Sunday, May 1, 2016

Blue Cross, Blue Shield: A Modern Upcycled Jeans Quilt Tutorial (Part I)

Piecing done, quilting to come:

Yes it's a Modernish Gee's Bend-inspired denim jeans quilt top!

My latest denim kick started a couple of weeks ago when I got the idea that I wanted to play around with denim crosses. I love plus signs/crosses because they are so graphic, and a little bit poignant (Math class made me cry.)

The very next thing that happened was that the phrase "Blue Cross, Blue Shield" lodged itself in my brain. Let me tell you, as bad as it is to get an Abba song stuck in your head, a health insurance company earworm is worse. So I knew the title of this quilt from the start.

But what would a blue shield look like? I was about to deadlift my massive encyclopedia of 4.000 quilt blocks when the solution suddenly came to me: JEANS BACK POCKETS ARE SHAPED LIKE SHIELDS! Problem solved! No heavy research or lifting required!

To attach the pockets I have developed my own little system (though I am open to hearing about other methods).  I start with the pocket....

Cut everything away except about 3/4" on top. (I cut this sample a bit too close on the upper left.):
 Yes, the back layers, on the sides and bottom, are raw edged, but that's okay with me. (If I really wanted to prevent fraying, I would drip fray-check on the cut edges).
Test fold that upper edge back and down, in the position you want on the background fabric.
 Carefully flip open and pin..
Stitch across the back, using a zipper foot if necessary. This can be tricky - you must navigate the  line close to, but not through, the thick top edge of the pocket. If you don't have a zipper foot, you might not be able to do this step on your machine. That's okay - you can do it by hand, or not at all (skip the next step if you can't do this one.)
Stitch from end to end. I did a basting stitching white thread just so you could see it here - you should obviously use a regular stitch and matching thread.
 Flip it back down in position.
Machine or hand stitch carefully across the fold at the top, for extra insurance. It's the white line just below the top:
 In real life, I couldn't use my machine for that final horizontal line of stitching. I did it by hand with strong quilting/buttonhole thread. In the next picture, it's the line of navy thread just below the back top of the pocket:

Another example: note the dents made by handstitching on top of the back:

The final step is to topstitch the sides and bottom of the pocket in a U shape. My sewing machine struggles with multiple denim layers, so I sometimes have to start and stop stitching just below the top right and left corners. (In those cases, I hand tack the upper part of the corners in position. Fabric glue works too). With a strong sewing machine, you can do the entire U. Below, I used a white thread and basting stitch for demonstration purposes only. Place your stitches as far in or out as you like.
This pocket attachment method will work for a zillion different quilts and upcycled jeans crafts. (Got time? Google: "Blue jeans craft project")

Making the cross blocks is pure fun. I started with 8" - 10" imperfect square shapes, cut from varying shades of denim. Use a rotary cutter or a scissors - but don't use your ruler! Start with a square, cut one direction and piece a strip inside. (My strips are 1 1/2" - 2 1/2")
I press the seam allowances open, to reduce the bulk. (I wouldn't do this if I were working with quilting cotton.)
Cut in the other direction .
Piece in the next strip, and press those allowances open.
So now you can make your own Blue Cross, Blue Shield quilt! I wound up liking the back as much as the front. I almost decided not to quilt it, because I wanted to be able to see the back....
But quilt it I did. It is about to get very heavy, even heavier than my encyclopedia of quilt blocks. Next week: Quilting the Beast! 

Part II, Quilting the Beast, is here

Addendum: It was only after I'd finished laying out the top that I realized where my denim cross idea probably came from - in January, at QuiltCon 2016, the top prize went to a haunting white-and-blue memorial quilt, which included denim crosses. It's #4 on this page. I suspect that quilt must have been working its way through my unconscious when I got hooked on the "Blue Cross Blue Shield" concept....


  1. OH NUTS, NOW YOU ARE MAKING ME WANT TO SEW ON POCKETS TO EVERYTHING! (ps- thanks for sticking my muse blog on your list!)

    1. Beware, Sandy, jeans are addictive! Where's your blog on my list? Do you live in Newton, MA, where I grew up? Did we discuss this? Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Great tutorial - and the quilt looks really good too!

  3. Adore your BCBS quilt. And I believe that yes, a clever title absolutely can be the cart before the horse. Now, what will you put in those pocket shields?? If it were for me, would be nighttime mouth guard, nightime Motrim, Kleenex, Cold-Eze, Mints, pad and pen for obsessing, and worry dolls!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Brilliant, Eleanor! Maybe some melatonin, Nyquil, and chocolate chip cookies!

  4. Hmm. There is a pair of jeans in the bag ready to go to the op shop. Should I dig them out and start a collection? The shirt phase went well ...

  5. If the jeans are very small, get rid of them, GMG. Then go to your nearest yard sale/thrift shop and buy the largest size you can find. Jeans SKIRTS are also an excellent way to get your hands on denim, often a thinner (easier to handle) denim....Sorry to trigger a new reason to hoard!

  6. I knew there was a reason not to throw away the pockets! I didn't, did I? This is a great project, and now I have another one to add to my list.

    1. Go for it! And post pix! Never throw anything away. OK, throw things away, but not denim jeans parts...Thanks!