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This project has been designed by Jenniffer Taylor, a contestant from series 2 of The Great British Sewing Bee. Jenni is passionate about upcycling and sharing her sewing revolution. Jenni's first book 'Girl with a Sewing Machine' was published by Search Press in 2017.

You can follow Jenni on social media: FacebookTwitter, Instagram & Pinterest

Ready to Go Tote Bag

Upcycled denim Tote bag project

Denim jeans and chequered shirts are always a staple upcycling fabric in my house. Kirk, my husband, lives in this clothing combination and so tends to either put holes in them or they become too big/small for him. So, all donations come to me first!

This was a perfect excuse to make my Ready To Go Tote Bag! A super quick, no fuss make, that you will have ‘Ready To Go’ in no time.  With the hardwearing denim fabric and pockets galore, both on the outside and inside, it is a great bag to go shopping with as well as putting those old clothes to good use.


You will need...

Jeans for upcycling

A pair of denim jeans

An old shirt

Bag handles with looped ends

Quilters ruler


Basic sewing equipment


All seam allowances are 1.5cm.


To Sew
Upcycling jeans into a tote bag

 Firstly, remove the centre back seam, centre front seam and fly from the jeans. Try to cut as close to the seams as you can as you want to keep as much material as possible.


Cutting up jeans for upcycling

 To create the fabric for your bag, you will also need to remove the legs but cut about half way down the leg -  to the midpoint of the thigh should be perfect. You should now have two pieces of fabric that you can open out. Using the one side first, fold in half and align the waist band.

With a quilting ruler and chalk, line up the edge of the ruler with the waist band to draw down to start making a rectangle shape. Repeat at the bottom until you get to the fold. While still folded, cut along your chalk line to give you a rectangle shape.


Recycling old jeans

 To create the other side of your bag, pin your cut fabric on top of the other piece and use as a template, by matching up the waist band with the wrong sides together. Cut out.  Measure the length and width of your fabric, so you know how big to cut out your lining from the shirt.

Upcycling projects using shirts and jeans

 Using the rough measurements, deconstruct your shirt to give you two lining pieces the same size as your denim bag pieces. You may need to cut out the sleeves and sew pieces of the shirt together to get the right sized lining. Use one of the denim fabric pieces as a template to trim your shirt lining to size.

Remember to sew the button front closed with a top stitch.  The great thing about using a shirt that has pockets means that you have pockets on the inside of your bag too.


Squaring off a bag base

To give your bag a base, you need to cut out a square shape at both of the bottom ends.

To speed this step up, I have kept my denim fabric pinned together and folded over a corner to give me a square shape; then free hand cut around this shape.


Upcycling your old clothes - free sewing projects using old clothes

 Use the offcut as a template for the other side and the lining, by pinning it in place and cutting around it.


How to turn jeans into a bag tutorial

 With the right sides together, pin along the sides and bottom, then secure it with a straight stitch. Do not pin or sew in the square areas just yet!


Refashion jeans into a bag

 Press open all seams. Concentrating on the square areas, join up the side and bottom seam first and continue to pin in place, making sure there are no folds or tucks in the fabric.

Sew along this area to secure the base of your bag, repeating the process on the other side.


Upcycling sewing projects for beginners

 Once stitched in place on both sides, turn your bag out the right way and poke out the corners.  Repeat these steps with your shirt lining, but this time leave your shirt lining in wrong way around, so the seams are exposed.

How to turn jeans into a handbag

 To make your fabric strap loops you need four rectangle pieces of fabric about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide. With the right sides together sew a line of stitching, down the two lengths of the fabric.

Turn out the loop so the raw edges are concealed and press.  Repeat with the other loop.


Refashioning projects which use jeans

 At the side seam of your bag, pin your loop in place with the right sides together and just below the waist band so you are not going through as many layers of fabric. Secure with a line of stitching and then clip the corners to reduce bulk.


Denim tote bag tutorial

 Before securing the other side, thread the fabric loop through the bag strap loop first. Then pin in place on the inside of the waist band. Secure with a top stitch as close to the first join as possible. You may want to use a zipper foot, so you can get as closer to this edge. To make the bag loops more secure, pin both sides of the straps to the waist band and sew along the edge. You will need to increase your stitch length to accommodate the multi-layers of fabric, as you are stitching several layers together at once.  Repeat on the other side.


Sewing projects upcycling old clothes

 All you need to do now is sew in your lining. Before sewing, quickly press over a single 1 inch hem at the raw edge of the lining first. Then place the lining inside the bag with the wrong sides together, matching up the side seams and making sure the base corners are in position inside the bag.  Pin in place and then using a ladder stitch, hand sew your lining to the original waist band.


Finished tote bag made from jeans

 Ta da! You're now ready to hit the shops!

You can find more upcycling sewing projects here.

Free sewing projects