One of my favorite fabrics, one that I work with most often is serge de Nimes. This amazingly versatile textile originated in Nimes, France and you might know it by it’s everyday name, denim. Yes, this American staple was founded in France, and jean fabric, which is created by denim dyed with indigo, originated in Genoa, Italy.

Use recycled jeans to make an entirely new garment, such as this Crossroads Trench from Indygo Junction.

Use recycled jeans to make an entirely new garment, such as this Crossroads Trench from Indygo Junction.


Denim is a twill textile made of cotton. The denim itself is white, the classic blue color comes from dying the warp indigo and weaving it with a white weft. That is why the outside of denim is blue and the inside a lighter color. These days, you can’t anywhere without seeing colored denim, which is produced by dying the denim with sulfur. I love colored denim! Recently, I have even created a new colored denim fabric line, Crossroads Denim. In my new book Dimensional Denim I show projects using both Crossroads and recycled denim.


Several years ago I wrote a book called Denim Redesign that has enjoyed longevity unlike any other Indygo Junction book. The timeless concept of creating with recycled denim has universal appeal. Now, more than ever, people are focused on environmental impact and realize the importance of reusing and re-purposing materials, including denim. My company, Indygo Junction, has always promoted the re-purposing of denim and today, most of our new Crossroads line of patterns offer a recycled denim version.


When I design patterns using recycled denim, I try to think of ways to use all parts of the garment. How can I incorporate all the design details of a pair of jeans into a new project? Pockets, waistbands, seams, I want to bring new life to all of these design elements, not just the denim itself.

Indygo Junction's Chic Bucket Bag features the waistband of a pair of recycled jeans.

Indygo Junction’s Chic Bucket Bag features the waistband of a pair of recycled jeans.


I love to use the pockets of jeans. They are an easy way to add function and design to a project. To incorporate them into a pattern, simply cut out the pattern pieces around the pocket. Another easy way to use denim is to remove the back pocket from a pair of jeans and applique it on your project. The waistband can be used both decoratively and functionally, you can even use the belt loops — they are perfect as a key clip!


Indygo Junction’s Modern Gored Skirt pattern uses the right side/outside of a pair of recycled jeans to create a dark blue panel, and the inside for a lighter fabric panel.

I like to take advantage of the different hues of jeans. You can really create a show-stopping project using the dark and light sides of jeans as a contrast. For instance, you can create a jacket out of the dark, or right side, of the denim and then use the light, or wrong side, to highlight lapels and cuffs. Of course you can combine recycled denim with a fun new cotton print, or other recycled materials such as men’s shirts or wool suiting.

This version of Indygo Junction's Dresden Pouf, which is made from recycled denim, uses the flat felled seams as a design element.

This version of Indygo Junction’s Dresden Pouf, which is made from recycled denim, uses the flat felled seams as a design element.

When sewing with denim, I would advise using a heavy duty denim needle and heavy duty thread such as the jeans and topstitching thread from Coats & Clark. Any project you make where you are sewing with layers of denim can get very tricky for your machine. Using the correct weight of needle and thread will discourage needle breaking and thread issues.


The jeans thread can be used for more than just the construction of a project. Coats and Clark offers 14 different colors of jeans and topstitching thread that you can use to create fun design and detail on your projects. For instance, on the image above you can see the decorative stitching shown on the Cutting Edge Jacket, made from recycled denim. Although we used the classic gold color, wouldn’t it be fun to use the Hot Pink, Monaco Blue or Tango?


Today I want to share with you a free pattern for a purse that combines recycled denim with a heart applique (if you don’t want to do the applique, try using a back pocket from a pair of jeans instead!). This simple purse is a perfect project to start you using up-cycled materials. Start by raiding your closet (or those belonging to your friends and family) for cast-off jeans, skirts and jackets. If you can’t find the right pair at home, check out your local re-sale shops where you can find all colors and sizes of jeans!


About the Author

Amy Barickman is the founder and owner of Indygo Junction and Amy Barickman LLC. She is a leader in the sewing and needle arts industry, having released nearly 1000 sewing pattern titles, sold more than two-million patterns and published 80 books. Named one of Country Living Magazine's prestigious Creative Women Entrepreneurs, her recent book releases include Amy Barickman's Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun, and Indygo Junction's Fabric Flowers. Through her blogs, business websites, and e-newsletters, Amy inspires countless crafters to explore their own creative spirit and experiment with the newest sewing, fabric and crafting techniques. Visit and

2 Responses to Vintage Notions: Upcycling with Denim
  1. Thank you for the lovely free pattern. Time to dig out my old denim.

  2. I’ve been upcycling materials for over forty years now, and denim is my all time favorite fabric to use, thanks for the history lesson I was not aware of denim’s origin interesting little fact. Thank you for the free purse pattern I think I will use this one for my granddaughters looks like a good size for them all under 12.


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