How to Make an Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt Tutorial
How to Make an Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt
Is it time to upcycle that pile of old blue jeans you just can’t throw away? Learn how to make an easy blue jean rag quilt with this tutorial. These rag quilt instructions will detail how to cut, design and assemble your own denim rag quilt from old blue jeans. Learning how to make a rag quilt is not difficult. They are very easy to make. Once you understand the basic steps of creating a rag quilt, you’ll be able to make them quickly.
I’m always excited to share with other quilters about how I learned how to make rag quilts in my island quilt group. Alan, a local fireman, joined our quilting group one day with his sewing machine in hand. He was making a king size, plaid flannel rag quilt for his hunting cabin. It wasn’t his first! He said they were incredibly warm and so easy to make. We all loved the lesson and I’ve enjoyed making rag quilts ever since.
Download Your Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt Tutorial PDF
The Basic Steps to Make A Blue Jean Rag Quilt Without A Backing
A Blue Jean Rag Quilt Without A Backing
Yes, a rag quilt without a backing is exactly what I’m proposing. Here is perfect opportunity to upcycle your old blue jeans with a quick and easy project to make a blue jean rag quilt. Most of your time will be spent cutting up your old jeans. The lattice and borders add a nice touch, but for a quicker finish you may certainly choose not to add them. Once you start to sew, your quilt is already nearly completed. You will love the results and find so many uses for your new blue jean rag quilt.
First, you’ll cut lots of denim blocks from your old jeans. Then, and here’s the best part, you sew them together without any matching seams. What makes this the easiest rag quilt ever, is that there is only a single layer of fabric to work with. This is a great upcycle project that provides a memorable quilt for friends and family. They are comfy and soft making them perfect for wrapping yourself with to relax with a good book.
What Blue Jeans Make the Best Rag Quilt
You want 100% cotton denim for your blue jean rag quilt. This denim rag quilt is a compilation of the jeans my son wore as a teenager. We spent a fortune on these embroidered pocketed jeans over the years, and I wasn’t about to throw them away. Every pair had a story to share. Now when his son receives this quilt, he’ll get to relive some of those memories firsthand with his dad. Making a blue jean rag quilt is fun to design and will keep those memories alive for years to come.
Another note to share is about the blue, batik border fabric. When I lived in the Bahamas, I quilted with a lot of Androsia Batik Fabric. This is one of the few pieces I have left that I hadn’t used. It’s perfect for this memory quilt for my grandson. Not only are his dad’s jeans in here, but also his uncle’s and grandfather’s. Plus this great batik fabric that is so memorable to all of us after living there for many years.
A Blue Jean Rag Quilt With No Backing Required
Most rag quilts have two layers of fabric filled with batting. Since denim is heavy enough to hold up on its own it doesn’t require the extra weight. A blue jean rag quilt is plenty warm enough without batting and backing fabric. Additionally, the advantage to using old blue jeans to make your rag quilt is that the fabric is already worn to a nice soft touch. The end result is a soft, lightweight denim rag quilt that keeps the chill away.
Even better is the opportunity to make a lightweight quilt for warmer weather. Sometimes a light quilt on a cool evening under the stars is a perfect solution. Of course, there is the obvious need for a washable quilt. It is sturdy yet attractive and incredibly functional.
What a perfect wedding or anniversary gift for a loved one than a romantic picnic basket and a beautiful blue jean rag quilt. As with your favorite pair of blue jeans, a blue jean rag quilt will only get softer and more comfortable with age. It will become a cherished heirloom that will last for years.
Click to download your List of Interactive Rag Quilt Tips
How Many Pairs of Jeans Do You Need to Make A Quilt?
The number of jeans you need will vary on the size, style, and decade they were bought. Most of what I used are 10-12 years old, therefore much wider than blue jeans today. Your narrowest width will determine you maximize size block. Choosing to use rectangles vs squares in this quilt makes it much quicker and easier to cut and assemble because you’ll cut mostly from the legs. Using rectangles is also how I avoided matching seams.
See the picture above of how I precut my jeans. In order to get the longest lengths, I measured from the bottom of the hem towards the waist. Blue jeans are so varied in design, you should plan on having some extra on hand in case you run short. Also, there may be some tears or worn areas you need to cut around. This quilt took most of 10 pairs of jeans. The legs were primarily used and some of the back pockets. Each pair of jeans yielded eight rectangles, four from each leg.
Not to worry if you do not have a stack of old blue jeans to cut up. Denim is very affordable by the yard. There is also a beautiful assortment of denim prints that would make beautiful rag quilts. Choosing to purchase yardage will only save you more time! Without trimming off hems and cutting up leg seams, your quilt will be a spectacularly speedy finish.
What Size Is A Blue Jean Rag Quilt Block
Most rag quilts are commonly made with square blocks. This blue jean quilt is made with 6” x 12” rectangles to create a brick pattern which offsets where the seams are joined. Since denim can be heavy, offsetting the seams creates less bulk for a smoother quilt top. It’s also much easier not to worry about matching seams. Using a ½” seam allowance, each finished block measures 5”x 11”. Even better is that there are no seams to match which makes this a very quick project to sew. I may have already mentioned that!
How to Cut a Blue Jean Rag Quilt
There are multiple ideas about how to cut blue jeans for quilting. My method is for efficiency and waste-free results. Since I started quilting with denim, I’ve also tried lots of other projects from pillows, to other small projects including ornaments. Needless to say, I don’t throw anything away because there is use for every piece you cut!
Blue jean rag quilt blocks are cut from the largest fabric sections of old jeans, generally the legs. These quilts may or may not utilize all the design or decorative elements of a pair of blue jeans. You choose what you want to add to your quilt and personalize it to suit your needs.
Knowing that the block for this quilt measures 6” x 12”, the lengths of denim cut had to be at least 6” wide for that size block. That also means the length has to be in increments of 12” long. Fortunately these jeans all had long legs giving me the 24” needed for two rectangles end-to-end. Four rectangles measuring 6”x 12” were cut from each leg, for a total of 8 blocks per pair of jeans.
Since this is a quick and simple project, I didn’t include any fancy trimmings from the pockets or waist bands. Consider saving the zippers for pouches and pant tops for purses and pillows. There are all kinds of creative projects to create with the leftover bits and pieces of denim.
How Many Blocks to Cut for a Blue Jean Rag Quilt
This entire blue jean rag quilt is made with 72 rectangles. The first row is 6 blocks wide. For the second row, two blocks measuring 6”x 6 1/2” need to be cut plus 5 full size rectangle blocks. One square block is sewn to each end of the row which will offset those seams between the rows.. Now when rows 1 and 2 are sewn together, their seams are offset by 6”. As this is repeated throughout the quilt, creating a brick pattern.
In some rows, blocks with back pockets were used to add a bit of interest. These 6”x 6 1/2” blocks are cut with the pocket slightly off center. As size and design changes, pocket sizes will be different on various blue jean styles. See in the picture above how I cut the three pockets in the top row with the seam allowance included around the pocket. This allows the pocket block to have sides that fray. Otherwise the folded edge of the pockets will be along the outside edge, like the bottom pocket in the picture above, making it bulky with very little rag effect.
How to Design A Blue Jean Rag Quilt
Since this is a rag quilt, there is really no need to create a complicated design layout for such an informal quilt. You’ll see in the photo above, I laid out 12 stacks of blocks. There were fewer of the lightest and darkest
color denim which I attempted to spread evenly across the 12 piles for each row.
If you have a specific design layout for your blocks, be sure to take a picture to refer to. It seems that blocks tend to get mixed up despite your best efforts, and it’s not always easy to visualize where each block needs to be. A photo will save a lot of time.
Want to Learn More About Rag Quilts?
Be sure to sign up for my Free Rag Quilt eCourse. I’ll send you a daily email for a week that outlines everything you need to know about rag quilting. It’s a great way to learn some new & helpful rag quilt tips & techniques!
Download Your Easy Blue Jean Rag Quilt Tutorial PDF
How to Assemble a Blue Jean Rag Quilt Without A Backing
Rag Quilt Blocks Are Cut Larger
Remember that rag quilt blocks are cut a full inch larger than the finished size of the block. This allows for the ½” seam allowance on each side which makes the frayed edge. All seams for this quilt are ½” instead of the normal ¼” quilting seam allowance.
A Strong Needle Is Your Best Friend
Don’t try to sew a blue jean rag quilt without a good, strong sewing needle. You absolutely will need a size 16, which is often packaged as a denim needle. There are areas where multiple layers of denim need to be sewn through and a standard quilting needle just doesn’t have the strength.
Sew the Blocks Together into Rows
Starting with the first row, place two 6”x12” rectangles wrong sides together and sew a ½” seam along the 6” side. Have the first two blocks of the second row ready and chain stitch, continuing with a ½” seam allowance. There will be a 6”x 6 1/2” square on the bottom with a 6”x12” rectangle on top, wrong sides together. Continue sewing the first two blocks together, alternating in this manner, until 12 rows have been sewn.
What is Chain Stitching
Chain stitching is a quick method to complete a lot of repetitive sewing. Multiple pieces are sewn one right after the other without stopping to cut threads. This way you save time and don’t waste nearly as much thread. To chain stitch a stack of quilt blocks, sew your seam to join the first unit. Then without cutting your threads, feed the next sew to be sewn right behind the first. There will be about a 1/4″ to 1/2″ of exposed threads between the blocks which will be snipped after all the pieces are sewn.
When the first pairs of blocks have been sewn together for each row, only cut your threads and return to the top. Starting with the first two blocks you sewed together, add the third block, and continue until all 12 rows have three blocks. Repeat this until all 12 rows are completed. The first row will have six rectangles, and the 2nd row will have five rectangles with a 6”x6 1/2 ” square at each end. Do not cut your rows apart yet.
Sew Your Rows Together
Since all the rows are chain stitched together, they will be very easy to keep in order as they are sewn. Cut apart the first two rows. Place them wrong sides together and stitch the row together with a ½” seam from one side to the other. As you sew over seams, be sure to open them flat so there will not be too much bulk in those areas. Sew from one end to the other with wrong sides together. Continue sewing the rows together until all rows are attached.
Trimming Your Blue Jean Rag Quilt Edges
Once all the sewing in complete, it’s time to even up the edges. If a row or two is a bit longer, just give it a trim to match the rest. It’s not necessary to get too precise here as there will be lots of raveling to come.
How To Finish The Edges of Your Blue Jean Rag Quilt
Finishing Your Blue Jean Rag Quilt with A Border
When I make a quilt, I intend it to last a very long time and endure plenty of use and abuse. My recent rag quilts are always finished with a narrow border. The special rag quilts even get a ruffled rag quilt border!
A 2”-4” border is easy to add and will stabilize all those seams around the quilt edge. Since the threads have been cut close at the end of the seams, these are the weakest points on your new quilt. Adding a simple border around your whole quilt will reinforce these seams and hold everything together just a bit better.
Adding a border is quite easy on this quilt since it only has a single layer. Simply cut fabric strips the width you desire and to the length of your quilt edges.
Now sew a line of stitching ½” from the outer edge and stitch a second time over the same stitching line. Repeat for each border strip. This will be the outside edge and the stitching reinforces the border from excessive raveling. Attach the unsewn edge to you quilt with a 1/2″ seam, keeping wrong sides together.
Finishing A Blue Jean Rag Quilt Edge Without a Border
Once all the blocks are sewn together, your last step is to sew around the entire quilt ½” from the edge. Then sew around a 2nd time to keep the edges secure. That’s all the sewing there is.
Blue Jean Rag Quilting Requires Very Sharp Scissors
Now you need your sharpest pair of sharp scissors and a good movie or two because this next step will take a while. Along every seam, clip ¼” into the ½” seam allowance, approximately ½” apart, including the outside edges. Be sure not to cut into the seam allowance which will loosen where the blocks are attached. It’s a lot of clipping, but this is what will give you the frayed edge that gives the rag quilt its name.
After the first 30 minutes of clipping seams, my thumb was sore from rubbing against the scissors. My solution was to put on a latex glove and wrap my thumb on the outside with blue tape. It worked great and felt so much better! This photo also shows the pile of strings from the washer and the lint from the dryer. The couch also had its fair share of strings too!
Even better are these Rag Quilt Spring Snippers! If you are going to make more than a single rag quilt, you will love how much easier the clipping is with these snippers. I received them as a gift and keep them handy all the time. The spring provides the tension to release the blades as you cut. That means your hand isn’t doing all that work. The difference is amazing!
The Final Touch to Your Blue Jean Rag Quilt
Now let your washing machine do the rest of the hard work for you. Run your finished quilt through a complete cycle with a good long rinse. I usually run a second rinse cycle just to clean off more loose threads. The agitation of the cycles will loosen the cut threads causing them to slip out.
Next give it a toss in the dryer to collect all those threads in the lint trap. After 20 min, clean out the lint trap because it’ll fill up fast. Then finish your drying cycle. When dry, take it out, give it a hard shake, and trim any knots of threads that may have developed along the seams. You now have a beautiful blue jean rag quilt for snuggling. Watch out though, everyone else will want one too! I even had a few extra pieces to make this denim tote bag.
Hi Lea Louise!
I found your tutorial and am trying my hand at a denim quilt using rectangles in the bricks pattern. I don’t want to do a day quilt and will be repurposing a duvet cover for the backing. So my question is : Do I use 1/4″ or 1 /2″ seam allowance when sewing? I’m ready to start cutting out my blocks from my son’s old jeans stash.
Thanks for the inspiration and the great video on how to “harvest” the jeans!
Lea Louise says
Ordinarily I’d say 1/4″ seams, Susan. But if the denim is heavy I’d use 1/2″. A heavy denim from some jeans will put a lot of pressure on your seams. The wider seam allowance will provide more support. Happy Quilting,
Bonnie Morse says
I loved your directions. Very Clear! I have had t-shirt logos with fusible interfacing then old jean pieces, then rag them together…like a puzzle. My most popular is jean squares, with cotton fabric squares on back then rag them together 4 squares across & 7 squares down…just right for top of single bed or your recliner!
Lea Louise says
You’re right Bonnie, mixing denim with other fabrics can make a very fun quilt. I’m glad you enjoyed this pattern.
Is it possible to use denim that has some stretch in it as most of today’s jeans have .
Lea Louise says
Patricia, I have actually mixed both types of denim together and they’ve worked out well. Whether one may wear more than the other may show up over time. But for now, it works fine for me.
Dot Buch says
I just finished a rag quilt and please permit me to suggest you use a ‘walking foot’ attachment on your sewing machine (I bought my from Amazon). Really made the sewing so much easier! Also, I bit the bullet and bought a pair of special scissors designed to trim the edges (rag) your quilt. They were a lifesaver to me. They have a SPRING that takes the pressure off as you cut your seams as you ‘rag’ your quilt…. your directions are very concise..thanks.
Lea Louise says
You are absolutely correct Dot! That information is included in ‘How to Make a Flannel Strip Rag Quilt’ and I will definitely update this post with the same information!
So glad you completed your quilt!
Beautiful! I’m planning on this to be my next project & Christmas gift! I can’t wait.
Lea Louise says
That’s wonderful Marcy! I’m excited you found some quilting inspiration, not to mention what a great gift it’ll make.
Have fun and enjoy quilitng,
DO YOU USE HEAVIER THREAD AS WELL?
Lea Louise says
My go-to piecing threads are the large spools of 30wt cotton in various neutral colors. Gone are the days of matching threads to piece blocks together. I haven’t seen the need to use a heavier thread for jean quilts and there’s never been a problem. Every new quilt I begin starts with a new needle and for jean quilts that’s always a size 16. The larger needle may reduce some stress on the thread by making a larger hole, but that’s just supposition on my part. I hope you have an opportunity to make a jean quilt as they are fun and easy to complete. Especially this one! With no backing, there’s no quilting either. So once it’s all pieced you’re finished.