Fashion DIY: Making a tote from old jeans

Image: Justin Hood, courtesy of Malin Wennberg Image: Justin Hood, courtesy of Malin Wennberg

By Malin Viola Wennberg | Women
Posted Feb 24, 2016

There’s a lot to be said about denim and sustainability. For starters, to make a single pair of conventional jeans requires about 11,000 liters of water, or 2900 gallons, on its way from the cotton fields to a finished product. On top of that there’s the hazard chemicals often used in the dying process and the artificial distress process aging the jeans before they even hit the racks.  It’s safe to say that the denim and jeans industry is not winning the race when it comes to sustainable production methods, so what can you as a single consumer do about it?  By repurposing or upcycling your old jeans you can give them a new purpose and close the loop.

This DIY will explain how to make a simple, yet sturdy, tote bag from a pair of jeans. A hint, this tote bag is perfect for carrying groceries so skip that plastic bag at check out. This is a fairly easy project, which means you don’t need extensive sewing training to pull it off. You need:

  • A pair of jeans, preferably without stretch
  • Three yards of webbing for handle, preferably cotton to stay consistent with the material
  • Sewing thread
  • Sewing machine, preferably with a heavy duty needle
  • Scissors
  • Iron
  • Measuring tape

 Step 1


For this tote bag you need to cut two panels from your jeans, 16 inch wide and 18 inch high. Start by opening up the jeans by cutting along the inside seam of the legs as the red line indicates. Cut off the upper waist and zipper part and fold the leg out flat. Once the leg is flat you can cut out the two panels.

Step 2

Bottom seam

The first seam is the bottom seam of the bag. Place the two panels on top of each other, with the right side of the fabric in towards each other, and line them up. Make a seam 1 inch from the edge as illustrations marks. Then iron both sides of the 1 inch seam allowance in the same direction. Flip the panels over and top stich down the seam allowance from the right side of the fabric as the illustration shows. Two seams at the bottom helps dived the weight of whatever you end up carry in the bag.

Step 3


For this tote bag the handles will run all around the bag to ensure the sturdiness and durability of the bag. Take three yards of webbing, we suggest webbing that’s 100% cotton and 1,5’’ wide. Lie out and pin down the webbing on the right side of the fabric leaving three inches on each side. Stitch the webbing onto the fabric and make a cross with the seam at the end of each handle, as shown in the illustration. On one end of the handles you will have to overlap with the webbing to make it a full circle. Make sure to place the cross three inches from the edge since you will fold this edge later.

Step 4

Side seams

Once you have the handles in place you will again fold the panels at bottom seam and align the corner, right side in. Pin down the sides to each other and make a straight seam one inch in from the edge as shown in illustration.

Step 5

Top edge

The last step is folding over the top edge for a nice-looking and durable finish. Use your iron and press down one inch and then fold over and press another one inch. In other words, it’s a double fold of one inch as shown in illustration. Pin the fold in palace and make two seams aligned with each other along the entire edge of the top. If you have a twin needle you can use it, otherwise do one seam at a time making sure the distance between them stay consistent. Now turn the bag to the right side and you have your very own, hand-made, durable denim tote.

Download pdf pictorial here.


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