From Holey Jeans To A Rag Quilt
Wait!!! Don’t throw those out!!! If I had a dime for every time I heard myself utter this phrase before thinking, I could afford a house big enough to store all the crap I didn’t want to throw out. My Mother was going through her closet and drawers to pare down on stuff she didn’t need or want anymore. She had a decent stack of jeans that was just laying by the garbage. She told me that they all had holes in bad places and didn’t fit right anymore either. Upon inspection, she was right, places you don’t want patches and places difficult to repair, and they don’t fit properly. Every time I saw a bad spot, I could still see a nice length of Denim. Denim that was in great shape, all that fabric just going to the dump. It didn’t seem right so I measured it and put my mind to work. I remembered an episode on Sewing with Nancy, a sewing show that I used to watch on PBS during a time when I didn’t have cable. In this episode, she made a quilt with denim, and she sewed the back and top together piecing it as she went along. I loved it and decided to cut these jeans up and give it a go.
The first thing I did, was measure the usable denim at the narrowest part. I could get 7 inches. So I know I can cut 7 inch squares. If I keep my seam allowances at 1/2 inch, then I can have 6 inch squares. I did my math and I figured knew I would have a decent sized quilt. It will lay across the bed or couch. So I fashioned a 7 inch square template from cardboard and got out my trusty rotary cutter and cut out all those squares. That was a lot of squares. Next I had to find some material for the back. I looked to see if Mom had thrown any other clothes out that would work, but no luck there. I wanted it to be soft, so I couldn’t just make it a single layer, and I wanted it to be warm, so a cheap sheet wouldn’t work either. I found some flannel on sale at my local fabric shop and got some yardage. I cut my flannel to the same dimensions as my denim. Now I had two piles of squares.
I had several colors and styles of denim. I didn’t want them to go together all Willie Nilley, so I laid them out on the floor to audition them, and I tried different patterns. Once I found the pattern that looked good to me, I worked with them right from the floor. I sewed them four pieces at a time, two denim squares and two flannel squares, right sides out leaving my seam allowance on the top of the quilt. I sewed one row at a time, piecing two sets of squares all along the row, then laying the rows back in place. One-half inch seem allowance always on top. Once I had all the horizontal rows assembled, I seamed two horizontal rows together, also keeping the seam allowances on the top and making certain all four corners meet properly at the junction. It was a lot of piecing and a lot of fabric to sew through. I used a denim needle (two of them actually) and I used a special denim thread. Once I was done, I ran a line of stitching along the edges to hold the two layers together where a binding would be.
What really gives this little quilt character is the fraying of the denim. I took some scissors, and sniped almost to the stitching all along every bit of the seam allowances. That was a lot of snipping. It took me a couple hours. Then I washed and dried it. I was shocked at the PILE of lint and strings that I pulled out of the washer and dryer. I did this three times and used a stiff brush each time to try to pull out more strings and promote the fraying. Once I was satisfied with the amount of fray, I took some contrasting embroidery floss or perle cotton and took a big running stitch, one stitch right in the middle of each square. I cut the string between each square, and tied each one into a square knot. I laundered it once more to sink the string into it. Viola, one denim rag quilt, my first quilt and I rather liked it. It is heavy, warm, soft, and cozy on the inside with all that flannel. My mom loves it and every time she uses it, she sees all her former favorite jeans.
I learned a few things doing this quilt. I would have sewn those jeans with a bigger seam allowance. Additionally, I would have cut the flannel a bit bigger since it has to come up past the denim. I would have not laundered the perle cotton. It looked better before it was laundered. I did chalk a stitching line for a six inch square and that turned out to be a great idea. I matched the chalk line corners, and that made piecing more manageable.