Work in Progress: Quilting with Denim

This post was written by Mary Elizabeth O’Toole

This week, I am finishing up a lap quilt made with mainly reclaimed materials.  I have been saving discarded jeans and other clothes for some time specifically for a project like this one.  It is a perfect opportunity to use up some previously ‘well loved’ items that are really too worn for donation.

Stack of jeans, flannel pjs and flannel scraps - partially cut.
Stack of jeans, flannel pjs and flannel scraps – partially cut.

I had washed all the clothes before putting them in my material stash but I hadn’t cut them because I had not decided what pattern to use.   Sometimes, I cut the clothes apart and keep them that way.  It is easier to store and takes less prep time once you have decided on a project.  If I do that, I usually cut in the biggest possible pieces to give more flexibility but some people prefer to cut in squares and/or strips in advance.  Cutting the pieces as you go is a good option if you want to have a quick(er) project ready to go for fast and easy assembly.

I used my EQ7 to make a relatively simple design with three blocks – single blocks (finishing at 9 ½”), half-rectangle, and 4-square patterns.

Sample blocks

I used 6 pairs of jeans in different shades of blue, 3 pairs of flannel pyjama pants and  one corduroy shirt.  I had enough denim saved for this project but when I don’t I make a visit to the local thrift store and pick up a pair or two of jeans.  I supplemented my clothing stash with some large flannel for the back.  I bought the flannel at the Grandmothers to Grandmothers Halifax yarn and fabric sale last year.  (Hopefully that event will happen again this year.  Watch for it in the spring.  You can get good deals AND it supports a wonderful cause.  Keep it in mind as a stash buster too – they accept donations of yarn and fabric so you can donate unwanted items and purchase new materials that will inspire you.  Win-Win!)

kd on the job as quality control inspector for this project
kd on the job as quality control inspector for this project

I don’t want to reveal the whole quilt yet but here is a teaser.  This is not my usual type of quilt project so my quality control inspector, kd, gave it particularly close scrutiny.   Of course, it could just be that she recognised that these are Stephen’s pants and hoped that there might be a treat in the pocket.

Tips on working with denim

  • Use a denim needle and a poly or poly-blend thread.  I used a Jeans thread (70% poly/30% cotton) for both piecing and quilting.   Choose a longer stitch length than cotton.  I usually use 2.5-3.0.
  • When preparing the denim, cut off the seams and discard.  When I first started to used reclaimed material, I tried tearing apart all the seams with the idea to get more material.  So not worth it because you get very little additional usable material and it takes much much more time.  However, I do keep pockets, tags, and other design elements and sometimes incorporate those elements as features.  There are lots of examples of that on the fun bags on this Pinterest board.
  • Denim quilts can get heavy quickly, especially if both the top and back are denim.  Choose a thin batting or consider omitting the batting.  A flannel sheet between the layers is another option for reducing bulk and weight.  On my project, I mixed flannel and denim on top and used flannel for the backing, which resulted in a relatively light quilt so I have used a med weight cotton batting.
  • If you mix denim with cotton or flannel, keep in mind that denim will be stronger so seams can wear more on other materials.  Reinforce all seams.  For this quilt, I used a 5/8″ seam pressed my seams opened and reinforced all seams with topstitching a ¼”on each side of the ditch before doing any other quilting.

What is your next denim project?  Need some inspiration?  Just type ‘denim quilt’ into the Pinterest search.  I am thinking my next one will be a stain glass design.  I’d better get started saving jeans because those ones are best with a good variety of shades.

What is your quilting or sewing experience with denim?  I’d love to see your pictures and tips so please share in the comments.

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