Recycled Denim Shopping Bag




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.

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    2 years ago

    how long does it takes to cut the patterns and pieces of the bag (like the front and back, the handles, pockets, etc.)? and how much time it takes to sew the pieces all together? and how many bags can be made in one denim jeans? Thank you


    10 years ago on Introduction

    this is a really cool project. overalls also make good bags. they already have carrying straps made up for you.


    A nice touch is to stitch with red thread. I bought a box of 6" denim squares from a thrift shop ( I guess someone began a project and changed their plan) and did a number of patchwork bags using the different shades of faded denim and red thread. Triple stitch the bottom of the bag.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    As I find men very difficult to buy presents for I have been making a variation on this theme which I call "man totes". I use old shirts, mens XL best ,must be cotton or linen not synthetic. I sew front closed. I remove buttons but no real need to. The breast pocket makes a nice small outside pocket for shopping list. Sleeves used for handles.
    The handles are very strongly attached by sewing a square of about 1.5 inches ( turning fabric at each corner) then sewing diagonal lines of stitches inside square.
    with any spare fabric I can make a small storage sleeve. High quality cotton folds very small in a briefcase and this bag can take as much weight as you could carry.


    11 years ago on Step 27

    I recycled my old favorite jeans after they started to wear out and got some weird brown stain on the front that won't come out. AND I didn't have to spend $10 buying a denim tote bag pattern! Thanks for helping us all be green and reduce, reuse, recycle. Mine looks great so far and is about half done.


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I just made this bag and I love it! I can't wait to make a few more. What a great idea and a great instuctable. Thanks so much


    11 years ago on Introduction

    This is a great instructable! I was looking for something to do with some old jeans... this bag would be perfect.


    11 years ago on Step 27

    hi weiblem.c..thank you so much for your great tutorial! i really i can using to making a new shopping bag by myself  without spend  any money by using my old jean .:)


    13 years ago on Introduction

    I have found a gadget from junk jeans site that makes sewing over heavy seams a whole lot easier. You put this under the presser foot when you are coming to a seam so the presser foot is the same height as the seam and then you switch it to the front as you have sewn over it. It sure makes your sewing easier. Happy recycling


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Sewing Over those thick seams can be a problem. I was taught this trick by my mother. Take the seam that you are getting ready to sew over and give it a couple whacks with a hammer before trying to sew over it. This flattens out the seam and your machine will sew through it a lot easier. Also good for all those pent up frustrations -- be careful you don't hit your finger though. I work with recycled blue jeans making one of a kind hand crafted purses and this always works for me. Good luck with recycling those jeans.

    I made your bag, but used a 2nd pair of jeans for the sides to give it more width. What kind of sewing machine do you use? Mine had a difficult time getting through the seams. It was fun to make something useful!

    jean bag 003.jpg

    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Great! I'm so glad. And thank you for the picture! Yes the pattern is definitely open for modification. I'm glad that you were able to make something that will work for you. :) I sew with a cheapo Singer machine that I got for $100 several years ago, so it doesn't like the seams either, but I just go slow for the thick parts. It also helps to turn the wheel by hand in the really tough spots, so the motor doesn't even have to try - this will also save you from breaking needles. You probably already know this, but another thing that helps is getting the special needles for denim and leather, they're strong and very sharp, so they go through the fabric more smoothly and that helps the machine. Thanks again for the photo. I'm really thrilled. -CW

    Very Interesting
    Very Interesting

    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Ok, I don't feel so bad. (I have the same machine.)I finally found the jeans needles and can't wait to try them out.I hope more people make these. I use mine daily!


    Reply 13 years ago on Introduction

    Yay! Me too. It will hold LOTS of groceries.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    Great bag. I like the thought of making longer handles that wrap around the bottom for extra strength when being used as a grocery bag. AWSOME step-by-step instructions.

    Dandy! Join the battle against the plastic bag scourge! You'd be surprised (and probably appalled, as I am), at how many people just toss their old jeans (and other clothes) into the garbage. I'm not just talking about stuff that's too worn to wear either. Perfectly good clothes going to a landfill, just because people are too lazy or pig-headed to find a donation box.


    13 years ago on Introduction

    This is great! Since I'm a guy I would use this as recyclable grocery bags. I would probably do something a little different for the handles though. I would probably loop them under the bag for extra weight. Kudos!!