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Making a Recycled Denim Vest

Jean Jacket Variations for the Tabula Rasa Jacket by Fit for Art Patterns, Carrie in Recycled Denim Vest

My Recycled Denim Vest was inspired by a pile of old jeans I discovered my husband was throwing out.  Rae and I were well into developing Jean Jacket Variations for the Tabula Rasa Jacket, so I knew they’d come in handy for a jean jacket sample!  Besides, I had been wanting to try a recycling project since reading Mary Ray’s article Repurpose Jeans into a Denim Jacket in Threads magazine #191, June/July 2017.

I took Mary’s advice to use a razor for disassembling the jeans; she was right that it was much speedier than alternatives!  After opening up the legs and crotch of all 3 pairs of jeans, I laid them out on my worktable arrange my jeans jacket pattern pieces.  It didn’t take long to decide to make a Tabula Rasa Vest since it looked unlikely I could get sleeves out of the jean legs, even with a two-piece sleeve pattern.

The process of repurposing old jeans created several factors to take into consideration on laying out the many jean jacket pattern pieces: the shape of the pattern pieces vs. the shape of the fabric, avoiding the holes and extremely worn areas, equalizing the different fabric weights, and utilizing the color contrasts.   (Of the 3 pairs of jeans, two were a very similar color and weight of denim, but the third was significantly lighter weight and darker hue.)

Some of the fun ways I took advantage of recycling jeans in my jean jacket variation vest are pictured below. I:

  • pinned the front side and center pattern pieces together and cut the full lower fronts out over an existing flat fell seam.
  • used a section of flat felled seam to bind the top edge of the side panels.
  • removed the back pockets and used the two in best condition to make pockets on the vest, retaining the red Levi tag.
  • used the unfaded denim which emerged after removing back pockets to create a facing for the back yoke. (Because the fabric I chose for the yokes was so much lighter weight than the lower fronts and back, I decided to face all 3 yokes with another piece of denim.)
  • sewed one of the classic leather Levi waistband labels into the back yoke facing.

For the breast pocket flaps and collar, I cut one side out of lighter and one side out of darker colored denim so I’d have choices in the construction process.  Which hue would you have chosen?

From the beginning of this project, I had planned to finish the vest with a set of blue and green plastic buttons purchased from Dusty’s Vintage Buttons.  After I sewed them on the finished vest, I decided they just weren’t right – too small and looking like googly eyes!

Jean Jacket Variations for the Tabulla Rasa Jacket by Fit for Art Patterns, Recycled Denim Vest with plastic buttons
Plastic buttons not working!
Jean Jacket Variations for the Tabula Rasa Jacket by Fit for Art Patterns, Cedar Buttons for recycled denim vest
Cedar Buttons

In my stash I found some handmade cedar wood buttons that I had purchased last spring at the Maryland Wool and Sheep Festival.  I liked the rustic natural wood with the faded denim and orange top stitching thread, but they were too big for the buttonholes I had already made.  I reached out to the owner of Favour Valley Woodworking and she was happy to create a set of ten 5/8” cedar buttons for me.  Over time, they should darken up to look more like the sample card buttons.


Have you repurposed worn out jeans into a new garment to wear?  We’d love to hear about your recycling project!

Happy Sewing, Carrie

6 thoughts on “Making a Recycled Denim Vest

  1. That’s an interesting idea. The real “deal” is the directions for construction. They are very complete, including the photos. Now I just need to find a guy with a pile of jeans heading for the garbage/thrift store. New denim just wouldn’t be the same..

    1. Eager to see what y’all create!

    2. More than a year ago I made a denim vest from recycled jeans from a vest pattern I already had – I purchased 2nd hand jeans at the thrift store. 🙂 You can use women’s jeans as well. I looked for jeans that had interesting back pockets which I used as pockets on my vest.

  2. This is so cool! Can’t wait to see if in person. Good job, Carrie!

  3. I like this idea and the finished look. I think a good source of denim would be at a goodwill or salvation. Sometime you can run across jeans in pretty good condition.

    1. Great suggestion Glenda!

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