Upcycle an old pair of jeans into a cute new tote! This upcycled jeans tote bag is a medium sized bag that you can carry as a large purse or everyday bag.
I love using old jeans for sewing projects. The wear and tear on a pair of jeans gives the fabric variations in color that you can’t get from new fabrics. Plus, it seems everyone has at least one old pair of jeans lurking in the bottom of a drawer. And if you don’t, you can head down to the thrift store and find a pair for just a few dollars.
I designed this tote to take advantage of some of the most recognizable parts of a pair of jeans – the back pockets, and those worn hems and flat felled seams.
I’ve got a tutorial for you below.
This bag has large pockets on the front and the back that use the jeans hem as the seam finish. The front pocket is large enough to hold a notebook.
And the back pocket is divided along the bulky flat felled seam. The divide is a little off center, which creates a skinnier pocket that can hold a water bottle, and a slightly larger wider pocket to hold a small journal.
On the inside, a jeans pocket sewn to the lining makes the perfect place to hold your phone. After all, aren’t we always stashing our phone in our back pocket? Same size pocket, just on the inside of your bag where you don’t have to worry about it falling out.
But my favorite part is the flap that keeps the bag closed. Does it look familiar? It’s the other back pocket from the jeans! It turns out that the shape of the back pocket is perfect for making a flap. A magnet snap holds the flap closed.
The bag straps are made from 2” wide nylon webbing. I thought the webbing looked a little too plain, so I found some wide decorative ribbon to sew on top of it. That added quite a bit to the cost of the materials, but I love the design so much I think it’s worth it.
Finished dimensions are approximately 14” wide x 11 ½” tall, though the width of your bag may vary slightly depending on the size of the jeans you used.
Want to make one of your own? Here’s how:
1 pair old straight leg jeans for the bag exterior
½ yard quilting cotton fabric for the bag lining
1 set magnetic snaps
Fusible webbing – scraps
2” wide cotton or nylon webbing for the straps – 2 pieces, each piece 36” long. I sewed decorative ribbon on top for my bag, but you could just leave them plain if you like.
RST = Right Sides Together.
Cutting and Prep
Cut the legs off the jeans just under the front pockets. Make sure the pieces are at least 28” long.
Cut the legs up the outside (non-bulky) seam. You’ll need the full width of each leg to make the bag.
Cut 12” off the bottom of each leg. These pieces will be the Exterior Pockets. (The hems will be the top edges of the pockets.)
You’ll need to square up the remainder of the legs before you can cut the Main Bag pieces. You’ll notice that these pieces don’t like to lie flat. That’s because there’s extra width at the top of jeans legs to make room for your hips and crotch. You won’t get a nice square piece by just trimming extra off the sides because the extra is sewn into that seam down the middle of the piece.
Fold a tuck at the bulky seam down the middle of the piece. That bulky seam will kind of curve and the extra fabric will be folded underneath it.
Mark the bottom of the tuck with a straight pin.
Cut along that seam from the top down to the pin.
The bulky seam will now easily overlap the other side. Sew in place close to the bulky seam.
Turn the piece over and trim off the extra fabric. Now you have a rectangle that will lie flat.
Trim these pieces to be 14 ½” tall. These are your Main Bag pieces.
Now, trim all of the Exterior Pocket and Main Bag pieces so the sides are straight and they’re all the same width. Keep as much of the width as you can. (My pieces were roughly 15” wide, but yours may be slightly more or less than that.)
For the Lining pieces, cut 2 pieces of quilting cotton the same size as the Main Bag pieces.
Make the Flap
Cut around one of the jeans back pockets. DON’T rip the pocket from the jeans fabric, just cut around it right up next to the edge without removing it from the layer of fabric it’s sewn on to. That extra layer of fabric makes the flap more substantial and will act as the Flap Lining.
Cut a scrap of denim from the top of the jeans. Use fusible webbing to fuse it to Flap Lining on the INSIDE of the pocket, as far down to the bottom of the pocket as you can get it. This will reinforce the fabric for the magnetic snap.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions to install the stud side of the magnet snap to the BACK of the Flap Lining. (The stud will be coming out from the back of the Flap Lining, and the prongs will be INSIDE the pocket.)
I had a hard time getting my hand and pliers down into the bottom of the pocket to press the snap prongs flat. I ended up turning the pocket right side out to get better access to the inside.
Trim the hem off the top edge of the pocket to remove the bulk.
Sew the Straps
Place the ends of the Straps to the right side of the Main Bag pieces, with ends of straps 2.5” from the sides and 5” from the top. Be careful not to twist the Straps.
Sew the Straps in place in a box pattern at the bottom of each strap, with the box being 3.5” tall.
OPTIONAL: If you’re worried about the ends of your Straps fraying, you can cover the ends with patches made from scrap denim. Use fusible webbing to fuse the scraps down over the ends, then stitch around the patch close to the edge to secure. My patches were roughly 1 ½” tall x 2 ¾” wide.
Sew the Bag Exterior
Place Exterior Pocket pieces on top of Main Bag pieces, right sides up and raw edges aligned at the bottom. The hemmed edge of the jeans will be the top edge of the pocket. Baste in place with a ¼” seam allowance.
Currently you have two identical Main Bag pieces. One will be the Bag Front, and the other the Bag Back. Set the one that will be the Bag Front aside for now.
On the Bag Back, sew a line to divide the Pocket right next to the bulky seam. That bulky seam is slightly off center so you’ll end up with one pocket slightly wider than the other.
Now, place the Flap across the top of the Bag Back, centered horizontally between the Straps, RST and raw edges aligned. Baste in place with a ¼” seam allowance.
Place Bag Front and Bag Back RST. Sew around sides and bottom with ½” seam allowance. Leave the top open.
Box the corners to create a 3” bottom. (To make a 3” bottom , your boxing seam should be 1.5” from the tip of the flattened out side seam.) If you haven’t boxed corners before, here’s a good tutorial showing how.
Sew the Lining
Cut the remaining back pocket off of your jeans. For this pocket, you’ll need to cut away the fabric around the pocket as well as the fabric it is sewn on to. But DON’T rip out the pocket, because doing so will lose the pretty top stitching. Instead, just cut the fabric away around and behind the pocket.
This jeans pocket will become a phone pocket for the inside of your bag.
Center the jeans pocket across one of the Lining pieces, right sides up, and 2 ½” from the top. Topstitch around the sides and bottom of the pocket to sew it down.
Place the Lining pieces RST. Sew around sides and bottom with ½” seam allowance, leaving 4-5” open at the bottom to turn.
Box the corners to create a 3” bottom.
Assemble the Bag
Turn Bag Exterior wrong side out. Fold Straps down and away from the top of the bag. Place the Lining inside the Bag Exterior, RST, and matching side seams.
Sew around the top with a ½” seam allowance.
If you’re using denim that has some stretch to it, double check that your Bag Exterior and Lining pieces are same width before sewing this seam. The jeans I used for my bag stretched out a little during the sewing, so I had to take in a little at the side seams on the Bag Exterior to make it fit. If your denim is very stretchy, you may want to take in a little at the side seams anyway, just to counteract any stretching that may happen when sewing across the top.
Turn the bag right side out through the hole in the Lining.
Close the hole in the Lining, either by hand sewing with a ladder stitch or (my new favorite method) with fusible hem tape.
Your bag is not quite finished yet. The last thing you need to do is install the other half of that magnetic snap.
Fold the Flap down over to the Bag Front and Pocket, and mark on the Pocket where the snap hits it.
Fuse a scrap of denim behind this spot on the Pocket to reinforce the fabric, then follow manufacturer’s instructions to install the socket side of the snap. (The prongs of the pocket will show on the inside of the pocket.)
Now your upcycled jeans tote is finished!
If you love this upcycled jeans tote bag from Anne you will love these bag tutorials from her as well: