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Reclaim denim from old jeans fast

how to rip a pair of jeans for denim

In this post, I will show you how I reclaim the beautiful distressed indigo fabric from old jeans, plus how to use a seam ripper fast.


How not to use seam ripper

I was taught to push the longer pointy end into a stitch on the fabric surface and cut it with the arch. And repeat every few inches or so before painstakingly pull out the broken pieces of threads.


I will show you how to do it much faster later in this post. Wait since you are here for a quick fix, why not skip to the steps.

But, for now, let’s look at which part of the old jeans we are recycling and why.

Recycle old jeans

Do you have a pile of jeans with waist too high or low for current trends, size too big or small for the festive gorging?

I know how you feel. I like reusing them for making dolls clothes and stuffed animals.

Denim is woven from thick threads in a twill pattern that makes the fabric durable. As I mentioned in my work in progress post I spent a decade working in jeans. And surely I have many pairs I can no longer fit into.

The sturdy fabric requires strong stitches to hold in place, making it quite hard to pull apart.

The reclaimable parts

A pair of jeans can be broken down into many different parts.

Some parts are sewn so tightly it is hardly worth the effort taking apart.

For example, the crotch area is often sewn tightly to withstand stress. Pockets are full rivets and bartack to prevent wear and tear.

Usually, I keep these areas intact, as plushie stuffing or as rag cloth.

There are however there are 2 parts I always keep for the fabric: the waistband and leg.

The waistband is essentially a thick strap complete with a button. It makes great straps for handbags or sun dresses.

The leg portion is the biggest ‘clean’ area without rivets, bar tack or top stitching. I use this part for making soft toys.

6 steps to reclaim denim fabric fast

What you need

  • Old jeans
  • seam ripper
  • thread cutter
  • clip (or safety pin) + string
  • old toothbrush (not in photo)

how to rip a pair of jeans for denim


Step 1 – Hem

  • Hold the thick folded hem tight with your left hand.

how to use seam ripper


  • With the red tip facing down towards the fabric, and the pointed end up and away from the fabric, push the red end between the layers held between your fingers.

unpick jeans using seam ripper

  • Move your left hand as you push the seam ripper into the stitches.


push seam ripper into jeans hemline


  • You are done unpicking the hemline.

unpicked hem of denim jeans

remove thread from jeans

Step 2 – Waistband

  • The stitches here ould be much harder to pull apart than at the hemline. I used a thread cutter to get between the first few stitches. Snip open about an inch before converting to a seam ripper. Repeat Step 1, bearing in mind there would be much more resistance.

Step 3 – Leg

  • Tie a string to a clip or safety pin

assist seam ripping with a clip

  • Step on the string with your foot. This string acts as a third hand holding the right side of the leg as we quickly rip it apart.
  • Hold the seam ripper with your right hand, red ball facing down at the jeans. Tilt the pointed end upwards, push into the stitches between the layers. You should hear a satisfying sound.

unpick threads from old jeans

  • As you proceed, apply pulling pressure with your left hand and on the attached string via your foot.


  • Continue pushing seam ripper into the fabric in a slight upward tilting motion.

rip jeans fast using unpicker

  • Reposition left hand and clip every 5″ or so.


Step 4 – Clean up

You should now be denim pieces with lots of stray threads and holes.

Brush the threads away using a toothbrush, and press on the seams using a steam iron. The holes should become less visible if not gone completely.

clean up stray threads using a brush


It is really quick and easy to reclaim denim fabric from old jeans. This way of ripping fabric can be applied to most material except the thin and fragile such as tulle, chiffon or lace.

Since I started making plushies from recycled fabric, I have learnt to appreciate the wabi-sabi aesthetic of imperfection, and the trails of age. I buy much less new fabric and always turn to the stashed away at home.

Next time, try upcycling before you buy.


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