Converting old jeans into rugs, or a metaphor for Lenten life.

Ragged jeans

This spring I’ve cleaned out closets. I gathered up the stashes of jeans I’d been hoarding and unwilling to chuck — not the jeans that are simply too big or too small, but the ones with worn-out inseams or missing buttons. The kind not even the thrift store wants, as likely they’d get thrown into the garbage or shipped off to other countries. Tossing the fabric to the curb seemed wasteful.

In theory I could make a quilt out of them, but my antique Singer can’t handle fabric that thick. Plus, I hate quilting; the precise measuring, repetitious pinning and sewing wears me down. And I already have the blocks for a giant quilt lurking in a box in my basement; the blocks are assembled, they just need to be stitched into the big blanket. Yet, there they sit in a box in my basement. How long have they been there? Ten years. Seriously.

So, “no” to the quilt idea. The point is to make things usable, not buried in a box taking up basement real estate.

A post on Pinterest from Wool and the Gang (who coincidentally makes an AMAZING cotton yarn that I want to squish and cuddle like a teddy bear) about converting jeans into denim yarn caught my eye.

Since I’m always scouting ideas for my next crochet project, I had an idea: what if I made rugs out of the old jeans? I needed a new front door rug, since one of our pets befouled the last one in a way not even washing would fix. Plus, if this worked, I had dreams of making a new dining room rug.

And so, I got to work making denim yarn. It’s dusty, and I had tons of itty bitty fibers over every surface of the living room. In the future I’ll wear a mask when I do this, because I’ve been blowing blue fibers out of my nose for days. Sorry/not sorry for the TMI moment. But, now you’ve been warned if you want to try this at home. In all the demos I read about making fabric yarn from t-shirts or jeans or sheets, nobody mentioned that part.

Jeans into yarn

After cutting up six pairs of jeans, I ended up with this trove of denim yarn.

denim yarn

And I learned something else the hard way. Check the seams in your jeans before you start cutting. Most jeans are manufactured with seams serged together on both the outside and inside seams. If both seams are fused together in that method, the Wool and the Gang approach is fabulous.

However, occasionally, one seam is not serged together; it is only stitched with one or two lines of thread. Yarn made from these kind of jeans will fall apart when you convert it using the Wool and the Gang method.

You’ll need to look for a different method to convert these kinds of jeans into yarn, or use a serger on the weak seam to fix the issue before you make your cuts. Out of six pairs of jeans, only one had this problem. However, I learned this the hard way AFTER I made the yarn and attempted to crochet with it, only to have to fall apart in short strips. Very, very sad pandas.

Now, I’m in need of friend with a serger who is A) willing to let me borrow their serger or use it briefly at their house and B) teach me how to use it so I can serge my tiny strips of yarn together.

Side note: if you have a serger, this would also be handy for stitching together all your yarn balls so you have a giant string of fabric and don’t have to weave in a bunch of ends, which is the dreaded and boring part of crocheting and knitting.

With enough yarn to get started and a giant crochet hook, I began a granny square square rug. After three jean legs worth of yarn, it’s bigger than my feet. I’ve still got a few more balls of denim left to add to the square before it’s done.

As a front door rug, I already love how it is cushy and soft! I’ll use a different style of crochet for the dining room rug, since I don’t want table or chair legs to get stuck in the tiny holes. For the dining room, in addition to the different pattern, I’m thinking a blend of denim yarn and t-shirt yarn from some old jersey sheets.

crocheting denim rugYou may be wondering what happened to the rest of the jeans that didn’t get turned into yarn — like the waist and pockets. Those didn’t get chucked either. They have become stuffing for the ottoman my mother-in-law brought back for us from Morocco, which we affectionately call the beach ball. Or at least the jean remnants are stuffing until I gather up gumption to sew things out of the pockets of the jeans (which will likely happen half past never because, well, sewing). The ottoman is by no means full of stuffing yet, but it is on its way.

denim rug and leather ottoman.JPG

A metaphor for life

A few weeks ago J and I went to an Ash Wednesday service, and as we went forward to have the ashes smeared on our foreheads, I heard the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” And so the Lenten season began.

Wrestling with a life that hasn’t turned out the way I thought and the repeated rejection letters for jobs I dearly wanted has been a frustrating enterprise. There was a temptation to see myself as useless waste — like the ripped jeans with missing buttons.

The safe doors of security keep getting slammed in my face. And I do not blame the world or others; I am responsible for me. No one else is. Still, it hurt. It embarrassed. I kept a chin up for appearances, and I felt a compulsion to prove my life as worthy or to offer a defense of my existence. I hid from people when it was all a little too much to bear.

Meanwhile, these first few months of 2017, I felt like bedraggled, worn-out jeans.

And this Lent, God is converting me into something usable again. It’s painful to be stretched and torn apart. But, the reality is new life always comes from something breaking apart. We must be broken to be useful — we crack eggs to eat them, we refine silver to purify it, we grind wheat to make flour. And in the process what is useful remains, and the waste is separated.

The vulnerable and raw piece of this process burns. The purification process involves losing parts of myself or ways of thought that I’d once held for dear life as a flotation device, but those same once helpful things are drowning me in this new season. There’s a sense of being lost and found — and often, bewilderingly, both at the same time.

I’m terrified because the only way forward is to rest and invest in the skills which I downplay or hang my head sheepishly about — I’m a writer and I’m a photographer. I’m embarrassed to ask for money for these things because I’m afraid I’m not good enough to be worth paying for my work.

The way forward is straight through all the monster fears. Lent has me facing all the things which terrify me, and keep me from actually living a full life. And that’s a moment of whispered “Hallelujah!” Not a triumphant cry quite yet, because I’m still on this side of the journey. Who knows if the journey leads to triumph or yet more embarrassing failure?

Changes are afoot for this space and for my professional life in the coming month. The impetus for change comes from working to launch myself as a for-reals portrait and wedding photographer, in addition to taking writing as work more seriously.

I’m working to redesign this space, invest some money into it and rename it. I’m open to suggestions because I’m truly awful at naming things — Bloggy McBlogface Photographer is not particularly helpful. I’m toying with simplifying down to my name alone.

These are all scary things, but there’s new life here. I’m still mid-conversion, but there’s beginning to be hope for possibilities again.

And these are the kinds of stories which excite me about Jesus. How in the midst of seasons where we’re dying to one way of life, when we feel we’re so broken that we’re rendered useless, Jesus can resurrect us. There’s no place, no brokenness, beyond redemption, beyond hope.

Resurrection isn’t resuscitation back into what once was. It’s moving forward, and finding new life and new paths into what is now. We’re ultimately not abandoned. We are in fact loved. We didn’t earn it. We didn’t achieve it. And in spite of our best and worst efforts, we couldn’t make that truth disintegrate.

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