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I finally made something with the old denim jeans I just can’t seem to throw away! It’s a napping quilt for my Dad for his 65th birthday
Two very large bins of old jeans have been sitting in my garage for years, waiting to be upcycled into something cool. My goal: make a denim quilt for my Dad. My sis and I made one for Mom several years ago, and he has adopted it as his own. He loves how heavy and warm it is. Mom’s is backed in floral flannel, but Dad’s is to be backed with buffalo plaid flannel, like his favorite hunting shirts.
I scoured the internet for some quilt inspiration, even creating a Denim Pinterest Board. I pinned some interesting quilts and some other projects, but then stumbled upon this Tartan quilt project in Transparency Quilts, a book by Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr of Modern Quilt Studio. I HAD to make this in denim. Was I crazy? Look at all those matching points – will I be able to accomplish that in denim? I was a little nervous, but I couldn’t get this pattern out of my head. I had already accepted this mental challenge to myself.
I went out to the garage to see if I had enough color variations in my jeans inventory – the pattern calls for six values of blue. I was able to come up with five. Good enough. I rounded up a bunch of jeans and arranged them ombre-style. Yep, good color variety.
Following are the colors I used, along with the jeans quantity. I had quite a bit of leftover denim that I can use for other projects on my denim Pinterest board.
- A (light): 4 pairs of jeans
- B (light-med): 2 pairs of jeans
- C (medium): 6 pairs of jeans
- E (dark): 3 pairs of jeans
- D/F (very dark): 1 pair of jeans
I ordered 7 yards of this super-soft buffalo plaid flannel from fabric.com and threw it in the washing machine and then the dryer. Once dry, I gave it a good spray starch and press with the iron. The starch added some stiffness to the flannel, making it easier to manage and to remain wrinkle-free when layering with the denim.
For a complete listing of the tools and materials I used to make this project, check out my Denim Tartan Quilt Supplies list on Amazon.
Time to cut into some jean! Buh-bye, 80s jeans. I used my Fiskars Amplify shears to easily cut all the bulky seams away. I was really surprised that my hand wasn’t sore after all that cutting.
And dude! When you cut the seams off 80s jeans you get the guy from Despicable Me!
Once the bulky seams and pockets were removed, I gave them a good steam press with my iron. Following the pattern for the napping size quilt, I cut the denim pant legs to size using my rotary cutter, acrylic ruler, and mat. My only variation from the pattern was to cut the top/bottom/side panels to be 6 inches wide (not 3 inches), since I wanted the quilt a little bigger.
How perfect is it that the pattern requires long strips of fabric? Hellllo, pant legs!
I put the strips up on my design wall – I think I’m going to like this!
Time to stitch the strips into panels. My Juki sews denim like. a. champ. I used a 16 Jeans sewing machine needle and a 35 weight thread by Coats & Clark in light gray, a 65% polyester/35% cotton blend. My magnetic seam guide helped keep my stitching straight and at a consistent 1/4 inch. Also, I used my sewing machine’s walking foot for this entire project.
I stitched up four panels of pieced denim. Then I pressed the seams open, since I didn’t want any bunched-up denim bulk to hinder the quilting stitches later on.
Would Dad approve of my squaring method? Yes, yes he would. Using an L-square, I made sure one side was cut perfectly straight…
…then cut into columns using my rotary cutter. I really like the way this pattern is written: the small panels and columns are very easy to manage while sewing and pressing. For most of the project, the length of the pieces fit on my ironing board, which was nice and easy.
I put the top half on the design wall, using the pattern layout as a guide. Cool. My new Instagram friend Chris Thompson (nyc_christopher) proclaimed “this is epic!” That sure made me smile.
Now for the part I was nervous about: stitching the columns together and matching the points of all those square and rectangle shapes.
No problemo! I used new, sharp quilting pins and this Pinning the Seam Intersections tutorial by Quilt Jane. Since the seams were pressed open, this method worked great at not only matching the points, but keeping the open seams allowances in place until right before they get stitched. No shifting seams under the presser foot! Sharp pins are key to this process – I didn’t realize how dull my other sewing pins were until I tried to use them on this denim.
Another key to this project is realizing that not all denim behaves the same. It’s an easy fix to make the points match in the blunder below, it just takes a little extra time. I thought I was careful to exclude any stretchy denim, but this sneaky culprit somehow passed QA! Stretchy denim = saying bad words.
Uber-helpful when pressing denim seams: a pressing block and a steam iron, extra steam.
The quilt top is done!
I’m digging the wrinkly worn areas. Adds character.
Gotta love a good back side 😉
Now to sandwich the three quilt layers together. I taped the flannel to the kitchen floor (wrong side up), layered on cotton batting (Warm & Natural by Pellon), and followed this Spray Basting video tutorial by kelbysews. I went a little heavier on the 505 basting spray on the denim, just in case it needed extra-sticking power. It worked great. Since I wasn’t enthused about putting a ton of safety pins through the thick denim, I opted for basting spray. It was a good choice.
Machine quilting time. Using the straight seams as a guide, I used a Hera marker to mark simple horizontal and vertical quilting lines. It basically marks a sharp crease on the fabric. I wondered if it would show up well on the denim. It did! I used a 3.0 stitch length, a 18 Jeans sewing machine needle, and a 30 weight mercurized cotton thread by Coats & Clark in slate gray.
I’m not going to lie – it was a bit of a workout to maneuver this thing through the sewing machine. But I just stitched slow and steady, making sure the layers didn’t drag over the table, affecting the quality of the quilting stitches. I felt way more confident about the whole quilting process after going through Creative Quilting With Your Walking Foot class on Craftsy.
Time for binding. I chose Pepper Kona cotton solid, a quilting cotton made by Robert Kaufman Fabrics. I spray-starched the fabric and then followed the binding directions in the Transparency Quilts book. This binding is applied completely by machine. No hand sewing, folks! I love how quick it was, the simple application, how durable the binding will be in the washer/dryer, and the results are stellar. This is my new go-to binding method. Love it.
Last step: a quilt label. I applied interfacing (Pellon SF101) to the back of a scrap of white cotton fabric and ironed a couple of freezer paper squares to the back, giving a good surface for signing the fabric. I used a black marker (Pentel Gel Roller for Fabric), peeled off the freezer paper backing, stitched on some of the leftover binding for borders, and hand-stitched it to the back.
I machine washed and dried the quilt, rolled it up, and tied it with leftover buffalo plaid selvages. So excited to give this to my Dad!
With every year, my Dad gets a little sweeter and more sentimental. He got teary-eyed reading the quilt label. My Instagram bud Chris Warnick (frecklemama) said “When you can get a big ole bear to tear-up, the whole world wins.”
Yes, yes it does. I win with my satisfied happy upcycly feeling you get from making something, and Dad wins with his “levi blanket”
Now it’s your turn – use those jeans you’ve been hoarding, or take a trip to the thrift store to get some. For a listing of all the tools and supplies I used to make this project, check out my Denim Tartan Quilt Supplies list on Amazon. I’m helpful like that!