Upcycling old jeans for summer

upcycling old jeans My favourite jeans tend to wear out just when I start to really like them. I’m short, so they fray round the bottom of the legs, and sometimes the knee or inner thigh wears through. Rather than throw them out I’ve taken to upcycling them into shorts and pedal-pushers for the summer. Here’s how.

1. Decide what length you want your finished jeans to be – mid-calf? Just below the knee? Mid-thigh? You can measure properly or just put them against something you already own that’s the right length. I wanted to make another pair the same length as last summer’s pair, so I just laid them on top and cut by eye with fabric scissors. In this case I’m encasing the raw cut edge in fabric, but if you want to make a turn-up, add another three inches or so to the length so you can turn a 1.5in hem over twice.

upcycling old jeans

Cut off the legs to the right length.

2. Repair if necessary. This pair were fine, but I’ve often patched the thigh, knee or bottom of the jeans with the denim I’ve cut off the bottom of the legs, which is usually a pretty good and unobtrusive match. If you’re feeling brave I have also previously patched the inner thigh with the contrast fabric! Cut a patch slightly bigger all round than you need, turn under a hem and slipstitch in place. (You don’t sew right through the denim, just pick up a few threads on the surface of each piece of fabric.)

upcycling old jeans

Patching using material from the cut off legs.

upcycling old jeans

Patching the thigh with contrasting fabric.

2. Choose contrasting fabrics. I love ditsy prints with denim and for this project I used the sleeves, collar and cuffs of a vintage blouse that I’d already cut up for patchwork. The cuffs, collar and button placket are great because the edges are already finished for you.

upcycling old jeans

Strips of fabric with a hem turned over and ironed down.

3. Cut wide strips (about 3in wide) of the fabric, long enough to go round the leg, leaving a centimetre or so of seam allowance at each end. Turn over a hem on each long raw edge and press down with an iron, then pin in place and slipstitch to the jeans on the right side and the wrong side separately. It’s easiest to turn the jeans inside out to sew the inside. You can’t fail as long as all the raw edges of the fabric (jeans and print) are enclosed. Take care to match the ends of the strip where it joins itself. You could do this sewing on a machine; as denim is thick and you need to fiddle with the seam allowance I find it easier to hand sew.

upcycling old jeans

Slipstitch the fabric to both sides and match the join.

upcycling old jeans

Turn jeans inside out to slipstitch the other side

4. Add some details. I like to add a strip of fabric across the back pocket (I used one of the cuffs). Just pin and slipstitch in place. I also think it looks pretty to add detail to the pockets at the front; in this case I used the other cuff, which had a slight gather that helped me ease it round, and the lace collar from the blouse. You could use ribbon, buttons, or hand embroidery to good effect as well.

upcycling old jeans

Cuff of blouse added to back pocket.

upcycling old jeans

Adding lace from the blouse collar to the front pocket.

5. The finished product! Now all we need is sunshine…

upcycling old jeansupcycling old jeans

NB: If I make turn-ups I usually secure them by adding tabs of fabric at either side of the leg, like this. I also loosely slipstitch the turn-up in place in a matching thread so that it doesn’t pucker or unfold.

upcycling old jeans

This pair has turn-ups and tabs of contrast fabric for a different look.

About Susan

I'm a busy mum of three who always has projects on the go and sometimes finishes them... I'm interested in greener parenting, reusing, repurposing and recycling fabric and veggie gardening and foraging. I blog about birth and breastfeeding at


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