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How to Turn Jeans into Boho Japanese Denim Koinobori Windsocks

With this step-by-step craft, you can discover how to upcycle old jeans into charming Japanese style (Koinobori) DIY windsock fish. You can choose between traditional sashiko stitching or quick stencilling.

As many know, I am passionate about transforming old denim into fun and creative pieces. From denim feathers to flowers, there’s always something new to try. This time, I’ve turned an old pair of jeans into beautiful Koinobori, the traditional Japanese windsock fish. These are fun decorative items in your home or on the porch.

A Japanese Inspiration

My summer trip to Japan inspired this project. One thing that particularly caught my eye was the Koinobori, colourful windsocks shaped like carp, which symbolize strength and perseverance.

I knew I had to bring some Japanese charm back home, and what better way to do it than with some old denim jeans? I combined that with the traditional Japanese art of sashiko stitching, a simple decorative reinforcement stitching often used in quilting and embroidery.

For those who don’t want to do the sashiko stitching, there is a quick alternative: using paint and a stencil.

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Materials Needed

What you need to make a denim windsock fish

How To Make A Denim Windsock Fish

Cutting out the Pattern

Step 1: Print out the Koinobori template or copy and draw your own. It’s a very simple shape to draw.

Koinobori template windsock fish

Step 2: Cut the legs off an old pair of jeans. These will form the body of your Koinobori. Then, lay the straight edge of the fish template onto the leg against the seam. Use the white chalk pencil to outline the fish shape on the denim.

If you are using another piece of denim or fabric, fold it in half and then place the straight edge of the template along the fold.

Drawing the DIY windsock fish template onto the denim jeans leg

Step 3: Cut out the fish shape from the denim. Then unfolded the denim at the seam.

cutting out the fish shape

Sashiko Stitched Windsock Version

I made two versions of this denim fish windsock: one with Sashiko stitching and another with a quicker painting technique. Here are the details for the Sashiko version.

Sashiko stitching is simple, involving just a basic running stitch. You can find more about this technique in my Sashiko DIY bookmark tutorial.

While stitching the fish scales may take longer than painting them, the effort is well worth it. The Sashiko stitches give the Koinobori an authentic Japanese feel. It took me just a couple of hours to stitch all the scales on one fish.

I also find that Sashiko is a wonderfully relaxing craft in the evening. It doesn’t require much concentration, making it perfect for working on while watching TV or listening to music.

Step 4: Draw the fish scale pattern onto the denim fish using a white chalk pencil and a stencil. If you don’t have a stencil, you can draw the scales freehand.

Stencilling fish scales onto a Koinobori style diy windsock

Step 5: Using a Sashiko needle and thread, follow the chalk lines to stitch the scales with a simple running stitch. It’s quicker than it seems, as Sashiko allows you to complete 3-5 stitches simultaneously.

Starting the Sashiko stitching of fish scales on denim windsock

Painted Scales Version

Step 6: If stitching the scales isn’t your preference, you can easily paint them using a stencil and white acrylic paint. If you feel confident, you could even paint the scales freehand without using a stencil.

Painting on the fish scales onto the denim

I used acrylic craft paint for this project. Since I don’t plan to wash these denim windsocks, I didn’t seal or mix the paint with fabric medium. However, if you want to make the painted windsocks more durable, you can find additional tips and details on painting denim in my DIY denim table runner tutorial.

Another option instead of painting is bleaching the fish scales onto the denim, as I did with my denim fish pillows.

Putting The Denim Koinobori Together

Step 7: Fold the decorated fish shape in half lengthwise with the right sides together. Pin and stitch along the edge with a 3-5mm seam allowance, leaving the mouth and tail of the fish open.

This can either be done by hand or with a sewing machine.

Folded fish Koinobori for sewing inside out

Step 8: Turn the fish shape right sides out. To prevent the tail edge from fraying, dab it with diluted white glue or use Fray Stop.

sewn fish shape right sides out

Step 9: Cut out the buttons from the waistband of the denim jeans to make two eyes for the fish. Cut around the button so there is some fabric for stitching.

cutting the button of waistband for fish windsock eye
Cutting out button for fish eyes

Step 10: Use Sashiko thread and a blanket stitch to sew the eyes onto the Koinobori.

Sewing on the button eyes onto the fish windsock

Step 11: To create a permanently open mouth for your fish windsock, shape some craft wire into a circle and insert it into the mouth. It should stay in place, resting against the denim hem at the opening.

adding wire to windsock mouth
wire in mouth denim Koinobori craft

Step 12: Finally, stitch a piece of twine to the mouth of the fabric Koinobori for hanging.

Denim Koinobori diy fish windsocks
Sashiko denim fabric windsock Koinobori style

I hope you enjoyed this tutorial on creating denim Koinobori windsock fish! Upcycling old jeans into these beautiful Japanese-inspired decorations is a fun and rewarding project. Whether you choose the traditional Sashiko stitching for an authentic touch or the quick-painted version for a vibrant finish, both methods add a unique charm to your windsocks.

These denim Koinobori are a great way to repurpose old jeans and a lovely homage to Japanese culture. They make fantastic decorations for your home or garden, symbolizing strength and perseverance with every breeze.

2 hanging Japanese style upcycled denim fabric windsocks (Koinobori)

If you’re wondering what to do with the rest of your jeans, I’ve got plenty of creative ideas on the blog. Check out my posts on denim pocket projects and innovative uses for the jean’s waistbands and seams. There are endless possibilities to transform every part of a pair of old jeans into something wonderful!

Check out my comprehensive A to Z of denim craft ideas, many of which you probably would have never seen before.

If you love Japanese culture as much as I do, check out my collection of vintage Japanese prints from woodblocks, vintage photos, and art. All are free to download and print, and they’re in the Public Domain, ready to bring a touch of Japan to your home.

pair of hanging denim koinobori


Friday 14th of June 2024

Absolutely too cute! Love them

Claire Armstrong

Friday 14th of June 2024

Thank you so much. They are an easy craft.

janet trieschman

Thursday 13th of June 2024

What a great post, I'd love to have you share it at create-it-link-party

Claire Armstrong

Friday 14th of June 2024

Thank you, I will do.


Wednesday 12th of June 2024

Wow, what a unique craft idea for old jeans! You did such an amazing job with all that stitching.

Claire Armstrong

Wednesday 12th of June 2024

Thank you, the stitching was very relaxing and didn't take as long as it looks.

(Mona) Gail Quinn

Tuesday 11th of June 2024

I cannot for the life of me, find the template. There's only a portion. If I knew the measurements, I could more easily wing it. Can you please provide the complete template? I look for ward to creating this cute idea.

Claire Armstrong

Tuesday 11th of June 2024

If you click on template in the what you need section it is there. You will need to double it in size as it was 2 big to fit on to standard A4 paper. You can make it any size you want as long as you get the basic fish shape. The template is half a fish as it is cut from a denim pant leg along the seam, so you only need to stitch up one side.