Make a jean quilt
I bet if you look in your closet, you’ll find at least one or two pairs of old jeans you should get rid of. Maybe they don’t fit anymore, maybe they have holes, or maybe they’re no longer in style. No matter the reason for no longer wearing your jeans, there’s still a way to use them.
I saved my old jeans for about a year (and took donations from friends) in order to get enough for the project I had in mind, which was a large jean quilt. The result was so much more wonderful that I had even imagined!
The biggest element to this task is, of course, collecting the old jeans. Depending on the size of quilt you want, you’ll need many pairs. My quilt is about 6′ x 6′, and has 144 six-inch squares in it. I found that I could get about 4 squares out of a pair of jeans, so I needed about 36 pairs for the whole project. That may seem like a lot, but if you start asking your friends to keep an eye out for discarded jeans, you’ll find that you reach your goal sooner than you thought. You can always adjust your finished quilt size to suit the amount of material you have, too. If you get impatient, you could also try local salvage stores or look for bulk used jeans on eBay.
Once you have enough jeans gathered for your quilt, start by making a pattern. I wanted my finished squares to each be 6″ x 6″, so I made my pattern 7″ x 7″, which gave me a half-inch seam allowance around all edges. I cut the pattern out of card stock.
Then I took a pair of jeans and laid it out to see how I wanted to cut my squares. Most jeans will have two two types of seams (Fig 1). The one on the outside of the leg is usually cleaner, and the one on the inside of the leg has the double stitching. I decided I wanted to feature the double-stitched seam on my square, so I cut the pant leg apart along the other seam, to give me a large surface to work with.
I then took my pattern card and positioned it on the material and turned it until I got the desired impact. I decided I wanted my seam to go diagonally across the square. (I kept the seam out of the corners, though, because I knew that much bulk in the corners would make the squares very hard to sew.) Once I had the pattern card positioned the way I wanted it, I drew a line on it to mark where the seam was, so that I could easily make all the squares match as I cut them (Fig 2).
Then the lengthy task of cutting the squares began. I would lay my pattern over the jeans and trace around it with a marker, then cut them out. Denim is tough, so make sure you have some good fabric scissors that can handle it! Cut however many squares you will need for the quilt you want to make. As I mentioned before, my quilt was 12 squares wide and 12 squares long, which meant 144 squares. Whew!
Once all the pieces were cut out, I began sewing them into strips of 12. I highly recommend you use a sewing machine for this, because it would be way too hard to sew by hand. Once the strips were done, I sewed them together into a large sheet. Remember as you grab each square that you should pull them from the pile randomly. Some of your squares will be darker and others lighter. You want to mix them up really well so that you get a nice pattern across the quilt.
When I finished sewing all the squares together into a sheet, I was ready to start assembling the layers of my quilt. I started with the fabric that I wanted to use for the back of the quilt. I found some fabric that was printed to look like a red bandanna, and I loved it the moment I saw it. I knew it would look just right with the jeans. It wasn’t wide enough to cover the whole quilt, but it was easy enough to sew two lengths together to make a wider sheet. My finished size on the bandanna fabric was quite a bit larger than the quilt (7′ x 7′) because I wanted to leave lots of extra on the edges to use for the trim. So I laid the bandanna fabric down on the floor, wrong side up. I then topped it with a 6′ x 6′ piece of polyester quilt batting. Finally, I put down my giant sheet of jean squares, right side up.
With my three layers in place on the floor, I then started pinning them together with large safety pins. I put one pin in each square, so that I could be sure the layers weren’t going to slide around on me.
The next step was to actually quilt the fabric. This involves sewing all three layers together, using some pattern for the stitching. I again opted for machine sewing, and I knew that I wanted to follow the pattern of the squares. I decided to sew long diagonal rows of stitches across the entire quilt, matching the diagonal seams along each square. Figure 3 shows the stitch lines marked in yellow, so that you can see how I did it. I just fed the quilt through the machine over and over, until the whole thing was covered in diagonal stitch lines.
The only thing left now was finishing off the seams. First I trimmed the layer of batting that stuck out so that there was about 1 inch showing all the way around. I then cut the red bandanna fabric so that it stuck out 2 inches beyond that (3 inches total). I then folded the red fabric over the exposed batting, folding the edge of the red under for a nice seam, and making sure that it went in far enough to cover at least 1/2 inch of the jeans. I pinned that down and took it back to the sewing machine, where I ran a line of stitching all the way around, securing the seams in place.
The finished quilt (Fig 4-6) is unbelievably tough, durable, and warm. It’s also quite beautiful and fun! The denim is so heavy that it covers you well and warms you up quickly. I’ve had this quilt for years, and it’s my favorite blanket in the house.
I revisited this project idea in December, when I made my niece her own kid-sized jean quilt with embroidered designs on the blocks.
Read my follow-up post titled Make an embroidered jean quilt for details and more photos.