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I am so excited to share my DIY Denim Quilt with you all! It’s been on my upcycling bucket list for some time to make a big quilt picnic blanket from all my old jeans.
I’ve finally done it!
I made mine reversible and I followed a pattern for the front and pieced the back using improv quilting.
So basically I have two options for you to try to make your own denim quilt!
In case you are a bit confused by what a quilt actually is, I have all the details below before we start.
If you are already an experienced quilter just use the hyperlinks below to skip to the section you are interested in!
- What is a Quilt?
- What do you have to differently for a Denim Blue Jeans Quilt?
- How Many Pairs of Jeans Do You need for a Denim Quilt?
- Denim Quilt – from a Pattern
- Denim Quilt – Improv Sewing
- Quilting my Denim Quilt
- Binding my Denim Quilt
- Quilt Label
- Denim Quilt Reversible Picnic Blanket!
What is a Quilt?
Okay so as you may know I’ve become a bit of a newbie-turned-obsessive quilter in the last little while.
This Denim Quilt is actually only my 4th ever quilt!
Did I warn you quilting is addictive?
Anyway if you are a bit of a newbie like me, you might need a run through of what a quilt actually is….hint…it isn’t another word for a blanket.
Simply put a quilt is made up of 3 layers. The quilt top, the batting, and the backing.
The quilt top is the ‘pretty’ side that the quilter tends to spend the most time on.
There are lots of different ways to make a quilt top, but the traditional and still the most common way is to sew small pieces of fabric into blocks, sew those blocks into rows and then sew the rows together to finish the quilt top.
When you sew the smaller pieces of fabric together to make a block it is referred to as ‘piecing’. That is how I made the quilt top for my Denim Quilt – I pieced 16 blocks, following a quilt pattern (see below) and then sewed them together to make the quilt top.
There are other ways of making quilt blocks including foundation paper piecing, english paper piecing, hand sewing and improv sewing (more on that below).
The piecing I did for these blocks was all done with a sewing machine.
Quilt batting or wadding is the layer in the middle of the quilt that you don’t see. It is sandwiched in between the quilt top and the backing which is why quilters often refer to a quilt sandwich when they are in the process of making their quilt.
Batting is traditionally 100% cotton but there are lots of others on the market these days including Polyester, Polyester Cotton Blends, Bamboo and Wool (another traditional one).
For a denim quilt made from old jeans you will often here advice to leave the batting out of your quilt. I didn’t do that and I’ll explain why below.
I used a polyester ‘low-loft’ batting, which means it is light and easy to sew with but it still gives that cushy cozy feeling that I wanted my picnic blanket quilt to have!
The quilt back is traditionally one large piece of fabric or two pieces of the same fabric sewn together (because sometimes fabric isn’t sold in wide enough lengths to be used as one single piece on the back – especially if you are making a Queen or King Sized Quilt).
Some fabric stores sell extra wide quilt backing fabric and some people get creative by ‘piecing’ their quilt backs either in two big pieces or with some extra quilt blocks or a border on the back.
As a new quilter I watched a lot of youtube videos by Karen Brown of Just Get it Done Quilts and she talked about making something called an ‘after quilt’ for the back of her quilts.
An ‘After Quilt’ is basically a quilt backing that is made by using leftover blocks or scraps from making the quilt top.
You won’t be surprised to hear the I love the idea of using the scraps up in the back!
It’s more work but it’s definitely both more economical and less wasteful!
So that’s what I did for the back of my Denim Quilt. I made an improv scrappy style after quilt back (more on exactly how I did it below!).
Okay, this is the bit that confuses people who aren’t quilters.
In fact I said to my sister when I was making this denim quilt (she was on Face Time and could see the quilt top lying out on the floor) -‘I just need to quilt it now’.
‘Hang on, hang on’ she said, ‘what have you been doing this whole time? Isn’t this quilting?’
No. It isn’t.
‘Piecing’ the quilt top and back are called just that, piecing.
‘Quilting’ on the other hand is the act of sewing all the 3 layers of your quilt sandwich together.
So the ‘quilting’ is basically the stitching that you see on the top and back of a quilt.
As with everything in quilting, there are multiple ways to do it.
You can hand quilt with a simple needle and thread.
You can machine quilt with a walking foot.
A walking foot is a kind of a presser foot for your sewing machine that makes it easier for your machine to handle multiple layers of thick fabric at once.
And lastly, you can Free Motion Quilt.
Free Motion Quilting is when you lower the feed dogs on your sewing machine (the little metal teeth under the presser foot that help your fabric to move through the machine) and basically ‘thread paint’.
You can make any kind of shape or pattern with free motion quilting from circles (called Pebbles) to feathers, clouds or even words – there is no end to how creative you can be with free motion quilting.
Free motion quilting is a skill you need to learn but it is really cool when you do.
I am still a beginner but I did attempt it on my second ever quilt, my ‘learner’s quilt‘.
For my denim quilt I used a walking foot and did some straight line quilting in a kind of an X pattern – I’ll explain more below when I get to that part.
So that is your basic run through of quilting – now on to the denim quilt!
What do you have to do differently for a Denim Blue Jeans Quilt?
There are several things you should consider doing differently when making a denim quilt out of your old jeans.
First up and probably most important you need to get some denim needles.
These are relatively inexpensive. You should be able to get them anywhere you purchase your universal sewing machine needles. I got mine here.
The last thing you want is to use the wrong type of needle and end up up breaking it half way through.
Starch or Interfacing
Now the denim I used for this project was mostly stretch denim and I suspect that most of the old jeans you have probably have at least a little bit of stretch in them – it’s just the most popular type of jeans these days!
So I did do some research before starting my quilt and I saw that there is a bit of a division when comes to choosing a method to stabilise the denim pieces so they don’t stretch and warp too much when you are sewing with them.
Two methods are to starch the fabric or to use a fusible interfacing on the back.
I used the fusible interfacing method when I made my drawstring bags from old jeans. It worked great, but frankly it would be fairly expensive to buy a quilt’s worth of interfacing and you’d have to cut out a piece of interfacing for each piece of each of your quilt blocks….that is a lot of cutting!
I decided I didn’t want to brave all of that cutting even though it is probably the best method for getting really stable denim pieces.
Instead I decided to try starch – I’d never used it before so I didn’t really know what it could do.
I used the starch after I had cut my jeans apart into large sections (I’ll explain how to do that below where I talk about how many pairs of jeans you need for your quilt) but before I cut them down to the sizes I needed to make my quilt blocks.
It definitely did make a difference. I cut out one batch of pieces for a block without starch and one with to start and you could see that the ones with starch were noticeably less floppy and more sturdy to work with.
If you are doing this on the floor like I did, make sure to put something down to protect the floor. I didn’t and although the floor wasn’t damaged or anything it was very slippery for the next day or so!
Batting or No Batting
I mentioned above that the conventional wisdom seems to be not to use batting in denim quilts. But I wanted to use my denim quilt as an outdoor picnic blanket and I want it to be comfy to sit on so I didn’t like the idea of just having a quilt top and back and nothing in between.
So I looked around and found a polyester quilt batting that was advertised as being ‘low loft’ which in quilting means not too thick or heavy.
It was indeed exceptionally light to touch and feel.
In fact when I got it out of the package my immediate thought was that it was too light and thin.
But, I was pleasantly surprised once I got to quilting with it.
It gave my quilt a lovely soft and cushy feeling without adding too much bulk trying to get it through the machine.
Another thing I read in researching how to make my denim quilt was that you should use a 1/2″ seam allowance instead of the traditional 1/4″ seam allowance that most quilt patterns call for.
I ummed and ahhed about that but in the end I didn’t do it. Mainly because I was following a traditional quilt pattern for the top and I didn’t want to do a whole bunch of math to work out what size everything would need to be to account for that extra seam allowance everywhere.
Also I had sewn with stretch denim before and the seam allowance wasn’t an issue for me.
Pressing Open Seams
What I did do differently with my seams for my jeans quilt was to press the seams open instead of to one side as you normally would in quilting.
This was to reduce the bulk of the seams for when it came time to quilt the 3 layers together. This was especially important because my blocks had quite a lot of seams in them but I would still press denim seams open even if I was just making a quilt out of straight squares.
How many pairs of jeans do you need for a Denim Quilt?
Obviously the answer to this depends on how big you want your quilt, but here is how many I used.
My quilt had a finished size of 64″ by 64″.
For the top I used 9 & 1/2 pairs of stretch denim jeans in various colours. They were between a size 12-16 in UK women’s sizing.
The pattern I used (see below) called for one fat quarter of patterned fabric for each block.
A fat quarter is a 1/4 of a metre or yard of fabric and it usually measures 18″ x 22″.
There were 16 blocks in my quilt top and my darker denim jeans were what I substituted for the patterned fabric.
Out of my 9 & 1/2 pairs, 4 of them were used exclusively for the background fabric of the squares – the white jeans and the lighter coloured pairs.
So in essence I got 16 fat quarters worth of materials out of 5 & 1/2 pairs of jeans plus one of my husband’s shirts that I used as an accent.
So I reckon you can get just shy of 2.5 fat quarters worth of fabric from each pair of jeans.
Keep in mind I didn’t cut them into fat quarters to start off with.
I was going through each pair cutting out the individual pieces required for the pattern – so when I say 2.5 fat quarters ‘worth’ I mean just that – you can cut the same amount of pieces out of your jeans but you won’t be able to cut your jeans into 2.5 even fat quarters!
I also did reach a point where I ran out of big enough pieces in some of the colours to get all the squares cut that I needed.
So I made larger pieces of fabric out of the scraps and then cut those down to make the sizes I needed.
I did this for the white denim, one of the blue denim jeans and my husband’s shirt. I think the extra seams just add to the scrappy quality of this quilt and it’s a good tip to keep in mind for any quilting project if you find yourself shy of the size you need but you still have scrap fabric left over.
Cutting apart your jeans
The method I used to get the most material out of my jeans was this:
- Pinking Shears
- 1. Use your pinking shears to cut the bottom cuff off of each jean's leg.
- 2. Cut to one side of the inner seam of the jeans leg all the way along until you get to the croch, then continue down the seam of the opposite leg.
- 3. Repeat on the opposite side of the inner seams for both legs.
- 4. Cut along one side of the outer leg seam all the way up to the waistband.
- 5. Leaving an 1" around the pocket areas (to allow for reuse) cut the back pockets, front pockets, zipper and waistband off.
- 6. Repeat for the other side.
- 7. You should be left with 4 long pieces of denim to work with.
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I saved all of the parts of the jeans I didn’t use for my quilt.
The kids have been using the long seams as ropes in their toy rescue games and I have the waistbands and front pockets saved for a future undetermined proejct!
Denim Quilt – From a Pattern
Although I had the idea of making a denim picnic blanket quilt in my head for a long time, the actual inspiration for getting down and actually doing it was seeing that Patchwork and Poodles were doing a Quilt Along for her Inkling Quilt Pattern.
I thought her pattern would look great using blue jeans instead of the patterned fabric it was designed for. It just seemed to call to me to make it!
Only one problem. I had never sewn a quilt from a pattern before!
Inkling Quilt Along
So it seemed like kismet when I found out about the Inkling Quilt Along on the week it was starting.
A quilt along, in case you don’t know, is just what it sounds like, a bunch of people sewing the same quilt at the same time.
You post about your progress on social media and usually the pattern designer emails you some tips along the way as well as setting you deadlines for different parts of the process.
I signed up, bought the pattern and got started on the first week’s task which was pulling fabric.
Pulling fabric in quilt speak just means choosing what fabric you are going to use!
So I got all my old jeans out that I would never fit into again and decided which ones to use to make my quilt.
I set aside more than I needed because I wasn’t sure at that point how much fabric I would get from each pair. See above for how many I used in the end.
I found the pattern easy to follow but I didn’t totally follow the guidance in terms of what to do each week as per the quilt along.
I kept up with everyone else for the cutting week (when you just cut out all the different pieces you need for your blocks). But the next instructions were to sew 3 blocks per week.
I could have done it that way, but I decided because I am a beginner, I would rather do all of one step at a time to really practice it.
So instead of doing it block by block, I did what is called ‘chain piecing’ where you sew together the same two pieces for each block over and over again without stopping or cutting your thread. You then cut your thread when you have sewn them all. Iron the seams and move on to the next step.
It was definitely more tedious to do it that way – I didn’t get the instant gratification fo seeing 3 finished blocks in the 3rd week like everyone else did, but once all the chain piecing was done I was ready to assemble my blocks and the rest of the quilt top came together extremely quickly!
In fact I found myself finishing the quilt top ahead of schedule!
So….that was when I decided to use the scraps from cutting my jeans to make a scrappy improv quilt back.
Denim Quilt – Improv Sewing
I had lots of odd shaped scraps of denim from when I cut all my block pieces out. I had saved them all in a separate box as I went along.
I didn’t have a clear idea of what I wanted to do for the back of the quilt.
Before I decided to go double denim I had briefly toyed with using waterproof fabric on the back as the intention was always to use the quilt as a picnic blanket.
But the only waterproof fabric I had wasn’t a great colour for this project.
So in the end I decided that denim is pretty durable so why not make a reversible picnic blanket with denim on both sides.
Improv sewing, or improv quilt piecing is when you just start sewing pieces together without a plan, which is pretty much what I did.
But what you do do as you go along that makes it work out is to match evenly sized pieces to start off with. Sew them right sides together and then trim any excess.
You then iron open your seams and use that piece to match with another piece with that is the same length on one of the sides.
Then you just continue in the same way until you run out of scraps!
You can chain piece this as well just like I did with my patterned pieces.
I ended up with several scrappy denim blocks – with lots of seams on the under side! – that followed a rough log cabin style design.
You’ll also see some bits of my husband’s old shirts in there too.
How I still have shirts of his left to sew with after all the projects I’ve made with them I don’t know!
My blocks weren’t going to be enough to cover the back of the quilt though.
So I rooted around in my house and found a thick piece of mud coloured fabric that I had bought used on eBay thinking it was going to be thinner (so it didn’t get used as curtains as I had intended) as well as an old pair of blue khaki style trousers that didn’t fit and a pair of black denim jeggings that didn’t make it into the quilt top.
I cut them all up into strips and used them to frame my scrappy denim blocks. That was enough to make the back big enough for my quilt.
Quilting My Denim Quilt
So I explained above that ‘quilting’ is the last part of the process where you sew all 3 layers of your quilt sandwich together.
Basting the Quilt
The first part of this process is to baste your quilt. Which is basically a temporary measure for keeping the 3 layers together while you quilt it either with your machine or by hand.
The traditional way to do this is with a safety pin through all 3 layers every hands-width or so.
Another way is to use a quilt basting spray. I used the quilt basting spray with a pin in the centre and a couple around the edges.
I don’t love the quilt basting spray I have to say.
I’ve used it twice now and both times I found it really hard to get everything to lay straight with no puckers. Perhaps I just haven’t go the knack but next time I think I will try pins!
Hiding Mistakes with applique
The other thing I did just before I basted my quilt was to hide some mistakes I’d made.
Some of my points weren’t matching up as they should – a classic quilting problem.
But because I was sewing with stretch denim I didn’t think that unpicking my stitches and re-sewing would fix things, because they were matching up some places and not others!
So instead of unpicking and re-stitching and possibly re-stretching, I decided to cover up the worst offenders – which was in the squares where the corners of 4 blocks met.
I polled my followers on instagram who decided that I should use patches of another of my husband’s shirts to applique squares on top of the offending mismatched corners.
I cut the shirt squares to 4.5″ which was the size that the four corners of each block made together.
I fused them down with heat n’ bond and then used a blanket stitch on my machine to sew them down over the offending areas.
I think it turned out great – thanks guys!
Choosing a Thread Colour
One choice you have to make before you start quilting is what colour thread to use. Your stitching is visible when you quilt so you need to decide if you want to use a colour that will blend in or one that will stand out.
I ‘auditioned’ several thread colours for the quilting by laying them out out across the quilt as I have seen other quilters do.
Both times I’ve done this I’ve been surprised by the colour that actually looks the best when it is laying across the top of the quilt.
I went with a kind of an army green colour (Coats Moon – M0044) in the end – not what I expected at all – but it seemed to look the most natural on top of all of the colours on both the front and back of the quilt.
I didn’t want to use a super bright one that would stand out as I was already anticipating that I would make some quilting mistakes!
Choosing a Quilting Design
After my last quilt where I experimented with free motion quilting and tried just about every quilting design under the sun I was determined to go simpler this time.
I decided not to free motion quilt as I didn’t now how that would go with the multiple layers of denim.
Instead I used my walking foot and my denim needle and I decided to do some straight line stitching. But I wanted it to be slightly more interesting than just straight up and down.
So I thought I would try a kind of an X formation. I started by stitching one line straight down the middle of the quilt from top to bottom and then straight down the middle from side to side.
I then used the edges of the blocks to stitch from one edge to the middle and back to the edge again every 2.5″ or so – it was actually more like 2.6″, but I wasn’t measuring it as I went, instead I was visually lining up with the existing edges and seams in the quilt blocks.
I was essentially making two sided triangles getting smaller and smaller going from the centre to the edge on each side.
I did this for every side and when I was finished the quilting looked a bit X like.
I didn’t follow any instructions for this as I couldn’t find what I was looking for online but I think it turned out okay save for a few bits of puckered fabric – but that was more down to my issues with basting the quilt than with the quilting design itself.
Binding my Denim Quilt
I didn’t use denim to bind my quilt. I decided at this point it was time to add a pop of colour. I went to my scrap stash and pulled out some red jelly roll strips and a fat quarter of navy blue polka dot fabric.
I cut the navy blue fabric into strips and followed Melanie Ham’s machine binding quilt method.
The only difference was instead of using long lengths of binding strips I used lots of shorter ones to make a scrappier blue and red binding.
I really like the contrast it brings to the quilt.
Even though I am a new quilter I have already learned that I should be labelling my quilts – for my family after I’m gone or for social historians (not sure they’d be interested in mine per se, but I get the reasoning for it). I learned this from a quilt podcast I’ve been listening to called ‘Just Wanna Quilt‘.
For this quilt label I picked a small swatch of jeans from a front pocket area with a seam so you could see that it was from a pair of old jeans.
I used the lettering function on my machine to stitch ‘Old Jeans Inkling Quilt, Kristen Hubert, Summer 2020’.
Using my heat n’bond again to fuse it in place, I then used needle turn applique to sew it onto the back of my quilt. I love how it turned out.
Denim Quilt Reversible Picnic Blanket!
Here is my finished reversible picnic blanket quilt!
I made plenty of mistakes but I am really happy with it and I feel like it will get a lot of use!
It’s already been taken out for a socially distanced kids birthday party picnic as well as having an outing on our deck.
I washed it with some colour catchers to make sure the red binding didn’t bleed and it came out looking fab!
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