Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Earth Day Denim Upcycle

Spring is here! That means it’s time for one of my absolute favorite activities—spring cleaning. There’s nothing like opening all the windows and doors and soaking in the fresh April breeze while scrubbing the house to prepare for a new season. Getting my closet in order is always my first task. If you’re like me, you may have a difficult time tossing clothes. Sure, I may sell the occasional item or two at a garage sale or take a few trash bags of old T-shirts to Goodwill, but I have a tendency to hang on to clothing just in case.

Just in case I may need them…just in case they may come back in style someday…just in case I may want to pass them down to my own children….just in case they are worth some cash. You get the idea. But for the most part, the items that I find myself most attached to are those that no longer fit but have been favorites at one point or another.

After two magical and miracle pregnancies, I have accumulated quite the wardrobe but have also permanently outgrown a few of my most frequently worn pieces. Month after month I try on those cherished jeans from my college days, and month after month I’m met with the discouraging reality that my body may have permanently changed. This year, rather than putting myself through more torture (either by squeezing into those jeans or by finally parting ways with them), I decided to take on a denim upcycle project. And since today is Earth Day, this seemed like a fitting idea.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

As you can see, I turned a pair of my beloved, although too tight, denim bootcut blue jeans into a super trendy pair of pastel skinnies in my favorite spring shade of orangey peach! You can do the same. Just follow the tutorial below!

The tutorial is divided into two parts—the bleaching and dyeing process and the reconstruction process. If you happen to have a pair of jeans that are already “skinny,” you can skip part two. And of course, if you simply want to turn a pair of flared jeans into skinnies without altering the color, you can skip part one.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

(Part One)

Large Plastic Tub
Rit Color Remover
Mop Bucket
Latex/Rubber Gloves
Bleach (Clean Linen scent if available)
Large Tongs/Spoon/Stir Stick
Rit Dye (in color of choice)
Salt (optional)
Liquid Bluing Solution (Mrs. Stewart’s recommended)

(Part Two)

Straight Pins
Sewing Machine
Thread (to match current stitching color)

PART ONE – Bleaching/Dyeing

As many DIYers discover after getting themselves knee-deep into a bleaching project, the bleaching of denim almost always stretches out the fabric fibers. Knowing this ahead of time can not only help you avoid a very disappointing end result of cute, colorful jeans that unfortunately have become a size too big, but it also means you can actually find a use for those jeans you may have slightly outgrown over the years. Here are a few tips on selecting the ideal jeans for this process.

1) One very important factor in selecting your jeans is the existing stitching. Almost all commercially manufactured jeans are stitched with polyester thread which does not take bleach or dye. If your jeans are stitched with navy blue thread, for instance, you have to plan that you will see the dark stitching around the pockets, down the seams, etc even after you have bleached and dyed your jeans. This can make for a cool, funky look, but it is something you don’t want to find out after the fact if you have not planned for it. I chose jeans with traditional mustard yellow stitching that blends in nicely with a pastel look.

2) Jeans that are very stiff, thick, high-quality denim to begin with and have absolutely zero stretch in their fibers usually do not expand quite as much during the bleaching process. Plan ahead for this if you are using too-small jeans to start with.

3) If the jeans are too worn out, they will lose their integrity during the bleaching process and possibly disintegrate. Distressed areas or holes will become weaker and larger the longer they are left in the bleach.

4) Ideally, choose either a pair of very stiff, high-quality denim jeans that you like the fit of currently or a pair of cheaper, slightly too-tight denim that is still very much intact. You can also thrift a pair.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

First, fill a large tub with warm water, just enough to cover the jeans. While wearing your latex gloves, add one package of the Rit Color Remover, and stir to dissolve. Add your jeans and stir continuously with tongs for 10-20 minutes. This helps the dye loosen up to shorten the bleaching time.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Rinse the jeans and tub, and refill the tub with three parts warm water to one part bleach. The Clean Linen scent variety of Clorox bleach greatly minimizes the lingering bleach odor that results from using Original Clorox, and it works just as well and just as quickly. Submerge the jeans into the bleach, and check on them every hour. Using latex gloves and tongs, turn the jeans every once in a while to rotate the sections of denim that float out of the bleach. My jeans took about 4.5 hours to completely whiten. Once they are an acceptable level of whiteness to you, remove them and do a short wash cycle in the washing machine.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

It is very common for bleached denim to have a yellowish tint to it. Even if this is the case, don’t leave it in the bleach for more than 12 hours. Dilute a few drops of Mrs. Stewart’s liquid bluing solution in two quarts of water, and add it to the wash cycle. This removes all traces of the yellowing.

(NOTE: Make sure the next load of washing you put in is not important, or run a self-clean cycle to avoid unwanted bleaching of other clothing).

I decided to reconstruct my jeans at this stage before moving onto the dyeing, but you can do it either way.

Again, rinse your tub and leave it in the sun for a while to make sure you have gotten rid of all of the bleach and color remover. Fill the tub with just enough warm water to cover the jeans, and add your desired dye. I used one mop bucket of water with a half package of Petal Pink powder dye and a half package of Sunshine Orange dye to get a color somewhere between peach and cantaloup. Stir the dye very well until all of the granules are dissolved because undissolved granules will leave permanent spots on your jeans. Keep in mind that the jeans will be two to three shades lighter when all is said and done. It’s difficult to lighten them if you’ve gotten them too dark, but you will end up having to dye them many times over if you go too pastel to begin with.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Stir the jeans continuously in the dye for 10-30 minutes. I found that using my hands (with latex gloves) was the most effective method for getting even color in the jeans. My jeans took about 15 minutes to dye before I could tell that they were not soaking up any more color.

Hang your jeans outside to air dry for about an hour.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

OPTIONAL: If you’re worried that your jeans are the perfect color at this stage and may be too light after washing, use a saltwater bath to set the dye. Fill your mop bucket with warm water and dissolve about a half cup of salt into it. Soak your jeans for an hour before rinsing.

Rinse them off, and then run a short rinse/spin-only cycle in the washer. Dry them on medium, and voila! Your jeans have been bleached and dyed to pastel perfection!

PART TWO – Reconstruction

The legs of my jeans stretched out even more than expected, but the reconstruction process is basically the same. I just started my skinny jean seams a bit higher to take in the wider legs.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Put your jeans on inside-out and have a trusted friend pin down the outsides, following the contour of your legs. Make sure to leave a little more allowance once you get to the ankle so that you can get your foot through the opening.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Sew a straight seam down each leg, following your pins. Thread and bobbin color don’t matter here, as the seam will not be seen. Turn the jeans right side out, and try them on to make sure they fit to your liking. If so, turn them back inside-out and sew another seam on top of the original to strengthen it. Cut the excess fabric off, leaving about a half inch of allowance between the seam and edge.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

Cut off any excess around the ankles, leaving about an inch of allowance for your hem. Using a standard top-stitch, sew a traditional hem around each ankle using thread color that matches the existing stitching.

Earth Day Denim Upcycle | Model Behaviors

That’s it! What a fantastic way to save some otherwise useless jeans. I think these peach skinnies will be equally perfect for a family picnic or an evening patio dinner alike. Have you already started looking through your closet to start your own denim upcycle?

Now if only I can come up with a way to repurpose all of those maternity jeans…


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