The goal of my upcycling project is to turn my brother’s old jeans, that I don’t fit, into something I can wear and use. Using three pairs of denim jeans, I will be making a tote bag with a patchwork aesthetic.
Phase 1: Design Sketch and Plan
I first started off sketching four different layout options for how I wanted the tote bag to look and approximately how many different patches of jeans I could use in each design. I chose my fourth design because I liked the asymmetrical look as well as being able to use more patches of jeans.
From there, I re-sketched that design and thought about how I actually wanted to implement it. I originally placed the back pocket of the jeans higher on the bag, but because I intend to place my phone there, I wanted to move that patch lower for a lower center of mass, which would help my tote be more stable as it holds my belongings. I also watched a tutorial for sewing a basic tote bag . In the video, the resulting bag is 16 by 16 inches in size. However, I prefer a smaller bag, so I planned to make mine only 12 by 12 inches, which means I would have to adjust my patch dimensions. I also planned to have the same layout for both sides of my bag.
Breaking down the design even further, I wanted to resume the jean’s waistbands as my shoulder straps because they are already sewn and sturdy. I broke down each section of the tote to see what size the jean patches should be.
Phase 2: Deconstruction and Cutting
Because I really like a monochromatic look, I chose to only work with the blue jeans my brother provided and set aside the two black-washed jeans for a different project. I deconstructed each pair into two pieces: the waistband and the legs. The legs of the jeans were cut open into one large piece so I could see the total surface area of fabric I could work with.
For each pair of jeans, I chalked out each of the four sections in my tote bag plans, adding 2 inches to each dimension because my chalk markings and fabric scissors are not precise. I then cut out the sections and stretched them in four directions (vertically, horizontally, and diagonally both ways) to get the grain direction of the jeans to be consistent. Lastly, I steam irons the sections for smooth and wrinkle-free fabrics to work with.
Phase 3: Layout and First Patchwork Sewn
With each patch on my tote bag plan cut out in each jean’s fabric, I began to lay them out to see which combinations I found visually appealing. I really wanted the patches to contrast with one another, so I placed the lighter wash with a darker wash.
I lined up the patches I liked with the grains in the same direction. Then, I measured and chalked each patch to their proper dimension, adding ½ inch for a seam allowance. I cut the patches, pinned them together, and then sewed them together, two at a time. Each time, the seam had to be flattened and steam ironed for a nicer edge and easier control when sewing.
Phase 4: Prep-Work and Next Steps
For my straps, I picked the two jeans that had a more rigid waistband, as opposed to the other two with a more elastic, stretchy waist, so I would have more rigidity and strength when holding heavier items in my tote. I cut off the tags, belt loops, and extra edge materials so that they look more clean.
To finish the project, I plan to:
- Repeat my process to make the other patchwork side to my tote bag
- Sew together the bag
- Sew in the straps
Based on the feedback I received, my bag should include additional elements to make it pop. While I plan to stick with my denim fabric, I want to possibly find ways to integrate the metal buttons, or to sew on the belt loops so it can hold decorative keychains/chains/charms/bandanas that would give the bag more personality.
References: Notches Sewing. (2023) How to make a Simple Tote Bag -DIY Easy Sew to Sell [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhZ2_Q9AVMA