“Denim Picnic Quilt”

“Denim Picnic Quilt”
72” x 72”
(Project #2, 2011)
Make 25 “Denim Picnic Blocks” using the
TQG June 2011 BOM pattern.
Cut an additional 20 assorted 1½” x 6”
sashing strips and 21 red 1½” squares.
Cut 8 strips of border fabric 3½” x WOF.
(Each 13½” unfinished block has its top
and right hand edges
sashed, and the other
two edges are left
Keep all the blocks in this position as you
arrange them in rows, with the sashed
edges at the top and right.
Use a full ¼” seam; don’t skimp. Press
seams toward sashing strips. Sew the blocks together into 5 rows of 5 blocks each. Pinning is
helpful, especially where both seams are pressed in the same direction. (This is sometimes the best
solution, so denim edges can be kept flat to reduce bulk in the seams.)
Sew a red square to each of the 20 additional sashing strips. Sew together in pairs, sashing strips
alternating with red squares. Add one pair of these to the left hand end of each row of blocks (red
square at the top corner). Press toward sashing. Sew the remaining 5 pairs together and add the
last red square to the end, to make a long row of strips and squares beginning and ending with a red
square. Pin, then sew the sashing row onto the lower edge of the bottom row of blocks. The sashing
is now complete. Sew the rows together. Press top, pressing the row seams toward the sashing.
Borders: First, measure length of quilt down the center, from top edge to bottom edge, and cut 2
border strips that measurement (piecing as needed). Pin them to the left and right sides of the quilt,
right sides together, and stitch. Press seam allowances toward borders.
Next, measure width of top across the middle, from side to side, including the 2 borders you just
added. Cut 2 border strips that measurement and add them to top and bottom edges of quilt. Press.
Piece backing fabric (scrappy is fine) to measure about 76” x 76” and cut a piece of thin polyester
batting that size, also. The batting will fill the sashing area and help hide the bulky seam allowances.
(Cotton batting could also be used but it adds more weight to an already heavy quilt, and may not fill
out the sashing quite as well.)
Pin-baste the 3 layers together with safety pins and stitch in the ditch along all seams with the walking
foot. This should be all the quilting needed for blocks this size. Trim off excess batting and backing.
Cut binding strips 2½” wide, and piece together to make at least 300”. Fold in half lengthwise and
press. Apply binding to quilt edge as usual, except sew it to the back of the quilt first (use a generous
¼”), then fold binding over to the front and stitch down by machine. (It’s hard to hand stitch through
denim, and the machine stitching will be more durable anyway, for a quilt that may get washed a lot.)
Many thanks to TQG member Pat Honea for sharing her ideas for making denim quilts. Pat has
made 17 quilts so far from her family’s recycled jeans!
Tips for working with recycled denim:
Make sure old jeans are clean. Even then, if you remove any pockets, rip seams, etc., additional grooming
may be needed. Use masking tape, lint roller or brush to clean off lint, dust and loose threads before taking
pieces to the sewing machine—lint and grit can damage the machine.
Cut jeans apart at the inseams and cut off hems, zippers, and other bulky parts before you cut your squares,
so you can lay your ruler flat on the usable areas. If necessary, press out wrinkles. A 6” square ruler works
well to rotary cut the squares. Avoid using stained or very worn areas.
If you have the patience, you can use a sharp seam ripper or scissors to selectively remove stitching. Look for
ways to utilize natural fading and wear as “design elements”—for example, the unfaded area under a pocket
has the pocket shape without the bulk, and can be cut into a usable square, while the pocket itself may be too
large to use on one square. The removed pocket can, however, be sewn onto a full block, overlapping some
of the sashing. A pocket can either be left open so it can be used, or stitched down all the way around
(carefully avoiding any metal rivets, of course). Cut squares on the straight of grain to minimize stretching.
Resist the urge to pull away loose denim threads on the edges of your cut squares—snip them off instead, to
avoid raveling away your seam allowances.
When sewing denim, don’t skimp on the seam allowance—you need the full quarter inch, so the seams won’t
pull out. Stitching in the ditch is a good method of quilting a denim quilt of this type, as it strengthens the
denim at the seams.
Raw edge appliques fringe nicely when the quilt is washed, giving the feeling of a much loved, well worn pair of
old jeans. Cut out freehand shapes such as hearts or very simple flowers, squares, circles, etc from your
denim scraps (recycled or new). They don’t need to be perfect because the edges are going to fray anyway.
Pin the cut shape(s) onto a contrasting background square, and stitch ¼” to ½” inside the raw edges of the
shape. Then snip the edges of the shape about every ¼”. Snip with the grain of the fabric as much as
possible, for maximum fringe (bias snips make skimpier fringe). Use pieces of masking tape to briskly rub the
snipped edges, fluffing up the fringe and removing excess bits of thread. Be careful not to rub the cut edges of
your background square, or they will fray too!
In case you would like to wash your appliqued blocks to fringe them fully before sewing them into the quilt,
initially cut the background squares a little larger and zigzag or serge their edges so they won’t fringe in the
wash, too. After washing, carefully trim the squares to size—but be warned, it’s harder to do this after the
appliques are on, because the ruler doesn’t lay flat on top of them.
Try cutting out a circle in the center of a denim flower shape, then slide a piece of bright cotton fabric under the
hole, making it at least an inch or two bigger than the hole. Place the flower with its center onto the
background square and pin in place, making sure the center has not slipped. Stitch around the circle about ¼”
to ½” from the raw edge. Then trim off any of the center fabric that comes within a half inch of the outer edge
of the flower, so it won’t show after fringing. Stitch around the flower shape, snip the raw edges, and brush
them with a piece of tape. These are fun—don’t be surprised if you want to make more! You can use this
reverse applique technique with any simple shape.
When appliqueing raw edge shapes onto the denim squares, you could use gold topstitch or jeans thread for
an authentic look; or try any color you like. Jeans thread usually needs a larger needle. Try a #90 jeans
needle, which can also be used with regular weight thread for the rest of the quilt construction. If your
decorative thread is heavy, you might need to lengthen the stitch as well. Some decorative stitches, such as
blanket stitch or feather stitch, may work on denim, while others may be too dense to stitch smoothly. Try out
a new thread and fabric combination on similar scraps to find the best stitch length and width. Check stitching
on both sides, and adjust tension if necessary to get the best looking stitch.
For a picnic quilt, use a smooth, regular weight cotton fabric for the back. Batik, for example, is durable and
tightly woven, shedding twigs, leaves etc. Flannel is not so good, as it picks up loose debris from the ground.
Flannel is nice for a dorm quilt, though. How about making a matching stuff sack or pillow case for your quilt?