Working with Denim in a Quilt

You've got several pair of old jeans, maybe yours or your kid's, or maybe just the legs you cut off to make shorts and you're thinking it would be a shame to throw them out. Could they be made into a quilt? Do people do that? Can you use other materials? Or is denim too heavy to even consider of this kind of project?

Well, relax. We use denim for quilts and picnic blankets all the time. Here is some advice to help take the fear out of your project.

Getting Started:

-- Take into account the sheer weight of a jeans quilt. If you like a light cover, this is not what you're looking for.

-- For a first time quilter this might not be the best project. The weight of the denim might make working with it more difficult or discouraging than the lighter cottons.

-- You may want to use jeans which have been "wrecked" and are no longer wearable. Some quilters prefer to give the wearable --but outgrown-- pairs of jeans to a charity or resale shop. Those same organisations might be sources of donated jeans that are beyond any other usefulness.

-- There's not as much usable material in old jeans as you would think. By the time you cut around worn knees and rear ends, you may have some small, odd shaped pieces.

Preparing the fabric:

-- Look for patches of denim that have been worn more than the rest. They tend to disintegrate at the seam.

-- If you mix fabrics you'll need to balance the fabric weights. Use an iron-on "horse hair" pellon. The pellon is very heavy and stiff but does soften after being washed. You should be able to use any fabric that way, although watch out for very light silkies or rayons, since the texture of the interfacing might show through the fabrics.

Block Patterns

-- Make a crazy quilt, adding old cordoroy trousers for variety. Use an old sheet the size you want your finished quilt and tack irregular shaped pieces so that they cover your foundation and zigzag along the joins with a strongly contrasting or multicolored thread.

-- Cut out all the seams, hems, waistbands, and other unusable parts. Then cut all the blocks to the same size (6 or 8" square is the most common) or cut the pieces to the same width but with different lengths depending on the size of your workable pieces (6 x 12, 6 x 8, 6 x anything) and make long strips which you can combine for the quilt top.

-- You can make a checkerboard style quilt from blue jeans and old white painter's pants or any heavy twill or denim.

-- Cotton velveteen has some of the weight of the denim, and you might consider using it or pin whale corduroy in addition to the denim.

-- Look for jeans in different colors - black, red, white, green , purple (remember when colored denim was popular?) Plan them crazy quilt style, just sew together pieces until you can cut out a 10-12" square.

-- Your pattern can be very plain, just squares or rectangles, a thermal blanket instead of batting and then a printed flannel on the back.

-- If you do use other fabrics be aware that the quilt may wear unevenly. Try to keep the weights and fiber contents the same.

-- Make your quilt with strips. If you want to include jeans back pockets the width of your strips must be about 6-8 inches. The length can vary from about 6 inches to maybe 12.

-- Sew with the seams on the top and leave them to fray for an interesting patchwork effect.

Sewing:

-- Use a special denim needle for the seams.

-- A walking foot helps with the machine quilting, also roll the quilt firmly to the row that you are stitching to keep it under control.

-- Use generous seam allowances. Washed denim frays badly and it can be very disheartening to pull pieces of your quilt out of the washer or dryer.

Embellishments:

-- Embellish pieces with a little embroidery; it softens the jeans look and you can use the different denim shades to create simple but interesting patterns.

-- To add some color consider applique. This could be lighter weight fabrics or those pre-packaged embroidered ones.

-- It's fun to use pieces that include the pocket, but usually the pocket is quite close to seams so you're limited in the size piece you can cut.

-- Incorporate the insignias from military units or sports clubs as part of your design.

Batting:

-- Leave the batting out or use a heavy flannel or fleece for the backing.

-- Use a regular cotton or poly batting, but expect it to add thickness and warmth (maybe more than you want).

Finishing:

-- Tie the top and backing together either hiding the ends in the quilt sandwich or making a feature of them by using thicker thread and leaving the tufts on the top.

-- Cotton embroidery floss may not be tough enough to hold down or give good support to such heavy fabric as denim, especially through the washing and drying process. Consider crocheting cotton; the kind that comes on a cardboard spool. Or cotton yarn.

-- Tie it close together so there's not a lot of stress on just a few ties.

-- For a country look you may want make the back and binding from bandanna fabric that coordinates with the denim.

-- Or, how about your favorite plaid flannel?

-- Use 2" strips of blue jeans and sew them together for the binding. Instead of quilting, tack or tie each square.

-- Tie using crochet cotton every 6-8".

-- Calico makes a nice back and binding. Machine quilt in-the-ditch along the squares.

Other uses for denim:

-- Make matching pillow covers from a single pair of jeans using the same calico or flannel backing to make a ruffle for the edge. Make the pillow cover big enough to cover a standard bed pillow.

-- Make blocks of squares or crazy-patchwork and use them to recover the cushions on your kitchen chairs. You can develop a really cute scrappy country look with all the different colors of denim.

-- Take squares make placemats with a colorful calico backing and binding. These are reversible and can be tossed in the washer and dryer. Matching potholders complete the set. (You can use a double layer of worn out towels for the batting in those potholders- they hold the heat well and since you're recycling the jeans, you may as well recycle the towels!)

-- Use old jeans for vests as well. Make them with denim on one side and cotton print fabric on the other to make them reversible.


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This page last updated on: Friday, December 27, 1996.

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