Upcycling Old Jeans

Upcycling Old Jeans

I originally wrote this in November of 2015. I had ambitiously thought I could maintain two blogs, but I can’t. This is the only post I ever did in my sewing blog. I am moving it here so it’s not lost forever and maybe, just maybe, more people will get some use out of it.

Me wearing the finished project.
February 2016 – Ireland

Trial and error is often the way I learn to do something correctly. Especially when directions seem complete, but end up being vague… and sometimes it takes me a few tries.

The Project
I often get clever ideas from watching YouTube videos. I can watch quilting and sewing technique videos for hours. I randomly came across a video demonstrating how to turn an old pair of jeans into a pleated skirt using a contrasting fabric. It appeared to be easy. It was adorable. I had a pair of jeans with holes worn in the knees. I had to try to make it.

General Instructions

  • Take a pair of old jeans and cut off the top portion, 8-9″ from the waistband, but above the crotch curve.
  • Measure around the top of the jeans where cut was placed (the hip).
  • Take that number and divide by 6. This number is the width of the template for the lower portion of the skirt.
  • The other side of the template was 12″ (making finished skirt approximately knee length).
  • Cut 6 rectangles out of the left over jeans ( 3 rectangles from each leg).
  • Cut 6 rectangles out of a contrasting fabric.
  • Piece the rectangles together (denim to contrast fabric) and sew along the 12″ side.
  • Continue this until all sides are sewn together with fabrics alternating, creating a circle.
  • Sew the bottom to the top, creating box pleats with the contrasting fabric (the video shows this step very well).
  • Finally, hem the bottom of the skirt.

 

Seemed simple enough… but the pleats didn’t work out properly. I was so disappointed. I sat the skirt aside and tried to figure out where I went wrong.

The Learning Curve is Real
Problem: When I first pinned the top and bottom sections of the skirt together, the top fabric puckered because of the crotch curve. I had wanted to make sure I didn’t cut into the back pockets. To me, it just didn’t seem correct to do so. I measured and cut 10″ from the top of the waistband.
Solution: I had to fix the length I had originally cut the top portion of my old jeans. I ended up cutting off two inches in order to have the top fabric lay flat. My measurement ended up being 8″ from the top of the waistband.
Information Not Included in the Video: In order to cut the top of the jeans where you are working with the fabric above the crotch curve (8-9″ from the top of the waistband), you will have to cut through the back pockets.

Front.

 

Back.

Now that I had the top of the skirt ready to sew, it was time to fix the bottom section of the skirt.

Problem: My denim didn’t meet up proper to create pleats on the sides of the skirt. After pondering the whole process, I decided if I was off by 6″ total, then the problem was simply seam allowance. I told myself if it was seam allowance, I would rip out the stitches and begin again.
Solution: I measured my fabric gaps to find I was almost exactly 6″ off. Changing my seam allowance to 1/4″ would potentially give me the extra fabric I needed.
Information Not Included in the Video: The seam allowance was never mentioned in the video, except for the hem. Knowing the preferred seam allowance would have saved me from basically starting over. I originally used a 1/2″ seam allowance…

Left side fabric gap (3″).

 

1/2″ Seam Allowance

Math. I probably should have considered the math in the beginning.

Time to rip out seams… All of them.

Rectangle Panels (after ripping out my seams).

 

After I tore out all my seams from the bottom portion of the skirt, I ironed and re-pinned my rectangle panels to get them ready for my second try… to get my first skirt right.

I Have Come too Far to Give Up!
I am the type of person who almost always pins my fabric pieces together before sewing. It gives me a sense of control and precision… but obviously I still make plenty of mistakes while learning how to make something new.

Ready to Sew!

I took my time pinning the bottom panels to the top. I wanted to make sure things lined up properly…

yet they didn’t. Again! I had to figure out what I did wrong…

I felt frustrated, but I was committed to finishing this project!

Problem: After changing the seam allowance to 1/4″ I still had a fabric gap. The gap was small this time around (1 1/2″), but the gap still existed.
Solution: I needed to learn how to make pleats!

Fabric Gap (after my seam allowance adjustment).

Figuring Out the Best Way for Me
To be perfectly honest. I had never sewn box pleats before… I should have watched some videos in the beginning because I’m sure it would have helped to know the basics before trying to get rid of the fabric gap …

After watching a few videos on sewing box pleats I was tempted to try a different method. I mean, what could it hurt?

 

This video is great as a demonstration for making pleats, but it has no measurements. I slightly adapted knowledge from this video to my project, and feel I have been quite successful

Taking what I already had, I tore out one seam between a denim and contrast panel. This opened up the bottom half of the skirt to lay flat, and work with the bottom of the skirt as one piece of fabric, like the above video.

Then, I added one denim panel to the contrast panel I had freed. This was just one part of a clever solution. This allowed me to overlap the two denim panels for a perfect fit around the hip of the top portion.

 

Since I already had all my panels sewn together, I had to determine how deep the pleats would be. My number was 1 1/2″.

My first real successful pleat!

 

I traded the safety pins for straight pins and it’s ready to be basted.

After getting all my pleats pinned, I sewed across the top to keep them all in place before attaching the top to the bottom.

My Best Solution┬áto the fabric gap problem… I decided to put the overlapping fabrics in the front and embellish with buttons.

… but before I could put the finishing touches on my skirt, I had to finish putting it together. I had heard a tip of doing a roll hem BEFORE attaching the bottom to the top of the skirt. I went ahead and did that. I didn’t regret it at all, and I would do the roll hem first if I did this project again. I also went ahead and roll hemmed the two edges on the denim panels where they would be overlapping in the front of the skirt.

Roll hem in action (1/4″).

I used the edge of my presser foot as my guide to make the stitching along my hem straight.

I decided to get a thread color that matched the original jeans. I am particular about certain things and I knew if my thread didn’t match, I would never finish the sewing project.

I loved how my roll hem turned out because of the thread I chose.

Then, I attached to two skirt pieces together (top and bottom).

Ready to finish!!!

Choosing buttons… took forever. I wanted it to be just right. I ended up ordering them online.

I marked where each of the buttons would go, 2″ apart.

 

Finished!

Modified Instructions

  • Take a pair of old jeans and cut off the top portion, 8-9″ from the waistband, but above the crotch curve (you will cut through the back pockets).
  • Measure around the top of the jeans where cut was placed (the hip).
  • Take that number (the hip) and divide by 6. This number is the width of the template for the lower portion of the skirt.
  • The other side of the template was 12″ (making finished skirt approximately knee length).
  • Cut 7 rectangles out of the left over jeans.
  • Cut 6 rectangles out of a contrasting fabric.
  • Piece the rectangles together (denim to contrast fabric) and sew along the 12″ side using 1/4″ seam allowance.
  • Continue this until all sides are sewn together with fabrics alternating, creating one flat piece of fabric (denim should be on both ends).
  • Roll hem the bottom of the skirt.
  • Roll hem the two denim panels that will overlap.
  • Center the middle denim panel at the back of the skirt. Pin in place with the two end denim pieces overlapping in the front.
  • Sew the bottom to the top.
  • Embellish front denim panel with buttons.

Sewing Tips I Found Useful for this Project
My rotary blade and straight edge quilting ruler were great tools to cut the rectangle panels for the bottom portion of the skirt. My straight edge ruler was useful for helping me make pleats too.

I used my quilting ruler to measure my pleats.

Ironing– This is a step I have learned only makes things easier. I always think I’ll save time by not ironing but then I get frustrated and end up ironing anyways, so I just iron now. The contrasting fabrics made it easy to know where to iron to get the front pleats.

Chain Piecing– This is a technique quilters use and I found very helpful for sewing the bottom panels together. It’s basically sewing two pieces of fabric together, one after the other, without raising the needle or cutting the thread. Useful, especially if you’re like me and sewing the bottom portion of the skirt… twice.

 

 

 

I can’t wait to try this project again with the new knowledge I have learned to Up-Cycle Jeans!

I want to give a very special thanks to my friend A. Poglese for suggesting overlapping and embellishments. Without her calm advice, I most likely would have given up.

I took photos throughout the entire learning process from beginning to end. For more pictures… Click Here!