Spring upcycle: How to make an applique jean jacket

In this post, I’m going to show you how to create an applique jean jacket.

Denim jackets are a classic wardrobe piece, but they can be kind of plain.

I’m all about making a jean jacket from scratch, but sometimes you want a quicker project.

Here you’ll learn how to take a plain thrifted jean jacket and turn into a high end piece of art with just a little extra fabric and some simple sewing.

You don’t even need a fancy embroidery machine to do this simple embellishment project. If your sewing machine can make a zigzag stitch, you’re set!

Got an old denim jacket that’s been hanging out in your closet needing a refresh for far too long? Let’s give it some new life with a little applique!

Supplies for an applique jean jacket

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What is applique?

Applique is any time you take one fabric and sew it on top of another fabric. This is usually for decorative purposes, but it could be functional (i.e. think a patch covering over a hole).

It’s one of my personal favorite techniques, and there’s lots of projects here about applique. Some of my favorites:

What kind of fabric is best for applique?

For a project like this applique jean jacket, you want to pick a fabric with a large scale print.

Be sure to choose a woven fabric that is not too drapey. Fabrics with too much drape will be tough to work with as they tend to move around a lot during sewing. It’s possible to use silk for applique on denim, but rayon fabrics tend to have too much fluidity for a project like this.

Some good choices:

  • Home décor fabrics: these tend to have large scale prints and are sturdy.
  • Ankara: quite stable with bold large scale prints that would look cool on a jacket.
  • Linen or cotton prints
  • Vintage scarves: polyester, silk or cotton are all good here
  • Vintage linen napkins

For my own choice, I’m using a lightweight upholstery fabric. I bought an sample of Stroheim and Romann upholstery fabric from Ebay that was big enough for a chair that I reupholstered. There was just enough of the leftover fabric for this jacket.

It has the perfect sort of interesting designs that are easy to cut up without looking weird.

How to sew an applique jean jacket

First thing, go ahead and wash and dry your fabric of choice as well as your denim jacket.

Once you’ve done this, it’s time for some planning.

Planning your applique jean jacket

Drape the fabric on top of your denim jacket.

Think about which motifs in your fabric you want to include and where.

The back panel on a denim jacket is the perfect place to show off the largest motifs in your fabric.

Smaller motifs are excellent on collar edges, along the front edges, around pockets etc.

For a challenge, you might even think about wrapping a sleeve with a portion of your fabric.

When you’ve got an idea of how you want to use your fabric, it’s time to start cutting.

Cutting motifs for applique

Start cutting around the motifs of your fabric with your fabric scissors. Cut about 1/4” around all of the motifs you want to include.

You can cut motifs then place them as you sew them, or cut them all at the same time.

I like to cut out a bunch at a time, then move them around to figure out where I want them to go.

Fuse the appliques

Lay each applique on top of the fusible web paper. Cut out a piece of fusible web slightly smaller than the applique.

To fuse the applique to the fusible web, lay the glue side of the Heat n Bond against the back side of the fabric. Peel off the backing paper.

Lay the applique on your denim jacket in the desired spot. Press the applique to the jacket, holding your iron in place for about 10 seconds with steam. Lift and press the iron onto another spot for another 10 seconds. Repeat this lifting and pressing technique until the applique is fully fused to the jacket.

Repeat this process for all of the appliques that you have cut out.

Create appliques for a sleeve (optional but awesome)

Up to this point, you haven’t had to touch a seam ripper or anything else to jazz up your denim jacket.

As far as refashions go, choosing to applique a denim jacket is pretty non-invasive. It’s really more of an embellishment project than a refashion.

That being said, if you want to kick this project up a notch, consider adding some applique to the sleeve.

If you’d like to do this, you’ll need to take off one of the sleeves from the jacket. This is because it’s too difficult to access the inside of the sleeve with the whole big bulky jacket attached.

My jacket has a sleeve with a seam halfway down the length which is a pretty handy style for this. I only needed to open up the seam halfway down the sleeve. This gave me plenty of room to maneuver the sleeve around without the extra bulky denim.

How to apply appliques for a sleeve

  1. Take off the sleeve: First, use scissors and/or a seam ripper to carefully open the seam all the way around the sleeve. Don’t open the underarm seam here, especially if there is a vent cuff attached to the bottom of the sleeve.
  2. Remove the loose threads: opening seams always makes a mess. Get rid of those excess threads.
  3. Apply applique pieces: lay the prepared applique pieces to the sleeve, letting the fabric wrap around the sleeve. Fuse the applique to the sleeve a section at a time around the circumference of the sleeve.

Stitching the appliques

To stitch out the appliques for your applique jean jacket, position your needle near the edge of a motif.

Set your machine for a zigzag stitch. You can play around with the width and length of your stitch to see what you prefer. I set my machine for a width of 4.0mm and a length of 0.8mm.

Just for reference, a shorter length will make your stitches more densely close together like a satin stitch. A wider stitch setting will also make for a more pronounced outline around the border of your stitches.

From here, simply stitch around each of your motifs with the zigzag stitch. If you’d like, you can stitch on the interior of the motifs as well for some extra texture.

If you’re appliqueing the sleeve, carefully stitch around your motifs, rotating the sleeve as needed. You will probably have to start and stop multiple times to stitch down your entire applique. Be patient here. Denim is tough to manipulate and sleeves are a relatively small area. If your hands get tired, leave your needle in the fabric and take a stretch break. Eventually, you’ll finish up your awesome sleeve!

Cut away extra fabric

Cut away any excess fabric past your stitching lines. Leave about 1/8”-1/4” of an edge.

Seal the raw edges on your applique jean jacket

Apply Fray Block or Fray Check along the raw edges of the applique to prevent the fabric from unraveling.

Step back and enjoy your new applique jean jacket! With a little fancy cutting, you can revamp a plain denim jacket into something you’ll love to show off.

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