Happy Earth Day! Every year on April 22, 133 countries demonstrate support for environmental protection. 2020 is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day and has a very challenging theme: Climate Change. This huge problem has several small solutions, and one of them is upcycling. When we reuse something, we give it another life of value. Me, I take leather jackets and reclaim them into beautiful and useful custom bags. I’m excited to show you how going through your closet can help fight Climate Change and get you a useful and beautiful beach bag.
Maybe hand-making or fashion isn’t the first thing we think about when we look for ways to help the environment, but did you know that the fashion industry is the second-largest polluter in the world? Also, when clothing ends up in the landfill, it creates greenhouse gases. When we reuse what we already have, we free up resources and reduce the environmental impact of new production. So upcycling, repairing, and repurposing clothing is a real way to make a difference.
There are other ways to help fight fast fashion and promote Climate Change after you clean out your drawers and closet. Consider selling via a resale site or app (think Poshmark) or donate to trusted thrift shops and service agencies. You can gather a group of friends and do a clothing swap. Also, being an informed consumer is the best place to start. Shop second hand, and support companies that use sustainable materials and practices. Remember, worn-out clothing is great to have on hand for cleaning and painting clothes and rags. Also, look for any handmade makers in your local area. They might love a donation of used clothing to experiment and create new items out of. Honestly, I receive a lot of donations of materials for my business. It helps me grow, learn, and keeps my costs manageable. My first ever collection was made from t-shirts that my friends donated to me. I can assure you, they felt great knowing that I would do something creative with them.
Why I Up-Cycle
It’s almost second nature for me to look at something and be able to instantly imagine it as a bag. You may not possess that ability, but I’m hoping to inspire you to have a look around your house and find something to upcycle! I’m going to show you how I took a jacket and made it into a custom beach bag. Looking for more ideas? A plethora of brilliant clothing upcycling ideas await you on Pinterest. Have you checked out your closet lately? I bet there’s something in there that could be made into a bag. Speaking from experience, it’s better to have tried, and destroyed something that you haven’t worn in years than to have not tried to make something beautiful and useful.
It’s fun and exciting to upcycle! There’s no sewing pattern to follow, no key measurements to make, and you’ll end up with something one-of-a-kind. You can choose which details you love about whatever you upcycle and see if you can feature it in your design. Upcycling is also very challenging. My best advice is to take your time, enjoy the learning, and be ready to make and correct mistakes.
I hope that after reading how I upcycle, you’ll get your sewing machine, clear a spot on your cutting (or kitchen) table and dig out your mat and sewing tools! For the best results, I recommend any OLFA rotary cutter, ruler, and mat. You’ll see how clean and even cuts make this bag quick and easy. Get ready to look at your old jacket in a brand-new way! The method I use is quite simple, as a few of the main steps are repeated for sewing the shell and lining of the bag.
How to Turn a Jacket into a Beach Bag
Here’s the story behind this make. A few weeks ago, a friend dropped off a bag with a few jackets she wanted to give to my business. I loved this canvas white jacket and thought it might make a great beach bag. It was a little dirty from being used, but a quick hand wash made it look bright white again. The seams were in great shape, and the lining was perfect to be reused.
I loved working with canvas, but I think this bag could just as successfully be made with a nylon or cotton jacket. Not all fabrics iron and sew the same. Have a look at the label for care instructions. If it says do not iron, it might be difficult to work with.
The first step in this upcycle was to determine what part of the jacket would be best to use. Quickly I decided to use the bottom because it was widest. I wanted one strap and thought a tie closure would be useful.
A front pocket was a fun addition, using the last big usable piece of the jacket. Why not use as much of the jacket as possible? The red lines show where I made my cuts. The arms became straps, and the back section (not shown) became the front pocket.
Cutting Out the Bag Pieces
Next, I cut both ends of the jacket off behind the seam line so I could separate it from the lining.
It was still attached in a few places, so I used an OLFA art knife to gently slice the stitches. I’ll come back to cutting out the lining, but first, the outside shell.
What starts as a long, misshapen rectangle will become the front and back of a bag in a few easy steps. Once it was ironed, I folded it in half, lined it up on my cutting mat, and cut straight across the top and bottom.
Then I folded it in half again and followed the natural diagonal line and cut through all four layers.
TIP: OLFA mats and rulers have easy to read lines and are an essential tool in my bag making studio. Once you have straight and symmetrical lines, you can shape a bag.
Adding to, and Cutting Out the Lining
When I took the lining apart, I noticed it was shorter than the outer shell. There was enough lining left over for me to add some, making it the perfect size.
Once I had added to my lining rectangle, I followed the same cutting procedure as I did with the shell by cutting straight lines at the top and bottom and folding it in half again to cut the sides.
NOTE: I used the shell pieces as a template for the lining so they were exactly the same size. TIP: It’s so important to iron. Pay attention to the fabric care instructions and set your iron accordingly. Using steam will give your fabric a crisp surface to sew on, making your stitches clean (watch out for steam burns), and makes it easy to get the best cuts. Ironing also causes the fabric to weld around the stitch holes, making them less noticeable.
Making a Pocket for the Front
Remember that center back piece?
It was the perfect size for a front pocket. I gave it a press, folded it in half, right sides together, and used my ruler and rotary cutter to trim it into a rectangle.
Sew along the three open sides, leaving around 3” open. Iron, trim the corners, flip right side out, and press again. Find the center point on the front of your bag and sew your pocket to it. My pocket was large, so I sewed a dividing line down the center. To get a perfect sew line for the center pocket, fold it in half and iron it. Sew on the iron line.
Sewing the Bag and Lining
Time to sew the bag shell! Right sides together, I matched up all the edges and sewed the sides and bottom.
Then it’s on to boxed corners. Back on my cutting surface, I measured a 2” by 2” square on each corner and marked them with a pen.
Using scissors, I cut along the lines, lined up the edges and sewed with a ½” allowance.
When I flipped my bag right side out, I was so happy with the shape!
Using the same method as I did with the shell, I sewed the sides and bottom of the lining pieces, right sides together, and this time left a 4” opening in the center bottom, so I could flip the bag out later.
I repeated the same steps to box in the corners.
Create a Tie on Both Sides
An easy and cute way to keep my bag closed would be a simple tie. To make two ties, I cut two strips approx. 2” wide x 8” long and pressed both edges in, folded them in half again, edges meeting, and stitched around the edges.
Then, I sewed the unfinished end of one piece to the center front and one to the center back of the bag. That way, they’re secure between the shell and the lining.
The bag is almost done! Next, I placed the lining inside the shell, right sides together. I lined them up at the side seams and clipped the openings together, all the way around to keep it in place. I sewed all the way around, with a 1” seam allowance.
Once I was done, I trimmed the hanging threads and pulled the shell out through the seam gap in the bottom of the liner. After another pass of the iron, my lining fit perfectly and was ready for the strap.
Make a Strap and Topstitch
The strap is made from strips cut from the arms. I ended up with two pieces that were 5” wide by 7” long.
I sewed them together to make it long and used steam to iron a crisp fold ¼” over along both edges and folded them together to make a 2” wide strap. Once it was ironed, I sewed along all edges.
To attach the straps, I simply centered them on the side seams and stitched a 2” long rectangle around, and then an “X” to give the strap extra security.
Then, I topstitched around the opening of the bag, 1” down.
And voila! I’ve upcycled an unworn, donated jacket into a new, useful and very beautiful custom beach bag!
I hope you enjoyed following along, and I hope you’re inspired to contribute to reversing Climate Change by upcycling clothing and materials you already have!
So, have I inspired you to turn a jacket into a bag? I hope so! Please tag me @socomfydesigns #upcycledbeachbag and #OLFAcreates if you make one!
Follow along on social media and see what I do with a leather jacket!