I had the general idea for this quilt in my head for a long, long time. Nate used to wear through blue jeans quickly at his last job where he did a lot of forestry field work. These jeans were paint-splattered with tiny rips from blackberry bushes and briars. When the knees would inevitably rip completely, he had to retire them.
The jeans accumulated quickly. All but the knees were still useful. I tried once to make denim patches from the back legs of one old pair to sew onto the front of a newer pair in order to help the knees last longer. It didn’t work out, though, and the jeans kept stacking up.
An 18-gallon plastic tote nearly full of old blue jeans was moved to our new house. The idea for the quilt tumbled in my brain. The jeans waited. The work of cutting up those pants, sewing the thick layers together, doing the arithmetic for it all loomed over me.
Started – February 19
Completed – July 22
Duration – 153 days = 21.9 weeks
For my own reflection, a timeline…
On February 19th, I finally sat down with a pen and made a plan. I measured the width of the pant leg just above the bottom hem, the narrowest place — 6.5″ with 1/8″ play on either side. Perfect; I have a 6.5″ square ruler.
How big should this quilt be? Would it be a picnicking blanket? A crib quilt? No. We have a son, and it would be perfect for him, so it needed to be twin-sized, about 72″ by 96″. That would fit him from little toddler-boy-size up to grown-up-man-size.
This denim fabric would be bulky — how well would my machine handle it? What’s the simplest quilt block I could make? Four-patch blocks.
How should I assemble them? Well, if I sewed four-patch blocks into bigger four-patch blocks, and then those sixteen-patch blocks into strips… that would be 3 strips of 4 sixteen-patch blocks… I would need 192 6.5″ fabric squares in total. Wow, okay then.
That day, Nate helped me begin cutting apart the jeans along the inseam so that they would lay flatter. That same day, I cut the first 30 6.5″ squares.
By April 3rd (6 weeks later), I had cut as many 6.5″ squares as I could. I didn’t count the number of blue jeans I used — I would guess it was a dozen pair. I ended with 151 denim squares, plus 15 special cuts from the waistline, side seam, pocket, or ripped knees. I determined, then, that I would use 150 of the plain denim squares, the best 12 of the special cuts, and 30 flannel squares for the quilt top. I needed to assemble 6 four-patch blocks of all denim and 42 four-patch blocks consisting of 1 flannel square and 3 denim squares. I would mix in the special cuts into those 42 blocks.
Then I considered how I would back this large, heavy quilt. As I complained to Nate one day over the idea of buying enough flannel to back the quilt, he asked if I had any old sheets large enough to use as the backing. Brilliant!
The cut squares hibernated for 14 long weeks, during which time I birthed our third child and made a quick recovery. On July 10th, I finally remembered to buy flannel to finish the quilt top. And lucky me! I found flannel on sale, marked down 75%. I bought 1.5 yards and cut 42 squares.
I worked quickly, and on July 12th, I had all of the four-patch blocks sewn. I laid them out on our bed in a very orderly way, I thought. Nate liked it. I liked it. So I stacked up the blocks in order and went to bed (I worked late into the evening!).
I began assembling the four-patch blocks into sixteen-patch blocks the next day, and by the 17th (just 5 days later), I had the quilt top completed. I layered cotton/polyester blend twin-sized batting under the top and chose an old set of queen-sized sheets I never use for the back. The top over hung the batting on two sides by an inch or two and barely fit on the flat sheet. But it would do. I pin-basted it and began tying it in the center of every other block with 3 strands of black embroidery thread.
The next day (the 18th), I had finished the tying. I trimmed the excess backing and researched quilt bindings. I wanted a 1/2″ finished edge of double-fold binding around this quilt, but did not want to drive to town for pre-made binding tape. So I cut 3.25″-wide strips from the matching fitted sheet, pressed those in half lengthwise, stitched them together on the bias into one long strip, and stitched it onto the front of the quilt. I had to use the walking foot on my machine and work very, very slowly, especially over the bulkier denim seams. I knew machine-stitching the binding to the back of the quilt would be faster, but not as neat, so I decided to hand-stitch it.
I finished hand-stitching the binding on July 22nd. The quilt ended at 70″ by 95″, pretty close to the size I intended. I’m happy with it. JB is very, very happy with it.
improvised by me
This quilt design was born out of practicality, chosen for the speed I could stitch it, but I adore its simplicity. It’s perfect for a small boy, and will still be perfect for a large man.
There is something heart-warming about it — we cannot count the value of those jeans. How many miles were hiked in them? How much sweat did they absorb? How many chiggers crept through them? How many gallons of tree paint were laid onto trees, splattering across those pants? Which patches came from jeans that sat on a log while a man ate a small lunch and drank a bottle of water in the throbbing heat of the day before dragging himself up and on once more?
And now, how many hours of sleep will those jeans cover? How many sick days on couch? How many tears of boyhood sadness and teenage angst will they absorb? How many times will those pockets be filled with matchbox cars when I tuck a little boy into bed, kiss his forehead, tell him I love him, and say goodnight?
Miles to midnight slumber. Briars to bedtime prayers. Heat to winter warmth. A piece of my heart worked in those jeans. And now a piece of my heart will sleep beneath them.
the colors, the size, everything about it is perfect
paint, dirt, and other woods stuffs
I love that I was able to get this pocket into it!
probably my favorite square because it shows the jean size ❤
it fits nicely on a small single bed, but would also cover the top plus a bit on a double