modern denim quilt

Hey, I won! So You Think You’re Crafty finished last week, and I won – but just barely! I was only two votes ahead in the final tally, so it really was anyone’s game. Anyhow, my final project was this:

The Modern Denim Quilt (tutorial follows!)

I love this updated take on a jeans quilt! Ombre denim strips with straight line machine quitting - easy enough for a beginner! Simple sewing tutorial.


I’ve been planning to make a denim quilt for a while now, but I wanted to put a modern spin on it. Instead of denim square I used strips, and instead of mixing up the colors all over the quilt I arranged the quilt in a light to dark denim ombre, which I really love. One of my friends told me it reminds her of the ocean, which I thought was pretty cool!

The quilt is large enough to be used on a twin bed, but I think we’ll use it more often for snuggling together downstairs on cold winter nights, or taking on picnics and camping trips.

The front of the quilt is made from garage sale jeans – I made sure to purchase some light, medium, and dark colored jeans so I could get a pretty color effect.

The quilt is backed in amazingly soft purple quilting flannel (for purple week!) and bound in a warm gold flannel. I love the gold, so I included a patch of it on the back for another modern touch – color blocking!

The final modern touch is the quilting itself – instead of tying the quilt with yarn like you often see on denim quilts, I used my machine to straigt stitch quilt in diagonal rows. The rows are about an inch apart, which means there were over 150 rows to sew – I spent about six hours on the quilting step alone (which was alot since I did I made the entire quilt in a few days – but if you had a little longer to work on one it would be totally doable!) I went through about 600 yards of white thread, and I love the contrast and texture the diagonal lines provide.

Note: I didn’t use any batting in between layers because the denim and flannel together were already heavy and warm enough – I didn’t want the quilt so thick that we’d never use it. Leaving out the batting allowed me to straight stitch quilt the entire thing on my regular old sewing machine – so I didn’t have to worry about renting time on a long arm machine or paying someone else to quilt it for me. (BTW, this is my sweet neighbor modeling the quilt for me 🙂

I made the quilt in four days, finishing it up as the first snow of the season started to fall. Want to make one yourself? Here are the basics:

1. Gather denim. I purchased all my denim at three different garage sales the morning I wanted to start making the quilt. Garage sales are the best place to get denim cheap! If you want to make an ombre quilt you need to pay attention to the color of the jeans you are buying – be sure to get some that is quite dark, some that’s medium colored, and some that’s lighter. I kept all the denim I had bought in hand as I was looking for more, to make sure the colors all looked like they’d go well together. I only purchased adult jeans because I wanted strips the were a full 6 inches wide. Also, pay attention to how distressed the jeans are – if the dark jeans you buy all have really light areas in the bum/knees you’ll have to end up cutting some of those out. I think I purchased about 18 pairs of jeans and had at least three or four more than I needed. I got all my jeans for $1 or less per pair.

2. Wash and cut. I would not recommend trying this without a rotary cutter and large ruler, as you see below. You certainly could do it, but it would take lots longer! I just sliced the legs off the jeans right at the crotch then used my ruler and rotary cutter to cut them into 6 in wide strips. I discared the knees of many of my jeans because they were stretched out and light – but that’s ok, because you end up with strips of different lengths, which is what you’re looking for.

As I cut up jeans, I placed them into one of four piles based on color, and I tried to keep the piles fairly even. NOTE: I actually decided I didn’t have denim that was quite light enough, so I used RIT Color Remover (discussed here) to lighten up a few strips for the lightest row in my quilt.

3. Lay out strips, then sew together. When I felt like I had lots of strips I laid them out on the ground and moved pieces around until I liked how they looked (making sure each row could be about 64 inches wide, and adding rows until I had nearly 88 inches in length – I ended up with 17 rows). I tried to make sure that the vertical seams connecting each strip WOULD NOT line up from row to row. When I liked how it looked, I went ahead and sewed the strips together into rows, using 1/2 seam allowance and pressing the seams open. Save yourself a headache and use a denim or heavyweight needle.

4. Sew each row together, then press all the seams open.

5. Place quilt top on backing fabric, wrong sides together, and baste securely. Sorry, I guess I didn’t take a picture of this step. I used 4.5 yards of nice flannel (washed first!) and sewed it together to get a rectangle just a little larger than my quilt top. I spread the backing down on the floor and smoothed it out as well as I could. I rolled the quilt top up into a log, then carefully unrolled it onto the backing, again smoothing as much as possible. Then I hand basted the two layers together (you could safety pin together if you’d like) so they wouldn’t move around once I started quilting. NOTE: I did not use batting between the two layers because I figured the quilt would be plenty heavy and warm as is. I was right.

6. Machine quilt! I figured out where I wanted my first row of diagonal stitching to go and marked it with masking tape. Then I rolled up the portion of the quilt to the right of the masking tape into a log, moved it over to my sewing machine, and used a straight stitch with a fairly long stitch length, following the masking tape. (This is a great tutorial for straight stitch quilting – it recommends both a walking foot and grippy quilting gloves – I didn’t use either, but I think I may invest in both before I make another quilt!)

Here’s a closer view of the presser foot, right next to the masking tape. The masking tape really helped me keep my quilting rows nice and straight (or at least straight enough!)

When I finished a row I’d move the masking tape over, lining it up with my row of stitching, then go back to the machine to quilt another row. I put my machine in the middle of my large dining room table, which made the quilting process much simpler because there was somewhere for the heavy quilt to rest as I sewed the rows. I was sewing like crazy trying to get this quilt done in time.

7. Square off the quilt. I don’t know the best way to do this, and I’ll admit that my quilt didn’t end up completely even, but this is what I did after quilting to trim all the edges. I spread out the quilt on the ground again, then measured and marked an even rectangle using string that I taped to the floor. I slid my cutting mat under the edge of the quilt and used my rotary cutter and ruler to trim the edges even with the string.

You can see the string a bit better here.

8. Bind the quilt. I used this tutorial for adding binding in a soft gold flannel (prewashed!). The tutorial has a pretty slick method for making nice mitered corners. I probably would have asked my mother-in-law to bind the quilt by hand for me if I hadn’t been in the competition, but since I was in a time crunch and have a little carpal tunnel so I can’t hand sew much I went ahead and used my machine to bind it. It’s not quite as pretty as hand bound, where you can’t see any stitches, but it looks pretty good. A few tips – use bobbin thread that matches the quilt backing so it will be less visible. This meant I used gold thread on top and purple thread in the bobbin UNTIL I got to the gold patch on the back, and then I switched to gold bobbin thread as well. (Ok, I forgot to do this and had to unpick a bunch of purple thread from the gold patch and then re-sew, but oh well.) I also had to lower my tension quite a bit so the binding didn’t bunch up as I sewed.

My son took about a hundred pictures of me hard at work finishing things up:

This one’s my fave:

I think I’d just realized I’d messed up and sewed with purple thread on the gold patch…

linked at I Heart Naptime


  1. 1

    Heidi says

    I saw you won, I was going to call and congratulate you, but there have been way too many things going on over here. Love the quilt, I might have to do my next one similar. hope all is well.

  2. 2

    jzzy55 says

    I like this but I think you owe a shout out to the quilters of Gee’s Bend. Those ladies do not get the credit they deserve for inspiring so many designers. You may not even be aware of it. That happens. Thanks for thinking about what I’ve said here.

    • 3

      KelliE says

      Wow! The Gee’s Bend quilts are beautiful. If Matisse got into textiles it would look something like this. They’re not perfectly square but who cares? They don’t need to be. I was worried my quilt would turn out squint and my patches not cut exactly but I guess that’s part of the charm of homemade, if I wanted perfect I’d go buy one.
      Here is another link for a denim strip quilt

  3. 4

    autumn says

    I’ve never heard of Gee’s Bend quilters – I’m not actually very familiar with the quilting world. I’ll google them, though – thanks!

  4. 5

    Denise says

    I love this quilt so much!!! I’ve been saving my hubby’s blown out jeans for years waiting for the right idea, and I think you’ve provided it 🙂 Not sure when I’ll get to make it, but I’ll be saving this page.
    p/s I’d love to know about the photo wall behind you too. It looks like fabric covering something & I love the way the photos are collaged together.

  5. 6

    Snowcatcher says

    You did such a marvelous job on this. I have been collecting denim for years; too good a fabric to throw out just because the knees and rump get thin! I had some ideas about using light to dark to create a design, and your quilt is sort of like seeing the ideas in my head in motion. The tutorial gives so many great tips about working with denim. Congrats! I hope you and your family enjoy this quilt for many years!

  6. 7

    Mimi says

    Your quilt is awesome! You have so inspired me to make a denim quilt. I have a whole truck load of them in the attic that people have given me.

  7. 8

    Rachael Rabbit says

    This is so gorgeous and combines two of my favorite things – recycling and quilting! I’ll be saving all our old jeans now. …..

  8. 9

    Susan says

    Are you serious? This quilt is the MOST gorgeous quilt I have ever seen? I love when denim is re-purposed–but when it doesn’t look like actual jeans and you totally nailed it! Beyond amazing!

  9. 10

    melissa says

    i don’t think you owe anyone a shout out….this is a great quilt that you made yourself! i cannot imagine trying to sew through that heavy denim. good for you!

  10. 13

    Bk Rees says

    LOVE your quilt!! I have made one denim quilt with crazy blocks, took very long time! I like yours way better and plan on making one just like yours! OK?

  11. 15

    Cheri George says

    I hope you saved the top part of some of the jeans. You can line them and make the cutest purses. Your quilt is gorgeous!!

  12. 17

    Sally Vangeison says

    What a great quilt. I used half garage sale and half of my husbands old jeans. It was a fun project and the top came together so easily. Used the leftovers and made wonky log cabins (of course I need to add more old jeans to finish it off.

    I have never quilted before and am really struggling with that part. Any suggestions. Thanks in advance

  13. 18


    This is so great! The very first quilt I made was a denim blue jean quilt. I used batting, and it really does add a bunch of extra weight! I love the ombre effect of yours 🙂

  14. 19

    Temple says

    I’m working on a ombre quilt similar to the one highlighted on your blog. Was hoping for some direction on the flannel backing. Did you use several pieces or were you able to find yardage large enough to complete the project. Any idea where I could purchase flannel in large yard. Thanks


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