Making rubbish wearable: a Smith Pinafore from upcycled denim

smith pinafore dress from old jeans

During the week I got a brilliant idea from @whendy7 for the Smith Pinafore dress. She suggested making it from old jeans – the panels of the dress could be cut from the legs. Great idea!

I even had something handy I could use. Some years ago our local opshop gave me old jeans to cut up for a visible mending workshop. The shop sorts their donations on-site and they saved me jeans which were were basically rubbish – too worn out/torn for the shop to sell and they would normally throw them out. Apparently they get a lot of this.

In one bag were several pairs of unsuitable jeans that I left in our laundry and forgot about. I had a look through the bag and found two candidates for cutting up.

old jeans destined for cutting up to make a smithpinafore

I just want to say here that if you buy second hand clothes to cut up, reconsider and ask the second hand shop if they have clothes they can’t sell. They throw out a huge amount of torn, stained, dirty and in-need-of repair clothes which can be used for cutting up. There’s an enormous resource here! – and you’re not cutting up garments which potentially someone could wear.

So I can say with certainty that these jeans were rubbish destined for landfill.

To be honest, they were pretty sad-looking and had seen better days. One is a black pair of size 24 jeggings and the other is a faded black pair of size 14 skinny jeans. They are both cotton/polyester/spandex and have lost their stretch across the bum and tummy.

Neither were washed before donating. Do you know how I could tell? The jeggings wearer left a shopping list in her back pocket (tacos for dinner, apparently) and the skinny jeans wearer left a hair accessory in her pocket. Both garments smelt like perfume.

The jeggings were big enough to cut a set of centre panels, and the skinny jeans yielded the side panels, straps and slot seam backing. I cut the pocket bags out of fabric I already had at home.

cutting jeans legs up to make a smith pinafore
Cutting a pair of centre panels from the jeggings (the pattern is on brown patternmaking cardboard).
The jeggings were very tapered at the ankle and the centre panels exactly fitted on only if I unpicked the side seams to get maximum width.
There was a lot of unpicking to do and I started to wonder if it was going to be worth it…. the fabric was very old and tired.

Btw, a three-quarter length Smith pinafore would not be possible using jeans legs because they aren’t long enough. I cut the above-the-knee version. But you could put seams in the denim or make it patchwork if you wanted to go longer – it would look good in patchwork. Also, I cut a size 10/12.

trimming and pressing the panels for the smith pinafore
After unpicking I pressed and trimmed the panels. You can see the perished spandex in this photo – it’s where the fabric is wavy.
unpicking the back pockets to make a smith pinafore from old jeans
I had to unpick the back pockets too.
extra interfacing for the smith pinafore made from old jeans
The jeans fabric is much lighter in weight than the non-stretch heavy weight denim the pinafore is designed for. I interfaced the facings and the sides of the bib (both shown in this picture) and the straps so they wouldn’t stretch.

As I went along, pressing and trimming the panels, I started to think hmmm…maybe this will work….

….and it did!

With the panels cut, trimmed, pressed and extra-interfaced, it was a straightforward make. The old denim has a soft, almost velvety surface and the lighter weight is more comfortable to wear than the thicker denim.

Two tones of denim used for the smith pinafore dress
I used orange topstitching thread – the only thing I had to buy.
inside of smith pinafore made from old jeans
You can see the strip of extra interfacing on the sides of the bib, to stop it from stretching when it’s stitched. I would definitely interface this (and the facings and straps) if you’re making this pattern from a lighter weight fabric.
unpicked pocket on hem of smith pinafore
The unpicked pocket at the hem of the dress. I don’t mind it. Gee, my topstitching looks a bit wavy! (it looks better in real life!)
closeup of smith pinafore dress made from old jeans
smith pinafore dress
smith pinafore dress

The verdict:

The Smith Pinafore is a great candidate for upcycling jeans, and I think I might even prefer it to the ones made from new denim.

Shop the pattern here. Please enjoy 25% off during October.




  1. Tracy Henwood on October 11, 2020 at 1:42 pm

    Do you think I could weave the fabric for this one? Love a pinny dress!

    • lizhaywood on October 11, 2020 at 1:47 pm

      Yes, I think it would work really well. Did you see last week’s post showing how the panels are cut? You could weave rectangles and then cut them diagonally to yield two panels.

  2. Carol in Denver on October 11, 2020 at 2:54 pm

    My dad was an electrician and wore gray work clothes. After he died, I cut up some of his old work clothes and made myself an apron similar to your pinny. I wear it when working with dyes, and it is quite splashed up. Sometimes I talk to it.

    • lizhaywood on October 11, 2020 at 4:31 pm

      Thanks for sharing that story 🙂

  3. Beth on October 12, 2020 at 6:57 am

    Love this Liz! when you selected the denim to use, were you fussy to get a colour match from the two different pairs of jeans?

    • lizhaywood on October 12, 2020 at 8:36 am

      Thank you! There wasn’t really a choice and the jeans were different colours although they’d both been black to start with. The skinny jeans had faded to grey and I used those for the side panels and straps, and I think it looks okay since the dress is symmetrical colour-wise. I forgot to say in the post, the jeans were similar in weight and fabric type.

  4. Michelle Cahill on October 13, 2020 at 9:30 am

    I thought you made this pattern on purpose for upcycling jeans! Now I find out it was a happy accident. The contrast top stitching really makes this garment pop.

    • lizhaywood on October 13, 2020 at 9:44 am

      Wish I’d thought about it before for upcycling jeans! The pattern was already done and published when Wendy suggested it, but it turns out to be ideal.

  5. Helen on December 26, 2020 at 8:06 am

    I am glad you highlight the issue of second hand clothes which can not be sold. In the UK charity shop where I volunteered before covid, we got £4 per large bag from the rag man for these so you could easily offer more and get a large bag full. I don’t think there is any need to worry about buying items full price from the shop to cut up though because most of these don’t get sold either, there is such a glut of supply all the time and especially at the moment. I think there is a particular problem with prom type dresses which we get a lot of, they look nice and you can’t price them very cheaply but they sell very infrequently,

    • lizhaywood on December 26, 2020 at 10:47 am

      Good points Helen. Sometimes when I’m in that shop I wonder why anyone would buy new clothes at all.

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