So I am starting a new denim quilt. It seems like a good time to talk about working with denim in quiltmaking. The first few were sampler quilts. I actually used denim to do some triangles, and very detailed blocks. I was experimenting with learning to put together blocks and measuring, sizing and sewing different shapes. The last quilt I finished for my son was a denim top. I am working on a cathedral windows quilt and a leader ender quilt.
Why work with denim?
I have many reasons to work with denim. It is plentiful. Without any effort, about every three years I have enough worn out jeans to make a twin size quilt. And I hardly ever wear jeans myself! And, any jeans that don’t have holes in them, I usually pass to good will. Even if part of the fabric is worn or has holes there is usually plenty of sturdy fabric left.
Denim is very sturdy and strong. It is usually dyed with indigo, which has a unique way of fading. Through wear, it fades unevenly. I love that unevenness, and the way that no two pieces are the same even from the same jeans. The front and back of the fabric is often different shades also, and can be used equally as well.
Jeans have detailing that is really fun to recycle. One of my favorite kinde of blocks is jean pocket blocks. I always think they are good places to put secret wishes. Jeans sometimes have embroidered labels that are fun to include in blocks.
When I make a denim quilt it is very heavy and warm. I love quilts that have heft in the wintertime, I find them very comforting.
Drawbacks to denim
Many of the same reasons I love denim are the same reasons it is hard to work with. The heaviness of the fabric can be difficult for a sewing machine to deal with. This becomes especially true when crossing seams. My Bernina comes with this nifty little tool, but you could also use some folded cardboard. In essense, the tool is placed behind the presser foot to level the presser foot when going over several layers. I demonstrate its use in my video, How to Narrow Jeans.
It is difficult to get perfectly accurate corners with denim. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they don’t. This is part because of the thickness, and part because denim is stretchy. That’s why people love to wear it, because over time it melds to the shape of your body. New denim is awful, but jeans you have had forever fit like second skin. Also, much modern denim has Lycra or Spandex in it to make it form fitting. You can somewhat avoid this by checking the labels of the jeans you use. If there are no labels, or you are buying denim in a thrift store, men’s denim tends to have less Lycra than women’s, and jeans meant for teenagers more Lycra than jeans meant for adults. Simple patterns work best with denim because of this stretching.
One of the things that makes denim great: it’s heft, can make it hard to quilt. That’s why my last denim quilt I used polar fleece for the backing. Because I used polar fleece, it required very little quilting. I did a combination of machine quilting, tying and hand quilting with very coarse thread. Quilting as you go is also an option.