Finished! Denim Rag Quilt

August 29, 2013 at 5:51 pm Leave a comment

Ronan Inner Harbor

The way we get around, we need rugged quilts!

This was a fun little project.

Denim rag quilt

Denim rag quilt, 40″ x 40″

My mom and I had taken a class, probably ten years ago, on flannel rag quilts at Ladyfingers. I’m not even sure where that project bag is at this point. Suffice to say, I was not a fan. The instructor kept emphasizing how this was a quilt for people who didn’t care about accuracy, that “anything goes” with rag quilts, and if things didn’t line up, don’t worry because it wouldn’t matter. And while this approach may set some beginning quilters at ease, it was simply not what I wanted to hear at that stage of my quilting journey. I was just starting to feel like a decently competent piecer, achieving a fairly consistent 1/4″ seam and matching my intersections most of the time. The last thing I needed was a project in which precision was not only NOT a goal, it was a liability. (The ridiculous stretchiness of the flannel I was using meant that nothing stayed square, straight, or remotely the same size, even with a walking foot.) Throw in the fact that I was really not looking forward to clipping all those seams once the darn thing was finished, and this was a project born to become a UFO.

*Little bit of a tangent here:  although the instructor for the flannel rag quilt class was very nice and very competent as an instructor, it was clear she and I were not on the same quilting wavelength. While we were working on our squares, she talked about how she designs quilts for fabric companies, incorporating entire lines of fabric for them. All well and good and very interesting. However, she then went on to say that she plans everything out in advance for all her quilts, not just those, and that she has NO STASH. Let that sink in for a minute. In fact, she said she had recently purchased 3 yards of a fabric that she planned to use as a border, and when it became clear that it would not indeed work as the border for this particular quilt, she was very upset because “now what am I going to do with it?” I absolutely could not relate.

After that experience, I can confidently state that I had given absolutely no thought to ever making another rag quilt until I started researching the purchase of my GO! cutter. Accuquilt makes rag dies that precut the fringes on the edges of the squares so that all you have to do is sew the blocks together and then wash the quilt:  no hand-crippling, mind-numbing seam clipping to do! I still was in no hurry to work with flannel again, but I knew I had a stack of Dan’s worn-out jeans in the basement that were guilt-tripping me and making me feel like a hoarder, and the wheels started turning.

die cut squares

A stack of die cut squares, 8.5″ jeans and 6.5″ batting

I had started saving the jeans after seeing a show on DIY or HGTV in which they discussed sustainable building practices including the use of recycled denim to make housing insulation. On the show, they promoted a recycling program that was doing drives throughout the country to collect the jeans. However, by the time I had any to contribute, the website said that drives were temporarily suspended for the year, and would I like to get on an email list for when they restarted? I did, but that was an email that never came. Since then, the only comparable program I’ve been able to find is Cotton: From Blue to Green, which only accepts mail-in denim donations. And they’re in Phoenix. I can’t imagine how expensive it would be to ship a big cardboard box of jeans to Phoenix, and I can’t imagine the carbon footprint of that decision would end up being particularly sustainable. So the jeans sat in my basement.

I had seen a magazine photo several years ago of a large denim picnic quilt, but had dismissed the idea for my own projects because the denim would be so heavy and difficult to work with. The die cutting definitely solved part of the problem; I had initially envisioned making the quilt much larger, but I only had six pairs of jeans to work with. (I think there are more in the basement somewhere, but these were the ones I could put my hands on.) In the event, I was fortunate to have the size limited by the amount of materials, because the 6 x 6 block quilt was heavy enough that my arms felt fatigued after putting it through the machine to join the last rows together.

I love the idea of a denim quilt for outdoors. I don’t scruple to take my regular quilts outside; I made them for my kids and I would rather they use and enjoy them, even if it means the quilts occasionally get a little dirty or abraded. However, a denim quilt is durable, HEAVY (having trouble keeping the child in bed? Lay one of these puppies on top of him!) and only improves with washing and wear, so it’s a natural for more rough-and-tumble settings. We really enjoyed attending some of the free outdoor family movies shown in Farquhar Park this summer, and quilts always came with us.

Quilts @ Farquar Park

This one got to make its useful debut as a roll-around quilt for Finley as we ate our picnic lunch at Knoebel’s:

Finley Knoebel's

As to the actual construction of the quilt, I “deboned” the jeans, cutting each pair with dressmaker’s shears into two leg fronts and two leg backs by just cutting along the seam lines. I then removed the fly and the back pockets. (I had wanted to keep the pockets on the squares and thus have some blocks with usable pockets on the quilt, but the pockets on these jeans were too large and too close to the back yoke seam for that to work on this project. A future quilt made with different jeans, perhaps some of Ronan’s, will have pockets.) I then fed the resulting long denim pieces through the die cutter, only cutting one layer at a time since the fabric is so heavy. While cutting the squares individually and having to pull denim threads out of the die after each cut made this process much more time consuming than the typical die-cut project, it was still orders of magnitude faster than cutting all those fringes by hand. I was able to get 14 8.5″ squares (6.5″ finished due to the 1″ seam allowance), or 7 blocks, from each pair of jeans. Although there were plenty of oddly-shaped scraps that couldn’t be utilized for this project, I was also able to save 4 pieces (including the 2 back pockets) from each pair big enough to cut a 5.25″ rag square from once I purchase that die.

I was able to die cut the 6.5″ batting squares as well; this is a perfect project for using up those long odd leftover pieces of batting. I also cut 6 squares of the orange batik, and then  die cut the Funky Flower out of the corresponding denim squares for a raggy reverse applique. I used a cute primary variegated YLI Jeans Stitch I’d had for years for the quilting, simple X’s in the plain blocks and echo quilting around the flowers. I used the walking foot for the quilting, but I found I had to switch back to my regular foot for joining the blocks because I skipped too many stitches otherwise. All those layers of denim are no joke:  I even broke two #100 denim needles on this project.

The amount of lint when I washed it was ridiculous. I had heard that you should always clean the dryer lint filter mid-cycle when washing a flannel rag quilt. However, even pulling this one out of the washer involved handfuls of wet lint and a moment of panic that the whole quilt might have somehow disintegrated in the wash cycle.

denim lint

This is not even all of the denim lint.

Now to wrap this post up on an appropriately bizarre note, my sister Eleanore sent me the following text yesterday morning:

Text Screenshot

And some people think quilting is a boring hobby for mousy little homebodies. I like to think I’m keeping them guessing.


Entry filed under: New Projects. Tags: , , , .

I Got An AccuQuilt GO! Cutter! Did I Just Make A Modern Quilt?

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