

You should now have:
two large pieces (front & back of bag),
four strips of matching width (edges of bag),
two 3 inch wide strips with the seam down the middle (handles),
and a square of cloth for a pocket (or a recycled pocket).

Don't worry if your pieces don't look exactly the same as the pictured example, the pattern is designed to accommodate many sizes and shapes of jeans. It'll all work out if you follow the directions.

Step 7: Shape the Front and Back

Since most jeans are tapered these days, you will probably have trapezoidal pieces for the front and back of the bag. Trim the wider corners of the large pieces, to make them curved, as in the photo.

Technical Note: For strength and durability, you will want the seam to run up and down in the finished bag.

Step 8: Start Sewing!

Begin with the four strips of equal width that you cut out last. Sew them at the short ends, to create one long strip.

If you've never sewn before, take it step by step: put two strips right sides together, and sew one end. Then unfold it into a longer strip. Put one of the remaining short strips at one end, and sew it to the longer strip, keeping the right sides together. Unfold it again, to make sure it looks right. Finally, put the last short strip at one end, and sew it to the longer strip, again keeping the right sides together.

Sew each seam a second time with a zigzag stitch over the edge, to prevent unraveling.

Step 9: Strip for Sides of Bag

The finished strip will be very long.

Technical Note: Usually three sections is all you will need, but some sizes of jeans will require all four.

Step 10: Sew the Strip to the Back - Part A

Lay one of the large, 18 inch pieces onto your work surface, right side up and upside up.

Place one end of the strip onto the top right corner, with the right sides together.

Sew the strip down, starting at the right corner and working all the way around to the left.

Step 11: Sew the Strip to the Back - Part B

Sew it a second time with a zigzag stitch over the edge, to prevent unraveling.

When you come to the end, you will have excess cloth from the strip, but don't cut it off yet.

Step 12: Sew an EASY Pocket.

Lay the second 18 inch piece onto your work surface:
right side down for an inside pocket
OR right side up for an outside pocket.

Place the recycled hip pocket from your jeans, right side up, in the center. Sew all the way around, using a zigzag stitch, to prevent unraveling.

After you sew the pocket down, trim off the excess cloth around your seam, leaving about 1/4 inch. When you wash the bag, it'll fray just a tiny bit, giving your bag a casual look, but your zigzag stitch will keep everything secure.

Technical Note: Because this pocket came from cargo pants and had a cover, I put it on the outside.

Step 13: OR Sew a Home-made Pocket - Part A

OR if you are a more advanced sewer, you can make your own pocket:

Find the square piece of cloth for the pocket.

Hem the top edge of the square.

Lay the second 18 inch piece onto your work surface:
right side down for an inside pocket
OR right side up for an outside pocket.

Place the square pocket, right side up, in the center. Fold under ½ inch of the bottom edge of the square.

Step 14: Home-made Pocket - Part B

Holding the folded under edge in place, flip the square down so it's laying flat.

Sew the bottom edge in place securely, leaving ½ inch unsewn at each side.

Sew the edge down a second time with a zigzag stitch, to prevent unraveling. Again, leave ½ inch unsewn at each side of the pocket.

In the photo, the piece is turned sideways, as it would be for sewing.

Step 15: Home-made Pocket - Part C

Fold the right corner down at a 45 degree angle.

Hold it with your finger, then fold ½ inch of the right side inward, to create a neat corner, as shown in the photo.

Step 16: Home-made Corner - Part D

Flip the pocket back up, while holding the hem you've made.

Pin in place, or immediately sew it down.

Repeat with the left side.

Step 17: Sew on the Front

After you've got your pocket sewn in place, lay the whole piece on top of the long strip (already attached to the other large piece) with the top right corners lined up.

Sew them with right sides together, starting at the right corner and working all the way around to the left.

Sew the seam a second time with a zigzag stitch over the edge, to prevent unraveling.

Step 18: Trim Off the Excess Strip

Now, you can trim off the excess of the strip, so that there is a smooth transition along the edge.

Step 19: Finish the Top Edge

At this point, you have a bag with no hem and no handles.

Go ahead and hem it:
fold the edge to the inside ½ inch, then fold it over again, and sew it down all the way around.

Step 20: Sew the Handles - Part A

Find the 3 inch wide strips that you cut out first.

Fold one lengthwise, with the right sides together.

Lay a shoelace along the inside of the fold.

Stitch the shoelace in place at one end.

Step 21: Sew the Handles - Part B

Sew along the strip to create a tube with the shoelace inside. Be careful not to sew the shoelace down the length of the tube, it should be loose inside and attached only at the end.

This is the hardest part:
Pull the shoelace to help turn the tube right side out.

Cut the shoelace free and use it again for the second tube.

Step 22: Finish the Handles

After you have two tubes, stitch them again from the outside, so they will lay flat for handles.

Step 23: Attach the Handles

Turn the bag inside out.

Arrange one handle end, three inches from one corner of the bag, with the raw edge tucked under the edge of the hem.

Stitch the handle in place securely, sewing through all layers of the hem and handle.

Step 24: Handle Detail - Part A

Fold the handle up over itself and sew it again with a zigzag stitch, in two places for strength.

Step 25: Handle Detail - Part B

Repeat the process for the rest of the handle ends, attaching them three inches from the corners of the bag.

Step 26: Sew in a Velcro Closure

Sew the velcro in place at the center of the insides of the bag, and you are done.

Step 27: Finished Bag

Now you can save the $10 or more that it would cost for a very nice and sturdy denim bag!

And you'll never have to throw away your favorite jeans, just because they won't fit anymore.