Recycled Denim Market Tote

Recycled Denim Market Tote

Recycled denim market tote

I am lucky enough to own a sewing machine, having received one as a gift some months ago. I also own quite a few pairs of jeans, many of which I don’t actually wear (yes, I know, first world problems). When I finally decided to make the time to teach myself how to sew, it only made sense to look into making things from old clothes instead of shelling out on fancy new fabric and diving head-first into the rather overwhelming world of fabric stores (hey, it’s scary out there if you don’t know what you’re talking about!).

I have come across a lot of bags made from recycled jeans on Pinterest. Problem is, most of them look rather terrible. The whole point of recycling is to give something unwanted a new life, not produce another unwanted item. And I definitely did not want a bag that looked like an old pair of jeans in bag form. I did, however, come across one project that made me rather excited when I found it. This bag, instead of screaming, “Old Pair of Jeans”, tastefully said, “Cool, Practical Denim” and I was in love. With the Christmas holidays now behind us, I can finally post this project without ruining the surprise.

This bag was a Christmas presents for my boyfriend’s parents, who live out in the country and I thought could use a durable carry-all for their trips to the local farmers market. It was also a back-up present in case I couldn’t finish the knit pillows I was working on in time (or they didn’t turn out), in which case I was going to fill it with homemade jam and freshly baked goods. In the end, they got the bag filled with the pillows and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.

I used this excellent tutorial to make the bag, following all the steps exactly. Having gone through the steps, here are some general notes on this project:

  • first of all, I am pretty new to sewing, so this is definitely not an impossible project for a beginner. I still have trouble sewing in a straight line, so if I can make this, so can you;
  • the bag took me about 4-5 hours to make and my mom stopped by for tea in the middle of this, so you can definitely knock this out in a single day;
  • unless you wear size extra-extra-ginormous pants, you definitely need two pairs of jeans to make this bag; one simply isn’t enough to harvest the fabric pieces you need for this project;
  • the two pairs of jeans don’t need to be the same colour; I made the sides of my bag from one pair of jeans and the bottom, handles and inside pocket from a completely different coloured pair, and the bag still looks great;
  • I found the size of the lining to be a little off; my insert ended up being just a touch too narrow and about 5 inches longer than it needed to be. I would add one extra inch to the width of the lining and shorten its height by 5 inches;
  • overall, the instructions provided in the original post are very detailed and fairly well organized. However, not being a sewer, I found a couple of parts rather confusing (namely, the instructions for boxing the bag and making the hanging pocket). And there were a couple of words I needed to look up (for example, I wasn’t sure what an interlocking stitch was and what basting meant). I also found it awkward to have to pull up the separate picture gallery to try and find a corresponding image for each step of the project. In some cases, those weren’t terribly clear, either. But on the whole, the process was fairly simple to follow and laid out in logical steps. If I managed to muddle my way through it, so can you. I describe some of the steps I had trouble with here, so hopefully this helps clear things up a bit if you run into the same problems;
  • when putting all the parts together, you really need to turn the wheel by hand when going over the handles or the inside pocket if you don’t want to keep breaking your needles. In some parts, you’ll be going over 6 layers of denim at once (!), so it’s very thick and you can only go at turtle speed. It really doesn’t take that long, so take your time and go slow;
  • I LOVE the finished product. The bag is a great size and looks fantastic. I have a feeling I will be looking for more jeans and making another one for myself!

Now, Then, The Process:

Cut out all the denim pieces as described here:

  • 12 pieces that are 4″ by 10″ (for the side panels) (*you can actually change the dimension of these as long as after putting the pieces together, you end up with two panels that are 22″ wide and about 3/4 of the total height you want the bag to be)
  • one piece that’s 12″ by 22″ (for the base)
  • two pieces that are 2″ by 22″ (for the top bands)
  • two pieces that are 6″ by 30″ (for the handles)
  • one piece that is 7.5″ by 19″ (for the inside pocket)
  • one piece of lining fabric that is 23″ by 38″ (for the inside of the bag) (*these are the adjusted dimensions based on my comments above)
  • two pieces of lining fabric (or another fabric if you want a pop of colour) that are 2″ by 13″ (for the trim of the inside pocket)

Recycled denim market tote

To make it a bit more fun, use a bright contrasting thread for a subtle pop of colour and to add a bit of interest to the bag. Sewing machines come with a multitude of stitch options and I used one of the fancier ones for the top stitches on the top bands of the bag to add a bit of detail. I love how it turned out and would probably do this in a few more places when I’m making this bag again.

To Put It All Together

Sew the side panel pieces together six at a time to make the two sides of the bag. Attach these to either end of the base pieces, then attach the top bands to the opposite end of each side panel from the one attached to the base. Fold in half, sew the two short sides together, and you’ve got yourself the outer shell of the bag. The original tutorial has very clear instructions on these steps, so no need to explain this part in any more detail.

Recycled denim market tote

Now, when it comes to boxing the corners, I found that part a little unclear. I just couldn’t make it look like the way it was supposed to. Basically, you turn your shell inside out (so the inside seams are showing), sit the bottom on the table, and pull the side panels apart in the middle so the fabric will naturally collapse into the diamond shape. You will have an extra fabric flap that will fold over the top instead of making a neat diamond, just because of the dimensions of the bag. Just roll it under so it’s not in the way. Here’s what it will actually look like:

Recycled denim market tote

The other point of confusion for me was the inside pocket. I read and re-read the instructions and just had a hard time picturing what it was supposed to look like. Don’t worry about the exact length marks so much when it comes to folding. Lay the fabric with the outside facing you (the part of the fabric that you want showing on the outside). Fold the top of the fabric down once, and then once more to create a finished edge, and stitch over it to secure. This will be the top edge of the pocket opening. Now, flip the fabric over and fold it so that the half with the finished edge is shorter by 2-3 inches than the part with the raw edge. Again, the outside of the fabric should be facing you. You will not be turning the pocket inside  out. The extra fabric of the longer half is to attach it to the bag itself and you want the actual pocket to sit lower inside the bag, not right at the top opening. Sew the two long edges together, then sew the two long pieces of the lining fabric you cut earlier, folded over as described in the tutorial, to hide the seams and give the pocket pretty edges. Here’s what it will look like:

Recycled denim tote tutorial

Yes, a lot less complicated than it appears in the original instructions. It makes sense after the fact but a little hard to figure out at the get-go. Now, fold the large piece of the lining fabric and sew the two short sides together. Make your handles as described in the tutorial. You are ready to assemble.

To put the whole bag together, turn the outer shell the right side out, with the pretty side facing you and all the seams on the inside. Take your pocket, flip it over so the actual fold is on the bottom and the pocket is facing the bag. Line it up with the middle of the bag and pin it to the top edge so it’s sticking out just a little bit past the edge of the bag (safety allowance to make sure it’s good and secure when you stitch everything together). Take your handle and pin it to the bag as shown in the picture below, with a couple of inches sticking out past the edge of the bag on either side (this gives you space to reinforce the handles later). Pin the other handle on the other side of the bag in the same location, making sure they’re the same length. Now take your inside shell, turn it inside out (with the seams showing) and slip it over the bag like a pillowcase, tucking the handles and the pocket inside. Stitch around the outside of the bag to secure everything in place, leaving a large opening to turn the bag inside out. I left mine in between the handle that does not have the pocket. Turn the bag out through the opening and stitch the opening closed. I used a pretty top stitch and went all the way around the bag, so you can’t even tell the difference.

Recycled denim market tote

Now, the tutorial doesn’t say to do this, but I see it in most of the bags I already own, so I went ahead and stitched the handles down over the top of the bag for extra strength. Just feel where that handle overhang is inside the bag and stitch a square with diagonal lines through it to secure it in place. Those handles are not going anywhere.

Recycled Denim Market Tote

Congratulations, you’ve got yourself a durable market tote and two fewer pairs of jeans that you weren’t going to wear anyway.


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