A pair of old jeans can transform into a sustainable gift, or cool piece of modern art! Don't know where to start? Follow my tips below.
1. Tools Matter - there are no right or wrong tools, but you can make upcycled denim art easier on yourself by following these tips.
Denim is heavy so skip the pins and use clips or fabric glue (Elmer's glue stick works great).
Use a new, sharp needle. Does it need to be a denim needle? Nope, but it needs to be sharp and should be at least a size 80 or 90.
Use a walking foot on your machine if you have one.
Use strong thread - if you are using cotton quilting thread try 40 weight.
2. Try a Traditional Pattern
There is something really cool and modern about using upcycled materials to make traditional quilt blocks/shapes. I often start with HST's (half square triangles) and go from there. All the examples above used squares and triangles to create very different results.
3. Use All the Parts - obviously, you will be using the denim, but don't ignore the other bits!
Labels - while they are usually made of slippery polyester, the labels in jeans can be sewn together to add a graphic detail to your art. In the example above I used labels as the base for a traditional appliqué design.
Pocket bags - the inside pockets (sometimes cotton, sometimes polyester) can be used to back your mini quilt.
Thread - in my Quilt Your Jeans class I show how to harvest thread from your jeans. You can then use that thread to attach or decorate your art. Jeans thread is usually polyester, which means it will last forever (boo), but it will also remain strong for you to use again.
Don't be scared to experiment with your upcycled denim art!! There is no wrong way to upcycle denim and the right way is whatever works best for you.
4. Embrace the Fray
A raw edge can look messy, but it can also look intentional and cool, and it adds so much dimension! In the piece above I used the diagonal direction of the grainline to create a diagonal frayed edge.
The fray at the bottom is blue, while the fray on the sides is white, due to denim having a blue warp thread and white weft thread. My Quilt Your Jeans class also teaches all about grainline and warp and weft if this has got you curious.
5. Decorate with Bold Thread
To stand up to the thickness and dimensions of denim you need to use a bold thread for decoration. Sashiko thread is ideal since it's made to be decorative and strong to reinforce patches. Perle cotton (size 8) is a great option also. I always use what I have before I buy new, so I tend to use my stash of embroidery floss. I usually use 3 strands of the floss to get the right thickness.