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 that 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.
The Basic Steps to Make 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 in to relax with a good book.
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.
No Backing Required
Most rag quilts have two layers of fabric filled with batting. Denim is heavy enough to hold up on its own and 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.
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 mostly cut from the legs.
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.
What Size is a Rag Quilt Block?
Most blue jean rag quilts are commonly made with square blocks. This 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. Using a ½” seam allowance, each finished block measures 5”x11”. Even better is that there are no seams to match which makes this a very quick project to sew.
How to Cut a Blue Jean Rag Quilt
Blue jean rag quilt squares 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.
Knowing that the block measures 6” x 12”, the lengths cut had to be at least 6” wide. That also means the length has to be in increments of 12” long. Four rectangles measuring 6”x12” 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.
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, one full size block is cut in half to yield two blocks measuring 6”x6”. One square block is sewn to each end of the row. Now when rows 1 and 2 are sewn together, their seams are offset by 6” inches. As this is repeated throughout the quilt, it creates a brick pattern.
In some rows, blocks with back pockets were used to add a bit of interest. These 6”x6” 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, 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 a very 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.
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 visual where each block needs to be. A photo will save a lot of time.
How to Sew a Blue Jean Rag Quilt Together
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”x6” 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.
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” square at each end. Do not cut 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 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.
Finishing Your 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. 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 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.
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 edge. 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!
The Final Touch
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. The agitation of the cycles will loosen the threads which will slip out. Next give it a toss in the dryer to collect all those threads in the lint trap. 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 a tote bag. Photos will follow later this week.