Anyone who's been sewing for a little while (or a long while) will undoubtably have a bag of scraps lying around. I've had dozens of bags, boxes and bins full of scraps over the years. They are frustratingly challenging to use and difficult to part with. They are useful but for what purpose often remains a mystery. Turning scraps into an improvisational quilt has become one of the most emotionally satisfying ways that I have found to use those pesky scraps. My process for assembling the quilt top is really fun and freeing in a way that using a pattern is not. And when it's all done, I have used up some fabric that otherwise would have been in the bin and have a really cool quilt that I can actually use.
Over the years, I've organized my scraps into color families with the intention of eventually making them into quilts. Last year I made this one from my blue scraps. I also have piles of black, white and grey just waiting to be pieced. For this quilt, I used scraps of denim, mostly leftover from my 2016 Refashioners project plus some scrap denim from other projects. Mixing colors from one color family is really easy and every combination looks good.
If you're planning to make a quilt using denim, I have a few tips for you. First, avoid super stretchy denim. It's harder to piece and more likely to go out of shape during the pressing process. I made a quilt top using corduroy years ago and it has come apart in many places because I only used a 1/4 inch seam allowance. Lesson learned! This time I used a 3/8 inch seam allowance and I think it worked well. To be even safer, use a 1/2 inch seam allowance. Also, use a heavy duty or jeans needle, just like you would when sewing a garment with denim.
This quilt was completely improvisational. I just grabbed some fabric and started stitching it together. I love the feeling that there are no wrong decisions when using this method. You just keep stitching until you have a quilt top. I start out by organizing the scraps by size. Then I make a stack of pairs of scraps that can be sewn together. I stitch all of those, then start over, pressing and trimming when necessary. The scraps quickly start to grow into blocks. As they get bigger, I lay them all out on the floor to see how they might form a quilt. I find more scraps to fill in any missing bits and continue making bigger and bigger blocks. For this quilt I ended up with about 5 big blocks that I formed into 3 rows and then stitched together for the top of the quilt.
The denim is pretty thick so instead of a regular batting, I just used a layer of flannel (again from the stash). For the backing, I used three pieces of stash fabric sewn together. I love the simplicity of the big blocks of fabric. I layered the backing, flannel and denim top together as you would for a regular quilt and used a conventional sewing machine to quilt the layers together. I then trimmed the quilt down and attached a cotton binding to finish it off. This quilt is a heavy one and I think it would be great as a picnic or beach blanket. The thickness would really prevent moisture from seeping through.
This denim quilt is only the second one that I've made (see the first one here) but I have a few more planned. I've organized my scraps into color groups so that when I'm ready to start stitching, I can just get on with it. I sew all the time but stitching these improv quilts is so creatively freeing. There are no wrong answers. No mistakes. Just stitching. This method of piecing is so much fun, that when I was doing it I couldn't help thinking that it would make a really fun class to teach. Especially an in-person class with mimosas! I've also been tossing around the idea of an e-book or online class. Is that something any of you lovely readers would be interested in?