Quilt of Many Colors

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Vintage DenimHello Friends of First Friday!  It’s TJ from Studio Mailbox here to share with you where I’m at on my denim quilt project.  Thanks to everybody who piped up and took the time to comment on this project sew far.  *cymbal crash*

Now that I’m finally working through my hoarded stash I have quickly realized a few key things:

1) Some of this stuff is O-L-D (can you say acid wash?)

2) Some of this stuff is from cool brands (Helllllooo Gloria Vanderbilt, Brittania and Hunt Club)!  Dudes I’ve just got to figure out how to use some of these pockets…vintage denim

3) Some of this stuff is pretty grubby or holey. I’m thinking yes to the pieces with patched holes and no to the dirty denim.  Then I second guess myself and imagine how cool a quilt would be with paint splattered or stained denim.  It would almost be an insurance policy for when somebody eventually spills on it – there would be no reason to get upset, because it’s already stained.  35% of me is convinced this is actually my genius at work.


Pinstripe denim4) Some of this stuff is not classic denim blue.  I’ve got grays, camo, a rusty red, a hunter green and some weirdly intense blue skirt that I’m pretty sure went through some kind of special dyeing process.  One pair of “jeans” are actually more like pinstripe parachute pants with elastic bottoms if you can believe it.  I’ve slept on it a few weeks now and have decided that I’m probably not going to include any of the colorful denim.  Then I wake up and think how mod it would be to have a completely blue quilt with ONE red square set in it as if I’m super hip and hadn’t noticed.

I am struggling to narrow down what I really need.  The good news is that a TSL reader named Terri piped up in my first post and reassured me that I have MORE than enough to make a quilt.  For some reason I was really worried that I might be stuck begging friends for old jeans which would throw a wrench in things.  It’s good to know I have room to be selective now that it’s time to pick colors.

I have always loved the quilts that are cleverly pieced together from lightest to darkest shades.  Is there a special sewing term for that? I want to say variegated but I know that’s wrong.  Maybe it’s ‘hombre.’  That’s what I’m calling it!  Hombre.  I’m going to make an hombre quilt!

So far I’ve sorted piles by shade.  It reminds me of a time I did a huge project with my art teacher friend Anita.   We sat down with hundreds of mosaic tiles and sorted them into bottles.  We spent HOURS and had tons of fun with the transition tiles that could be thrown into either the blue OR the green bottle, the ones that could be either yellow OR brown, etc.  Those in-betweeners really challenged us.  Now it’s happening all over again because as I made a pile of ‘darks’  I quickly realized that some of my black/grays are lighter than some of my dark blues.  This throws me into some kind of hue value mental spiral.  How can this be? Scientists who sew probably can’t even explain it so I guess I’m just going to have to work through it.

colorful denimI’m pretty sure I’m going to ditch the rusty red, green, pinstripe and camo pieces.  I think I’ll stay open to including the gray and maybe even the acid wash jeans! Then again, that could be a mistake.  There’s an old blue/white pinstripe in there too but those have already been cut up using that crumpled template you see in the disintegrating plastic shopping bag.  Wow I bet those are accurate hey?  Hmm. Do you think maybe it’s time to upgrade to a proper heavy plastic quilting template?  Do you want to know something really funny?  A dirty admission? When I started this project I don’t think there were any such thing as plexiglass templates because they weren’t invented yet.  Let that sink in.  It was normal to have to make your own templates!  Sheesh, maybe there is a payoff for taking my sweet time with this quilt. Who knew… just give it a few decades and they’ll invent all kinds of neat new stuff (as I throw my head back with evil laugh).


The majority of what’s on hand is mid-tone blue.  I’ve got a little light denim and a little more dark denim.  I’ve started an inspiring denim board on Pinterest AND just in case I was wrong about the pairs I tried on when I first unpacked the boxes, I tried a few more on again… Seriously.  What is wrong with me?

Next month I promise I will actually cut something up.  GULP.  But first be sure and let me know what you think… would you include the crazy colors?  Part of me likes the camo!  Would you stick to one shade of blue or mix it up?  Would you go random or intentional with the colors you’d include?  What about the denim with holes or patches?  Yay or Nay?  Am I just making this way harder than it has to be?  Does this even matter?  Give me your .02.  And I promise to report back in a mere 4 weeks with some progress.  Until then, keep pushing those feed dogs forward!

TJ from Studio MailboxTJ Goerlitz is a mixed media artist who pretends to be a seamstress whenever possible.  Come connect with her on her site, Studio Mailbox, her Facebook page, or in Pinterest.  Join in the story of the denim quilt every first Friday of the month where she will share her progress (or non-progress) right here with the readers of The Sewing Loft.


TJ @ StudioMailbox
Tari “TJ” Goerlitz is an artist who has spent the majority of the last decade living and working in Europe. Since her relocation to the United States you can usually find her at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts where she explores Letterpress printing as the latest component to her mixed media work which is a fusion of photography, printing, sewing and journaling. Connect with TJ while she shares her creative journey online at Studio Mailbox. www.studiomailbox.com
TJ @ StudioMailbox

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  1. Hello TJ, pockets are for quilts too…. They hold lipgloss, tissues, sunblock, treat bags, juiceboxes…..Or just make the quilt from various sized pieces,,,ragged is the best look for jean quilts,,,Save the pockets and make a fun little purse or use them as holders…like the shoe closets you can buy, I have one at the door for keys, sunglasses, things in your pockets end up in pockets…. One in laundry room marked with names so if someting found in washer, put into last persons pocket, and of course have one by my sewing machine, holds, seam rippers, taylors chalk, bobbins, thread, measure tape..fill one with stuffing for a pincushion, so many things…can even make pot holders from pockets….sooo much fun to recycle jeans…………

  2. I have a quilt project just like yours! Started it several decades ago! I never even chose a pattern! I cut out large and small squares. (I had only planned to use the large squares, but it was killing me to waste all that extra denim, so I started cutting small squares, as well.) I had to start cutting! The jeans were taking up so much room!

    Here’s what I decided for my quilt: only blue denim; no colors; no stained, dirty, or holy denim. No pockets. But then I began to rethink the pocket idea & later wondered if I made a mistake. I’m using light and dark denim. Since it was taking so long to cut up the squares, and I had so many pairs of jeans, I finally decided to just cut all the junk off the jeans and saved the largest portions of fabric and got rid of the junk!

    I think you should definitely use the blue pinstripe, because even if you do a mono chromatic color scheme, it will really add some pizzazz to your quilt! 🙂

    As for the colors, you could always make another quilt out of the colors if you wanted to keep your first quilt mono chromatic. As for the pockets: big decision. I still haven’t decided on mine. This is my someday project and I highly doubt I will get to it anytime soon.

    I bought red flannel to use as backing, and decided to make one of those “rag quilts”, where you sew the squares of the backing and the front together with the seams on the front of the quilt, and then let them fray in the washing machine. Then the red will peek out in the seams on the front. I think that would add some really cool texture. I haven’t decided yet whether I might want to insert slightly smaller squares of batting in between the front and the backing to give it a little “squish”! (I didn’t want to use lots of layers of flannel, as they typically do when they make a rag quilt.) I was originally looking for red flannel that had a bandanna design to go in my quilt. But I couldn’t find any so I settled on the red.

    Whatever you decide, be sure to have fun with it! I can’t wait to see how your quilt turns out!

    • Susan! We must be denim quilt soul sisters…So glad I’m not alone. Also glad that somebody else likes the pinstripe denim! LOL. And the backing… I have been kicking that around in my head for awhile now. Flannel is a great choice! Sound like you have all your components, I think you should sew along with me!!

      • Yeah, I probably should. But so many UFOs, so little time! BTW, i also started out with a homemade Mylar template; traced w/chalk, then cut. And when they came out with those cool rotary cutting rulers I got myself a 4 1/2″ & 2 1/2″ . Boy do they work better! Even if you’re just tracing and then cutting, way better, because you have a nice edge to run your pencil along. Using a rotary cutter is even faster! However, it still takes a long time cutting up all those jeans, because you have to go square by square! It’s a good time to listen to something like an audiobook or audio language lessons or your favorite music. Then you can definitely kill two birds with one stone while you’re doing it.

        I was thinking, a nice gold flannel would also be pretty poking through the seams and as a backing, especially if you have that nice gold top stitching on some of your pockets and denim.

        Speaking of pockets, I love Wendy’s idea about putting a pocket on each corner. Or even many squares along the edges of the quilt. I was thinking that if the quilt was ever used on a bed, and at least one row hung over the edges, then those pockets, if placed correctly, would have the opening pointing up and you could really use them for pockets. (Eyeglasses, tissues, pen and pencil & notepad, lip balm, hand cream; all the things that you often want to grab for, while in bed at night, but don’t necessarily want to have to get up to find them.) Cool idea!

        You’ve really got my creative juices flowing now! So I was thinking: if I put the smaller squares of batting in between my backing squares and my front squares, I could use some really cool jean top stitching thread and do a “quilt as you go” method (keeping all the quilting inside the seam lines) before I ever sew the seams together. Have you ever seen quilts that had charm tack quilting done on them, by machine? That’s the idea that I’m going for. And then, after all the squares are sewn together, I could just stitch around the outside of the quilt seam line with some kind of cool stitching, letting the outside edges fray like the seems, then It would be done! No wrangling a big heavy quilt under the sewing machine to do the quilting after-the-fact! What do you think?!

        Boy, this sounds like a lot more work than I ever envisioned when I got the brilliant idea to make a quilt out of old jeans! If I remember correctly, it was Georgia Bonesteel that had several denim quilts in one of her books, that originally inspired me. I don’t know about you, but I’m great with coming up with designs, inspiration, & ideas; pretty darn poor with follow-through, though! I could really use an assistant to sew up all the ideas I create! 🙂

        • I have no idea what charm tack quilting is… I will investigate! Gold or orange stitching on blue is gorgeous. Orange is a definite contender for my backing.
          So happy your creative wheels are spinning. As long as you have a notebook you can never have “too many ideas.” Jot ’em all down and you’ll never be uninspired… then you’ll also be ready to put that assistant to work when you find her! 🙂

  3. I think since you’re working with denim, I’d use all the colors and just mix it all up…random like! I love, Love, LOVE the idea of the denim with the paint and stains (so long as they’re not gross stains!), but the patched I’d wonder how it’d hold up down the road? Why not put pockets IN the quilt? Then when you take it on the picnic there’s places to keep napkins, silverware, shakers…..? Just a thought, a pocket on each corner or something simple perhaps?
    However, Lori M., did have a lot of fun ideas…I’m going to go pull all the pockets off my recycled jeans…TTFN!

    • Whew!! Wendy thank you – I’m glad somebody else likes the paint stains. I was hoping it wasn’t just me! Get them pockets girl! Rip rip rip. I’m so happy to know others are getting down with their denim!

  4. Cindy CP says:

    I started saving jeans when my boys were teenagers. They grew so fast and I couldn’t throw away any on that beautiful denim. (The boys are now in there 30s). My oldest is in the Navy and his 3 yr old son was missing him a lot and told everyone his dad was a super hero. Well I came up with the idea to make my grandson a rag quilt from his dad’s old jeans. I used a superhero flannel print for the backing. Once I started to cut the 7×7 squares I couldn’t stop. It took only two days tout it all together. I sent it to Will for Valentines Day And told him to give it a hug whenever he missed his dad to feel closer to him. He loves his quilt.

    • What a beautiful story behind your quilt!! That is so cool that your grandson has something so special made from his daddy’s old jeans… <3 Thanks for taking the time to comment Cindy.

  5. I would make 2 denim quilts. One to practice and then one to keep. Choose which design to keep when you finish both. A friend hacked up her kids jeans as soon as she retired them. When she had enough squares, she pieced her quilts. We live in a rural area and getting stranded means rescue takes a bit longer. So she backed hers with a heavy cotton duck or poplin of some sort and tossed it in the back of her van for ‘crisis’ situations. A simple stitch in the ditch or straight thru the middle of the blocks and voila a quilt was born. It has withstood years of abuse and is now handy for her grandkids 🙂

    • OMGosh this is genius. A practice quilt. I could do a small lap size or baby blanket. Thank you for the brilliant suggestion! Heidi I grew up rural too. We always had wool blankets in the trunks of our cars – just in case!

  6. I put on pockets, zippers, any and all… I can’t find your email, I’ll send you a pic of the one I just finished for my girlfriend Angie!! Email it to me ok ?

  7. A vote for using all the denim pieces, stained, pockets, faded. I think it would add character to your quilt. Waistband could be a handle.

  8. I think if you use a stripe of color then possibly you wouldn’t have to worry as much about how the variations in blue are used because the eye would get drawn to the color. Maybe you could do a rule of thirds and stick the stripe about a third of the way up the quilt, and maybe you could pick your favorite labels and piece them into a row right above the colored stripe. I personally would go for the red to make a more dramatic contrast, but at the end of the day, I think the best quilting rule is to do what will make you happy.

    • Oooohhh Jess I like this calculated plan. You’re right if I do decide to use color the blues are going to be less noticeable. I love the idea of a stripe of labels. Thanks for the good ideas!

  9. Hi, my name is Susan and I am working on a denim quilt too…I ended up with tons of old jeans and decided to cut them into 8 inch squares. I have been using “10 minute block” method to put them together. I found some great navy print fabric I am using for the center. I will post some pictures on my blog…www.susanpaxton.blogspot.com…I am new to blogging so don’t laugh…

    • Hi Susan – thanks for stopping by. It’s always nice to be reminded I’m not alone in this denim adventure…
      I like the sound of a “10-minute” block. I wonder if I’d sit there timing myself… (kidding!)
      Good luck with your project and your blog!

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