Try This: How to Make a Handbag from Recycled Jeans

Tough and rugged, this recycled denim bag makes a great carry-all. Learn how to make a handbag from recycled jeans with this easy sewing project.

| May 2012 Web

  • Transform a pair (or two) of jeans into a simple but refined carry-all with this easy sewing project for a recycled denim handbag.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Working with recycled materials allows you to create useful and beautiful new things for a low price. “Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials” by Maya Donenfeld gives directions for 28 easy sewing projects along with details on the history of materials, deconstruction techniques, sewing tips and the environmental impact of your material.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 1: Take two 4" x 10" strips and place the denim sides together. Pin and sew a 1/4" seam down the length of one side. Connect a total of six strips in this manner. Set this six-strip piece aside and repeat the same steps with the other six 4" x 10" strips for the other side of the bag.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 2: Press all selvedges of the seams to the right side. Flip the piece over to the right side and use your contrasting thread to topstitch 1/8" directly to the left of the seam. This strengthens each seam, keeps the selvedge/seam allowance tidy, and adds sophistication to the outside of the bag. A zipper foot works wonderfully to guide the needle straight down the seam, but it isn’t necessary.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 3: Repeat this topstitching for every seam to create two patch-worked pieces that measure approximately 10" x 22". Together these pieces are used for the main body of the bag.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 4: Cut two 2" x 13" strips of the interior lining fabric. Fold each in half lengthwise and press. Open and fold each end to the center crease mark. Press. Enclose the raw edges of the pocket sides with these strips and pin them in place. You should have a little extra fabric at the bottom to fold under. Stitch in place.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 5: Press the seam allowances away from the patch-worked sides. Flip to the outside and topstitch 1/8" from the seam onto the bottom of the bag (not on the patch-worked pieces); STEP 6: Place one top band (the 2" × 22" strips) along each loose edge of the patch-worked pieces with the denim sides facing. Sew using a 1/4" seam allowance; STEP 7: Press the seam allowance toward the band. Flip over and topstitch 1/8" from the seam directly onto the band. You have successfully created a large piece of fabric out of rescued jeans; STEP 8: Fold the piece in half so that the edges with the top bands meet. The denim side should be on the outside and topstitched right sides are together. Pin the sides shut. Make sure to match the topstitched seams of the bottom and also match the bands on both sides. Sew the side edges shut with a 1/4" seam allowance.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 9: Box the corners of each side. To do this, take the top of each side seam and bring them together. You should have a diamond that intersects evenly in both directions.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • STEP 10: Using a ruler, draw a straight line across the seamed corners with tailor’s chalk or a pen to create a triangle. Your line should measure 4" across. Pin on both sides of the line. Make sure that your lines are parallel with one another and that the opening forms another straight parallel line. Sew along the chalk lines, making sure to lock stitches. Trim off the excess fabric (snip the corner).
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • How to Insert the Interior Hang Pocket: STEP 1: 1. Cut a piece of the same jeans into a 7 1/2" × 19" rectangle; STEP 2: With the denim side up, fold the bottom (short side) up 1/2" and press. Fold over 1/2" once more and press. Topstitch 1/4" from the edge closest to the denim.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Putting it All Together: STEP 1: Baste each handle to the top edge of the exterior portion of the bag. The handles’ ends should extend 2" above the top edge of the bag. Position them equally distanced from the side seams of the bag and there should be 7 3/4" between them. The pocket should be positioned directly between them.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • Putting it All Together: STEP 2: Turn the lining inside out so that the right side is on the inside. Insert the exterior bag and tuck in the handles. The right side of the interior should be touching the right side of the exterior. Sew along the top edge with a 1/4" seam allowance, leaving 8" open on the side opposite the pocket; STEP 3: Turn the bag right side out through the opening and tuck the interior into the bag. Press and pin the opening shut. Topstitch the entire perimeter and close the opening. Create a boxed X over the end of each strap in the band portion of the bag. This reinforces the straps for heavy hauling. This bag is now ready to fill!
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
  • This is a clever and practical way to hint at the true identity of the original fabric (blue jeans!) and tie the exterior and interior together.
    Photo Courtesy John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Reinventing everyday materials into remarkable items of beauty and utility for the modern home and family will excite new and experienced sewers alike. In Reinvention: Sewing with Rescued Materials (John Wiley & Sons Inc., 2012), award-winning blogger Maya Donenfeld offers a guide to working with her favorite recycled materials, such as linen, burlap and wool. Learn how to make a handbag from recycled jeans with this easy DIY denim handbag project from Chapter 8, “Denim.”  

Working with Recycled Denim

Comfortable, strong, and durable—denim has always been the unpretentious fabric of choice for work clothes and blue jeans. When I was growing up in San Francisco, Levi Strauss, the founding father of blue jeans, was a household name. I remember well my first pair of “Levis 501 blues.” They were a rite of passage for all eighth graders. We’d head down to the only place in the city that carried our size. It was called The Gap. It was the very first one and would become the next big name in the story of jeans. And that pair of 501’s…they were also one of my first sewing machine successes—I pegged the legs; a precursor to skinny jeans.

History of Denim 

Denim first gained popularity during the California Gold Rush when Levi Strauss used it to make “waist overalls” for miners. In the 1930s cowboys and western movies added to the appeal of Levi’s jeans. During World War II, American servicemen took their favorite jeans along and spread their popularity overseas. In the 1950s and ‘60s, TV, film, and the protest movement changed the image of jeans once again to represent youth, rebellion, and individuality. With the advent of “designer jeans” in the 1980s, denim became a high fashion fabric. Today denim has the ability to wear many hats.


Begin the search in your own closet. For small projects, children’s outgrown jeans might be just right. In fact, the oven mitt on page 116 was created with my son’s old jeans. For larger designs, such as the hammock or tote bag, seek out pants with the most fabric possible. Long, widelegged ones are very desirable. For reinventing, don’t think skinny jeans…the bigger the better. The racks of thrift stores and consignment shops are always overflowing with cast-off jeans.

Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

Get the latest on Natural Health and Sustainable Living with Mother Earth News!

Mother Earth News

Your friends at Mother Earth Living are committed to natural health and sustainable living. Unfortunately, the financial impact of COVID-19 has challenged us to find a more economical way to achieve this mission. We welcome you to our sister publication Mother Earth News. What you sought in the pages of Mother Earth Living can be found in Mother Earth News. For over 50 years, “The Original Guide to Living Wisely” has focused on organic gardening, herbal medicine, real food recipes, and sustainability. We look forward to going on this new journey with you and providing solutions for better health and self-sufficiency.

The impact of this crisis has no doubt affected every aspect of our daily lives. We will strive to be a useful and inspiring resource during this critical time and for years to come.

Best wishes,
Your friends at Mother Earth Living and Mother Earth News

Save Money & a Few Trees!

By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of Mother Earth News for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter