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Posted by Lisa Lewis Koster - - 13 comments


Tips for Tuesday

With graduation season upon us, I've been busy making jean quilts as  gifts for my nephews - in all my spare time!  Actually, if you have any sewing experience, it really doesn't take long to put together one of these custom quilts.  Since it only requires straight seams, even if you've never sewn before, you can do this! 

To make a jean quilt you will need:
  • old blue jeans, cut into squares (number of pairs depends on their size and condition and the size of the squares)
  • fleece or flannel backing
  • straight pins
  • large safety pins
  • tape measure
  • scissors
  • seam ripper
  • blue thread
  • denim needles for sewing machine
  • pliers
  • large tapestry needle
  • crochet thread or DMC floss

I like to make throw-sized quilts for graduation gifts, so I try to stock up on fleece throws when they go on clearance after Christmas.  That way I always have a few on hand when I need them.  The finished edges of the throw make constructing the quilt that much quicker.  For a bed-sized quilt, I prefer buying flannel yardage for the backing.  (Fleece yardage can also be used, but I like the flannel because it doesn't "ball up.")

Collect old jeans to use for your denim squares.  Even those in poor condition usually have some clean areas on the back of the legs that you can cut some squares out of.  Need jeans?  Put a shout out to your friends.  Most people have some around ready to be retired that they're happy to give to a good home. 

As for the size of the squares, I prefer 8-inch.  Other sizes work as well; just remember the smaller the squares, the more you will need and the more sewing required.  When preparing the squares, I first cut out as many 8" squares as I can then, if there's any usable denim left, I cut 7" and 6" squares and save them for a future project.  This is something you may want to do ahead of time.  It takes much less space to store squares than it does jeans, plus then they're ready to go when it comes time to start sewing.

To add interest to the quilt, incorporate some side seams...

or interesting pockets.

Just make sure you have at least 1/2 inch seam allowance all the way around the edge of the square.

Most traditional pockets are too close to the waistband to give you the necessary 1/2 inch, so it works best to take them off with a seam ripper. (You'll reattach them to squares later.) Labels also make interesting additions.  Remove these from the jeans as you're making the squares.  This is actually my husband's job :)  He removes pockets and labels while watching TV at night.

Once you have all your squares cut, lay them out in a way that looks pleasing to you.  Sewn together, these squares will become the top.  I like the look of alternating light and dark squares.  For this throw I used 56 - 8" squares.  A twin-sized quilt usually takes 104 - 8" squares (13 rows each containing 8 squares.)

I like to lay my backing out over the squares to make sure it's going to fit.  The top will "shrink" once you put the squares together because of the seam allowances.  Each seam will take away 1" (1/2" seam from each square) of your finished piece.  This particular top will be 6" smaller when sewn than it was just laid out since there are 6 places where squares  will be sewn together.  Since I didn't quite have 6" of denim poking out from underneath the back, I chose to use 3/8" seams to make the top a bit larger.

Once I'm happy with the layout, I begin placing pockets and labels.  It's easier to sew these on the individual squares than it is to put them on once all the squares are sewn together, though it is possible to do it then too.  My mother-in-law has an embroidery machine and personalizes the quilt for me.  This too is easier done on an individual block before you start assembling the quilt top. 

After the pockets and labels are sewn on, I  number the square on the left end of each row by pinning a slip of paper to it - "row 1" for the top row, followed by "row 2" and so on.  If you're new to sewing, you can label every square to help ensure you keep everything in the right place - "row 1, piece 1"; "row 1, piece 2"; etc.  Since I make these quilts periodically, I save the numbered papers to use for future quilts.  

Next, moving left to right, stack the squares of each row one on top of the other so the block on the top is the one on the far left and the one on the bottom is the piece on the far right.  The row numbers you pinned on previously will be visible.  

Stack these blocks alternating each row so you can easily see where one row ends and the next begins. 

Now it's time to sew!  There are needles made especially for sewing on denim and using one of these will make the sewing that much easier.  I thread my machine with blue thread.   The shade doesn't really matter since there are so many different shades of blue in the quilt. 

Place the squares wrong sides together as you sew.  This will put the seams on the outside of the quilt, giving it a raggy look.  Remember to be consistent with your seam allowances (generally 1/2", but in my case 3/8").  Working from left to right, sew together all the squares for the first row.  Repeat for each subsequent row.  For a sturdier quilt, use a zigzag stitch.  To make it extra heavy duty, sew it a second time using a straight stitch (one on top of the other.)

Once all the rows are sewn together, lay them out to get an idea of what your top will look like.  If you want to switch anything around, now is the time.  Remember, all of your seam allowances should be showing.

Now it's time to pin the rows together into pairs, beginning with rows one and two.  To avoid bulk at the corners, alternate seams.  Line up the stitching from the two adjacent blocks, but have the seam allowance from the upper row over to the left and the seam allowance from the lower row over to the right.  When you sew the rows together, each intersection will have half of the seam allowance on one side of the seam and half on the other.

Once each pair of rows have been pinned together at the seams, you're ready to sew them together into pairs.  

Repeat the process, laying out the pairs of rows and pinning two pairs together, then sewing together to make two halves.

Finally, pin and sew the two halves together to complete your quilt top!

To give it a raveled look, clip the seam allowances at one inch intervals being careful not to clip through the seams.  If this does happen you'll want to do your repairs at this stage, either mending the cut with a satin stitch or replacing the blocks. 

Once all the seams are clipped, wash it alone in the washing machine.  (Alone, because a lot of little threads are going to come out and get all over anything else that happens to be in with it.)  Dry thoroughly before continuing.

Now it's time to pin your pieced top to the backing.  If you're working with the finished edges of a throw, just line the edge of the throw up with the edge of the top and pin.  This throw still ended up being a bit too large, so I trimmed one side 1/2" larger than the top and folded that edge under so it was even with the top.  This is what you would do if using flannel or fleece yardage. 

Sew completely around the edges of the quilt using a zigzag stitch.  Follow up by repeating using a straight stitch, if desired. 

Laying your quilt out flat, pin the top to the backing at each intersection using large safety pins. 

Before continuing on to the next step, flip the quilt over once each intersection has been pinned to make sure the back is smooth.  If an area is bunched up, undo those pins, smooth out and repin.  

Once you're finished pinning and the back is smooth, you're ready to tie the quilt.  This gives it stability.  Using crochet thread or several strands of DMC floss in a tapestry needle (which has a large eye), push the needle down through the top and pull it back up from the back.  This usually goes much easier if a pair of pliers is used to pull the needle.  Note: yarn can be used but it doesn't hold up as well and tends to split apart as you're working.  Note to self: This is not a great thing to be doing in 90 degree weather!  Good thing I love you boys!

I did my best to describe each step, but I've made so many of these I may have missed something.  If you have any questions please leave a comment and I'll make the correction.  Thanks!

Linking up with Cowgirl Up!, Air Your Laundry Friday

13 Responses so far.

  1. Faith says:

    This is such a great idea. Thank you so much for sharing. I just started sewing so this one I will have to bookmark for when I get better.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love the way you suggest keeping pockets and seams...definitely adds interest. I don't sew, but I can see this being a great gift for the men in my family. I just may have to learn!

  3. Stasha says:

    I can not sew to save my soul. . .

    But if I could I would definitely try this!

    I love how the finished product look!

  4. Ducky says:

    This would be great to make from all the jeans Lil Duck has outgrown. A super cool keepsake...I'm sure I would be hogging this blanket!

  5. Cathy says:

    This is lovely. Oh I so wish I was a crafter, but either is you is or is you ain't.

  6. Cute idea. I enjoy quilting while at the same time, have no patience for it... I've never done more than a a quilt square as a Christmas gift!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Are you able to sew thru the pocket and the denim square with a denim needle? I'm scared to try.

  8. Yes, with the denim needle I'm able to sew the pocket onto the denim square. Rather than start at the thick corner, start sewing at a thinner section of the pocket.

  9. Thanks for the encouragement in the opening paragraph:) This has been on my "to-do" list for years. I have a sack of squares cut out, but I've been too intimidated to actually start. Thanks for the great tutorial and tips.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Very nice I love it.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Made a recycled Jean quilt very warm and durable.

  12. These are the best quilts ever IMO. You have written a very detailed tutorial great job!!

  13. Anonymous says:

    what is the fastest they can be made say you had 3-4 pairs of jeans and use just the jeans nad had to get it done ASAP. do yo think an hour or so?

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