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Upcycled Denim Tote Bag Project

Upcycled Denim Tote Bag Project

This upcycled denim tote bag project is written by Vicky from Vicky Myers Creations.  She loves working with old jeans to create fabulous new items, especially bags. She loves to inspire people to be creative, using what they have to hand. After all we only have one earth!

Today I am going to show you how to transform several old jeans into an oversized denim tote bag. The inspiration for this bag is the lovely subtle variants in denim colours, plus my need for a bag to throw a towel in for the gym. You do not need to be a precise accurate sewer to make this beautiful patchwork denim tote project, I’m going to show you how easy it is step by step.

This denim tote bag features two slip pockets, one internally and one externally, closing with a magnetic snap. The finished bag measures 17 by 14 high by 7” wide (43 by 36 by 18cm). As I have used a quilters ruler for cutting the pattern I have worked in inches but if you are a metric person I have added approximate cm measurements which will produce a very similar sized bag.

If you don’t have enough jeans to hand I suggest asking friends and family if they have any old pairs lurking in cupboards, alternatively you could ask in your local charity shop if they have any in their rag bin.

Free denim tote bag pattern


Several old pairs of jeans, a minimum of five (I can’t be precise as jeans come in all sorts of sizes, the more pairs you have the wider your range of beautiful colours in the finished bag)

Cotton for lining the bag – I have used an old sheet (otherwise 1m should suffice)

Seam ripper

Rotary cutter, mat and quilters ruler

Denim needle, Sewing machine, and regular quality sewing thread

Bag foam 1/2 m of 54” wide such as Vlieseline Stylevil or Annie’s Soft and Stable

Iron on interfacing 1m (I have used Pellon Shape Flex SF101 – UK equivalent Vlieseline G700 )

Fabric glue such as fabri tac

Bag handle kit with double cap rivets (I sourced mine from the app Wish) – the handles I have used measure 23” (59cm)

Hole punch, hammer and rivet installation kit

Magnetic snap 16 or 18mm

Decorative large button to compliment bag handles.


Prepare pattern pieces

Cut one piece of denim measuring 18 by 8 “ (46 by 20 1/2cm),  this is for the base of the bag.

From your lining fabric cut:

18 by 8” (46 by 20 1/2cm),  one piece for bag base

15 by 8” (38 by 20 1/2cm), two pieces for bag sides

18 by 15” (46 by 38cm), two pieces for front and back of bag

For the pockets cut:

Lining for external pocket – 6 ½ by 8 ½” (17 by 22cm) cotton fabric

Interior slip pocket – cotton fabric measuring 13 by 7 ½” (33 by 19cm)

Foam/Annie’s Soft and stable – cut out

17 by 7” (43 by 18cm), one piece for bag base

14 by 7” (35 1/2 by 18cm),  two pieces for bag sides

17 by 14” (43 by 35 1/2cm), two pieces for front and back of bag

Making the exterior bag fabric

This is made of strips of denim.

Let’s start by creating strips of denim from our old jeans – as many of my old jeans have holes in I am making the most of the salvageable fabric. Cut strips of denim measuring  2 ½” (6 1/2cm) wide. Ensure you cut according to the grain line in the jeans. The length of the strips does not matter, as you can cut them as you require aesthetically, when you form the exterior panels of the bag.

TIP – It can be easier to identify the grain line of the jeans by looking at the wrong side of the fabric.

How to turn old jeans into a denim patchwork bag

We are going to piece these together to make patchwork strips which in turn are joined together to create the external sides and front and back of the bag. I have played with the fabric placement before sewing my strips to together so I can balance out the lighter and darker pieces. You can see a full video for the making of the bag here – which includes this part of the process.

How to do patchwork with old jeans

In total you are going to need 28 strips 15” (38cm) long, of patchwork denim. Join pieces of cut out denim to create the strips. To join the pieces (to create the strips) place the pieces of denim short edges matching, right sides facing and join by machine stitching. I have used a 1cm (3/8”) seam allowance throughout the bag. Press the seam allowance open.

Now you have your strips ready sew the strips together to create the back and side panels of the bag. Sew with you right sides facing. The side panels have four strips, the back panel ten strips.


External pocket

If you would like to add the front pocket shown, pause now! Let’s sew strips together to create three panels, two with three strips and one for the middle with four strips sewn together.

To create the pocket piece sew four additional strips measuring 7” (18cm) long together. Unpick a piece of waistband – you need a piece 8 ½” (22cm) long.

Place the lining fabric wrong side facing you, with the pocket piece right side facing you so the edges align. Open out the waistband piece and place over the top, encasing the top raw edges.

How to sew a DIY denim tote bag with pocket

Pin and top stitch to secure along the original stitch line on the waistband. I have chosen to use a top stitch thread in an orangey colour (replicating the original denim stitching on the waistband).

Now place this pocket onto your central panel (the four strips sewn together) so the sides and bottom align then baste to secure (stitch within the seam allowance with a long stitch to temporally hold).

REcycled old jeans into a large tote bag

Complete the front exterior bag panel by sewing the three panels together with the pocket one in the middle.

How to sew a bag from old jeans

Sew up external bag

Iron all your external bag panels on the reverse opening out your seam allowances.

To add shape to the bag I have chosen to use bag making foam. Using fabric glue adhere to the wrong side of each your external bag pieces, centrally the corresponding foam piece (if you have an iron on foam them attach it following the manufacturer’s instructions). You should have seam allowance of denim all around each piece of foam (the foam is cut to the finished side so the bag to reduce bulk in the seams).

DIY patchwork jeans tote bag

Now let’s sew the external bag together. Place the side panel right sides facing the front panel. Pin to hold in place, ensuring the edges of your foam aligns. At the top edge of the bag start at the very top and sew along the very edge of the foam, stopping at the end of the foam, 1cm short of the end. This is the same for every side seam.

Free upcycling projects

Sew the bag base along the bottom edge, only sewing along the very edge of the foam. For all the bag base seams start the seam allowance in 1cm or 3/8” and stop this distance before the end. Not sewing right to the very end of the fabric makes the corners much easier to handle. You may find lots of pins useful.

Repeat along all side seams, and bag base seams. Trim seam allowance fabric at the bag base corners to reduce bulk. Turn right side out.

Internal slip pocket

Fold your slip pocket fabric in half, right sides facing each other. Sew along long edge and one short edge.

Trim the corners within the seam allowance and then turn right sides out.

Press the pocket, turn in the raw edge so they are facing inwards and press.

Place the pocket onto one of the front/back pieces. I have placed mine centrally 4“ (10 1/2cm) down from the top of the bag. Ensure the open edge is facing towards the bottom of the panel.

How to add internal pockets when sewing a bag

Stitch pocket in place, backstitching at the top of the side seams, notice that as you sew along the bottom of the pocket you are securing the pressed in raw edges.


Magnetic Snap

Adhere a piece of fusible fleece to the wrong side of your lining fabric, centrally half an inch from the top edge. A 2” (5cm) square is a good size to use but it doesn’t matter if it’s a little larger or smaller.

With your quilters ruler measure the position of the center of the magnetic snap, 2 1/2″ (6.5cm) from the top, centrally position. Mark this position with a pencil, through the washer.

How to use a magnetic snap fastening

Cut along your marked slits – I find a sewing unpicker very useful for this. Place the magnetic snaps into the front of the lining piece, with the prongs going through to the back. Place your washer over these prongs then open them out to the edges of the lining piece.

Tote bag made with old jeans

To fully secure the magnetic snap in place I like to add a piece of fusible interfacing over the top, but this is totally optional.

Internal lining

Adhere fusible interfacing to the wrong side of your lining pieces. Sew the lining fabric pieces together as you did for the exterior fabric. Ensure you have the same seam allowance at the top of the bag seams but as you sew down towards the base make the seam allowance fractionally larger. This prevents your lining fabric being a little baggy when we assemble the bag.

We are going to turn the bag out through the base of the bag. Ensure you only sew approx. 1 ½” (4cm) on from each corner on one long edge of the bag base, this creates a turning gap where you will pull the bag rights sides out.

Sew a lined patchwork denim tote bag

Assemble Bag

Place the lining fabric so the right sides face the right sides of the denim, I like to have the exterior fabric right side out and pull the lining over the top. Ensure the tope edges of your bag align. Also ensure your side seams align.

DIY recycled denim bag project

We are going to stitch along this top edge all around the bag. Dependant on your sewing machine, you may wish to change your sewing machine foot to a walking foot to help your machine cope with the layers.

Trim the seam allowance. Pull the bag out through the gap in the lining and iron this seam.

Simple patchwork jeans bag pattern free

Insert the lining into the bag, hold in place along the top edge of the bag with pins, then top stitch.

How to top stitch a bag

Now let’s finish the turning gap, fold in the raw edges along where the stitched seam would be. Either top stitch close to the edge or ladder stitch to close.

How do you make a denim bag out of jeans?

Attach bag handles

I am using a kit from Wish – the handles come with holes for double cap rivets. I have positioned the handles in relation to the external slip pocket. They are positioned centrally on the denim strips either side of the pocket, three inches down from the top of the bag. Mark the position for inserting holes for the cap rivets, I have used a regular pen.

If you’d rather use different handles or make your own read this bag handle guide or fabric bag handle tutorial. 

How to add leather handles to a bag

Using a hole punch create the necessary holes for your strap.

How to use a fabric hole punch

Insert the double cap rivet.

How to use cap rivets

Lastly secure the cap rivets with a rivet fitting tool. Place the rivet so that the bottom cap lays inside the dip of the round portion of the rivet tool. Align the dipped in portion of the rod on top and give it a good hit with a hammer (ensure you are on a solid surface!) 

DIY denim bag from old jeans

The last step is to add a decorative button to the external slip pocket, which compliments the bag handles and adds a touch of detail drawing your eye to the subtle slip pocket.

Vicky Myers is the author of Bag Making for Beginners book,  she can also be found blogging at vickymyerscreations.co.uk

Upcycled jeans patchwork tote project