Shelley Made: Tutorial - Upcycle Jeans to Twirly Skirt

Thursday 30 August 2012

Tutorial - Upcycle Jeans to Twirly Skirt

I've been saving old jeans.  I admit - I wasn't sure why, but I was sure they had a use.  In fact, I've been saving them for 5 years now - since I became a Mum.  I've gone through a lot of jeans in 5 years...

Mum's wear jeans.  All the time.  Well, at least this one does.  From "fat" jeans after childbirth that luckily don't fit anymore, to those that are simply worn out from life. 

This pile of jeans represents a significant time in my life.  All the worn out knees are from spending time on the floor - teaching my babies to roll, to crawl, helping them take their first step, their first walk.  From endless picking up of toys (usually under sofas), cleaning up messes, changing nappies, and just plain playing with my kids on the floor.

So what better way to celebrate my old jeans, than to give them a new lease on life.  As a twirly skirt for my daughter.

You will need:
  • Old Jeans
  • Scissors or rotary cutter
  • Sewing thread
  • DenimNeedle - 90/14
  • 3/8 inch Elastic
  • Tape measure
  • Pins
  • Iron
  • Sewing machine

For my daughter - I got enough fabric from two pairs of may need more or less depending on your measurements detailed below.

Step One - Deconstruct

To start - deconstruct your jeans!  In other words, we need to cut the good fabric out of the jeans.

First - cut off the hems, and cut off the thick inside seam.  Also cut off the zip and pockets.  Leave anything that looks like good fabric.  Do this for both pairs of jeans.

Step Two - Measure

There is no pattern for this skirt.  We are going to take simple measurements for a custom fit!  It really is easy.  All you need is your child's waist measurement, and a measurement for finished length from waist to e.g. mid-knee.

Take a measurement of your girl's waist.  My 4 year old was 20 inches (she's little!).

Take that measurement and multiply by 1.5 to give the gathered waist.  For me - 1.5 x 20 = 30.  This is our finished waist measurement.  Add 1 inch to this measurement for seam allowances.  30 + 1 = 31.

The waistband is cut in two pieces - so divide your number by 2.  31 / 2 = 15.5 inches.  This is the size we want to cut each piece.

I want a 3 inch drop for the waistband - so I add 1 inch to that (for seam allowances and elastic casing) to get the waistband cutting length.

So - each waistband piece (you need two) is:

Waistband Width:  (Waist measurement x 1.5) + 1, divided by 2
Waistband Length: 4 inches

For the skirt panels...take a look at your "fabric" to see what you have to work with.  My jeans are small - they have about 8 inches of clear fabric in width for some parts - 6.5 inches in others.  So I can cut a panel of a maximum of 6.5 inches - yours will be different, but use this as a guide.

We want a finished panel section of twice the finished waist measurement from above (actual waist x 1.5) to allow for gathers.  So for me... 30 x 2 = 60 inches.

I divided my number by 10 - to give me 6 inch wide panels.  Add 1/4 inch to each side for seam allowances and I need to cut a 6.5 inch strip - which happens to be perfect for my jeans!  You may need more or less panels, narrower or wider, depending on your jean size and your child's measurements.  10 worked for me.  You just need enough to approximately double your finished waist measurement after seam allowances.

I want the skirt to be mid-knee.  Length from waist to mid knee for my daughter was 13.5 inches.  We need to subtract the waistband drop from this measurement - then add back in a hem and seam allowances.  My calculations were 13.5 - 3 + 1 (hem) + 0.5 (seam allowance) = 12 inches

(Finished length - waistband drop) + 1 inch hem + 1/2 inch seam allowance

So I am cutting 10 panels, 6.5 inches wide by 12 inches long.

Step Three - Cut

Cut your fabric pieces from your jeans, avoiding holes, and overly worn fabric. 

I opted to make grain of the waistband go the other way from the I cut my waistbands down the leg (I got two from a thigh).  I did this first, as they are the longest pieces I needed to cut.

I then cut my first panel - using it as a template to cut the remainder of the pieces (very useful for avoiding the worn/stained patches!).  You can see my opened out piece of "fabric" below...

You will end up with a nice pile of pieces like this...  You can see the two waistband pieces cut with the different grain here on the top...

I could have cut around the wear creases if I had wanted to.  I had plenty of denim.  But I chose to leave them in for sentimental reasons!

Next is the fun part...laying them out.  I chose to alternate light and dark denim from different pairs of jeans to get a striped effect.   The two waistbands are at the top.

Step 4 - Sew

Use a denim needle size 90/14 to sew.  The key here is to reduce bulk at all times, so we are going to finish our edges before piecing together.

Overlock/serge/zigzag the long edges on all panels, and the short edges on both waistbands.

Next, start piecing your panels together into one long strip.  Sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance - right sides together, sewing the long serged edges.

Once you have sewn all the panels together, press the seams open (again a bulk-reducing technique which will help later).

Go back and sew the last two long edges together - to form a tube - and press open the seam.

Sew both the short ends of your two waistband pieces together, with 1/4 inch seam allowance (again, right sides together).  Press those seams open as well.

Overlock/serge/zigzag the top and bottom of both the waistband and panels - making sure your pressed seams remain open.  Again, this will really help reduce bulk later when we gather..

Step Five - Gather
Now, we need to gather the panels so they will fit the waistband.
Using a very loose tension (I used 0), and a long stitch length (I used 5) - sew a row of stitches at 1/4 inch, and a second row at 1/2 inch down from the top of the panel.  Make sure you leave a length of thread at both ends for pulling.  Here I am at the end of my first round of gathering stitches...

...and here is the second...

Here are those long threads I mentioned...

We need to pull just the top threads in so that the width of the panel matches the width of the finished waistband, like this...

Notice the little safety pin in that photo - that is just a marker for the centre front (and again centre back).  I add them to help me spread the gathers evenly.

Now - to put it all together...we need to pin, pin, pin...  Place the waistband inside the skirt panels, right sides together.  The side seams should match, and the centre fronts and backs should match.  Spread the gathers evenly.

Now sew them together (gathered piece on top) using a 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Go slowly, removing your pins as you go.

Once you are done, remove your gathering threads.

You should now have this:

Nearly done!

Step Six - Hem and Casing

Next, we need to press down the top 1/2 inch to make the casing.  While you are there - also press up the hem 1/2 inch.  Note - I have allowed an inch for the hem - so you have a few choices.  You can press up 1/2 inch, then 1/2 inch again to get a cleaner hem, or you can press up 1/2 or 1 inch for a simple hem - your choice.

Next, topstitch just inside the gathered seam, using a longer stitch length.  Stitch on the non-gathered side, catching the gathers underneath. 

This looks nice, but also gives strength to your seam.

Finally - sew a nice topstitch to secure the hem you turned up.  Also another to sew down the casing - close to the edge of the fabric.  This is where I add my little labels.  Leave a small opening to enable you to thread your elastic.

Use your childs original waist measurement as a guide to cut the elastic. Using a safety pin at each end - thread it through your casing. 

Try it on, and adjust the elastic if necessary.  Sew the two ends together, and stretch the waistband in and out to spread the elastic evenly.  Sew up the little opening you left.

All done!!!  Hopefully this tutorial makes sense - if not, drop me a line...

Enjoy :)


  1. Very nice! I have too a wide selection of used jeans! This is a great idea, so you can recicle and use it again! All the little girls, who jump, play and go round everywhere, need one of this!

    I'll try this project! thank you for sharing!

  2. Love how you Upcycled old jeans into a fun playful skirt. I have been saving old jeans for years, just didn't know what to do with them. Thanks for sharing and inspiring me to try an Upcycle project with them. Thank you for sharing!

  3. Super cute you are a fabric geek after my own heart, how did you know I also have a pile of my old jeans and DHs work pants lying around. Usually I make them into Daycare pants for X using the hem and the double stiching lines to make them look like store bought pants while saving time and money. I was planning on making Z a dress with some too but I think I might just have to make her a skirt now.

  4. Hey,
    Oh I love this skirt, it is soooo cute .
    I have two little girls and I really need to try your tutorial.
    Thanks a lot for your tuto.
    Have a nice day

  5. Super....its great! Thank you!`

    Greatings from Germany,

  6. So glad you all like the tutorial! Thanks so much for dropping by... :)

  7. Is there an easy way to scale this up into an adult size?

    1. Hi Tiffany. You certainly could scale it up. Just put your own measurements in. I would increase the drop for the waistband as well. The only concern would be getting enough fabric out of the jeans to make the skirt long enough

  8. Thanks for sharing!Great job!You are so creative.You doughter is beautiful.I would to put your post on my blog.May I?Thanks!Greatings for Sebia,

    1. You are welcome to link to my post on your blog...

    2. Very well written for a total novice - thank you!! I have lots of jeans and was wondering what to do with them....

  9. Awesome refashion, Shelley and a great way to reuse denim jeans!!! I love how you've alternated the light and dark denim and I'm sure your daughter likes that it has the all important twirl factor. I'd love you to share this at our Ongoing link party that's just for Denim Refashioning

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, she loves the twirl factor :)

  10. Thank you so much for the tutorial. I have already made a patchwork straight denim skirt for my daughter, which she loves wearing and would love to try this one for her. The instructions look really clear to scale it up for her size. And WHY have I not thought to serge the pieces BEFORE I sew them? Will definitely be doing that too! Thank you. Susie x

  11. Thanks a lot for this very clear step-by-step tutorial. I feel ready Now to try to sew my first skirt ever for my daughter. Mel

  12. A very good idea. Many thanks for your tutorial.

  13. You've made this look so easy, great tutorial, definatley gonna give it a try, many thanks