What’s the best thing to do with worn-out jeans?
August 5, 2022 4:57 PM   Subscribe

Every pair of jeans I own eventually rips in the chub-rub/crotch zone. I am a plus-sized woman; at this point I’m resigned to this fate. No method of repair has ever worked. So what do I do with this pile of o’ blue jeans that I can’t wear, can’t mend, can’t donate?

I am looking for craft projects, fashion projects, recycling guidance, “just chuck them, RIP” intel, whatever you got. And honestly if you have some kind of mending technique that you have battle tested, by all means.

(Yes, this question was inspired in part by this article.)
posted by Charity Garfein to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
If you sew, patchwork them up into panel(s) and then quilt those to make a beach/lawn blanket or cushions or tote bags or duffel bags.

If you weave or make rag rugs or maybe crochet?, cut them up into strips to use as weft/yarn.

If you like stitching, sacrifice one pair and laminate it into the worn through parts of another pair. Search for ‘Boro’ or ‘sashiko’
posted by janell at 5:05 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

I recall many years ago learning about a place you can send your denim jeans to for repair . I heard about it right here on AskMe.

posted by armoir from antproof case at 5:05 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

If you know a paper maker, ask them if they want. Jeans make nice blue paper.
posted by janell at 5:07 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

My mom made a super cool denim quilt with old jeans. I don't know what happened to it, but I have kept thinking of it over the years and still want to recreate it. Whenever I took it anywhere, people always wanted one of their own.
posted by nanook at 5:08 PM on August 5 [4 favorites]

I cut mine up and use them as cleaning rags (tough fabric + fluffy edges works surprisingly well for many purposes).
posted by offog at 5:08 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

Sew them into a weighted bean bag calming pillow. Each leg makes about two. Rice in a bulk package is the right weight and can be cheap. Donate to kids that can use a lap calming pillow to improve school work.

(a project I was roped into once) (a very good project)
posted by sammyo at 5:39 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

Jeans can be recycled into denim insulation- several places collect it for this, like Madewell.
posted by pinochiette at 5:42 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

Pet hammocks. People who keep small mammals such as rats hang hammocks in their cages, both as a place to sleep and to break falls in taller cages. Sections of jean-leg are ready made tubes of fabric, and can easily be made into hammocks. Sell them, or donate them to a small animal rescue, or whatever.
posted by pipeski at 5:50 PM on August 5

Crafters use them, so you can post on freecycle, buy nothing, craigslist/free.
100% cotton is compostable, but most jeans now have elastic in them, which is not.
posted by theora55 at 6:00 PM on August 5

I also made a jeans quilt that was super popular with my kids. I backed it with cotton duck fabric.

However, don't try to include the jeans' seams in your quilt no matter how cool and interesting you think they will make it look. If you have a normal household sewing machine, trying to sew over those thick seams can destroy it. Ask me how I know.
posted by FencingGal at 6:05 PM on August 5 [5 favorites]

Braided rugs are easy if time consuming to make. Jeans are ideal for this because you can cut long lengths out of them.
posted by Mitheral at 7:08 PM on August 5 [3 favorites]

In my area there are some donation bins that recycle whatever clothes are not wearable. I usually put them in bags that are clearly labeled "ripped, for recycling". Maybe Google clothes recycling and your area.
posted by beyond_pink at 7:33 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

I have done some crotch repairs on jeans with sashiko techniques to get a little
more life out of jeans. Visible mending is pretty forgiving and using contrasting thread/different wash denim for the patch makes it clear you are intending to show the work. I would say I got another year out of my mended pair (patches at the tops of both inner thighs)
posted by Lawn Beaver at 7:56 PM on August 5

I've used Denim Therapy as mentioned in the thread linked above and found that they do a really great job. So one more vote in the "repair and keep wearing them" camp, especially if it's a beloved pair that's hard to replace.
posted by Nickel at 9:27 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

A friend makes very cool upcycled denim jackets. Their instagram saved story has a tutorial on their process.
posted by doift at 10:02 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

If you don't sew you can definitely try donating them to people who do. If you google "recycled denim [article of clothing]" you can get a lot of interesting ideas. There was a recent episode of the Great British Sewing Bee where the challenge was to use old jeans to make a dress - if you scroll down towards the end here (or just search for "jeans") there are pictures of the results. There was some similar challenge in Project Runway at least once too.
posted by trig at 11:00 PM on August 5 [1 favorite]

When I was a teen, my crafty aunt and her friends had quite the industry where they made skirts out of jeans by putting triangles of patchwork in. Kind of like these or these, but they made them with different colors and prints in the triangular inset for a flower-power look that I think would look good today again.
posted by mumimor at 11:57 PM on August 5 [2 favorites]

This free stuffed toy whale pattern is a brilliant way to use up a couple of pairs - if you have a lighter shade of denim for the underside of the whale it looks amazing.

Another option would be to make this pouf from the jeans and then stuff it with all the remnants left over.
posted by Lluvia at 1:20 AM on August 6 [8 favorites]

If crafty ideas overwhelm you it’s ok to throw them out!
posted by nouvelle-personne at 4:28 AM on August 6 [4 favorites]

i use them for rag rugs and braiding strips of them into dog tugs (watch for fraying/supervise closely!!!)
posted by Laetiporus at 7:36 AM on August 6

Your local Buy Nothing group will take them if you don't feel like crafting/repurposing them yourself.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:33 AM on August 6

If you have a sewing machine with a darning foot, I've had a bunch of luck with this method of just sewing the hell out of the worn areas. Eventually, the patch will wear out and be impossible to fix, but I can usually get an extra year or so out of a pair of jeans. Denim-colored thread is a thing, but I usually just use whatever color I have lying around because the area isn't really visible. If you have a machine but not a darning foot, you can probably pick one up for $20.
posted by little king trashmouth at 8:58 AM on August 6 [1 favorite]

I also made a jeans quilt years ago. I deliberately made it rough-looking, with seams running through squares, abd sine holes and rips intact. I must have lost it in some move or another.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:44 AM on August 6

My partner wears out jeans exactly as you've described; often the rest of the pants are in fine condition. I tried to find the video I watched years ago on youtube but I couldn't; it was a Japanese jeans repair crafts person meticulously restoring some really worn out jeans (crotch, knees, heels, all of it). They took all the seams apart in the jeans prior to fixing them, I'm not that diligent since I just want to patch holes in the crotch.
First I trim the holes so there aren't any long threads dangling.
Then I make a large patch from another sacrificial pair of jeans, a piece that is flexible yet still has lots of life in it. It's shaped to fit inside the pants to cover the hole(s) with a lot of overlap, so the stitching isn't pulling as much on the those thin areas where the holes are. It might be kind of a half saddle shape, if there are holes on both sides of the crotch seam I make a patch for each side.
I hand baste it to the inside of the pants ( a sewing ham covered in plastic tape helps a lot with this step) so the area of wear has 2-3" of patch all around it. Then I thread the machine with denim-blue-ish thread in the bobbin and white on the top, and run it over the baste stitches on the inside, then up and down across the patch area, along the lines of the jeans threads. This adheres the jeans patch to the jeans, reinforces the worn spot. The jeans patch is more or less the same color as the jeans, the blue and white threads are similar to the thread weave of the jeans. It's not invisible but it works.
We get more casual life out of the jeans this way, and when they really go they become patches for the next pair.
It is kind of fussy and sometimes difficult, I don't have a nice machine with an arm feature so I have to muscle the fabric around (this is where taking the jeans entirely apart would make it easier, but I also don't have a machine capable of re-sewing those folded over side seams, so) but it is satisfying to complete.

My ultimate plan for some of this material is making a quilt using the jeans, with fluffy ravelled thread ends, as waves in an ocean theme.
posted by winesong at 3:23 PM on August 6

If you go the repair route via machine darning, one tip I've read - though I haven't tried it out yet so I can't attest to its value - is to use cotton thread. Most sewing thread is polyester and the result of a lot of stitches closely spaced together (i.e., darning) can be a bit stiff. Supposedly using cotton thread reduces that effect.

One more use for old jeans: if you love the style and think you might have trouble finding it in stores in the future, you could take apart an old pair and use it as a pattern to make copies (if you don't sew you can commission someone to do it for you). That works better if it's not very stretched out, though.
posted by trig at 7:33 PM on August 6

Old jeans are also good for making funky denim skirts.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:24 PM on August 6

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