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Denim Rag Bedspreads and Pocket Pillow Shams

By Mary Conley

Tags: Sewing, projects using old jeans, sewing with blue jeans, using snipping shears, denim bedspreads, denim pocket pillows, Mary Conley, Nebraska,

Mary ConleyDear Friends,

Once upon a time, many, many, many years ago, I decided to save all our worn-out denim jeans. I had some here and there in sacks in our attic, but eventually found a tall box, and continually added to it until the box was overflowing. I am now 74, and suddenly got in the mood to do something with those jeans. So, I ripped them apart, and started cutting 8x8 squares from the larger areas, 6x6 squares from the smaller parts, until I was accumulating several piles of each.

After first thinking I would sew two small denim rag throws to keep us warm while watching TV in the winter, I realized maybe I could make something bigger. I ended up deciding on two twin bedspreads. Quite a difference! About that time is when I read on the web that I shouldn't use stretchy jeans, and had to toss out my contributions to the box from the last several years. I continued to cut and cut, anyway, while realizing I wouldn't have quite enough without my stretchy jeans. The only thing I could do was become a beggar to my family, friends, and neighbors. I finally had all I needed for 140 large squares for one spread, and 221 small squares for the other. Yes, that is a lot of squares, but ... I needed to cut the same amount out of another material for the backing!

I already had a sewing machine, cutting board, and rotary cutter, and I wanted to keep my expenses down. It made the project even more fun. My only purchases were a template for the squares, five spools of thread, strong denim needles for my machine, and special snipping shears. Luckily, it was the end of winter, and I was able to purchase two sets of twin, navy blue, flannel sheets on sale, plus using coupons at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. What a bargain! What a giveaway! I started cutting flannel squares from them, and together with the denim squares I cut 280 large, and 442 small. I can't believe it either! It didn't seem like a job, but something to do here and there in snippets of spare time.

We go to our farm for the summer months, and although I'm busy gardening, processing the produce, painting, and regular household duties, there are times when I need something to do since we don't have TV or internet. I thought this project would be perfect, so I gathered up everything and took it with me. I have a large table there where I can lay everything out and not worry about the mess.

Soon it was time to sew, and I chose to work with the large squares first. I placed each denim square, right side up, on top of a flannel square and sewed diagonally from corner to corner, forming an "X." Now, some people could do it just that easily, but I pinned my squares together and marked the X lines before I sewed. I also strip-sewed, which means when you finish a line on one square, then you push in the next square and just keep going. After about six squares, I cut them apart and did the same thing for the other half of the X. This method worked especially well on the smaller squares.

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I had a spare bedroom at the farm that wasn’t furnished, and I laid all 140 squares out on the carpet and arranged and rearranged them until I got a pleasing pattern with the variety of colored denim. Then I pinned a number to the first square in each row which saved me from messing up my pattern later.

Next, I stacked the squares of each row. The floor became bare again, and I had neat piles of each row on my table and ready to go.

At this point, there were three steps left: sewing the squares of each row together into long strips, sewing the strips together to make the spread, and snipping the seams so they would fray. I got bored easily with what I was doing, so I sewed a row together to make a strip, added it to the bedspread, and snipped the seams before going on to the next row. Varying the work also helped because a lot of snipping made my hand tired.

All my seams were 1/2 inch with a very short stitch. Remember, when putting the squares and strips together, the seams show on the front instead of hiding on the back as usual. After snipping and washing, this makes the ragged look.

Sewing the squares into a long strip.

Sewing the strips together.

Snipping with special scissors.


It was so fun watching the bedspread grow!

When all the strips were sewed on and the edges snipped, I sewed a half-inch seam all around the bedspread, snipped it, and was finished. My husband liked it just the way it was, but he didn't know how washing the bedspread would make the snipped edges fray and beautiful.

A pile of strings and lint from just one bedspread!

Very important instructions: I stopped the washing machine before the spin cycle each time, and wiped the inside of the tub with my hand to gather handfuls of strings that came off. I also stopped the dryer every few minutes, cleaned out the lint trap, and wiped the inside of the dryer with my hands. Each bedspread was big and heavy, so I took them out of the dryer and turned them a few times so they would dry evenly. Then my husband helped me take them outside and shake them. Both bedspreads were made the same way, and I couldn't be more pleased with how they turned out.

Here is what really excited me! When I was in the middle of my first bedspread, I was at a place where I could search the web, and I came across something interesting: a throw pillow made out of jean pockets! I had jean pockets! I thought it was so cool that I stopped right in the middle of my project and made a pillow sham to go along with the bedspread. Later, I made another one for the second bedspread. I want to give you the instructions, because I was lucky enough to have two blue flannel pillow cases to use that came with those two sets of flannel sheets I used. The unique pillow shams didn't cost anything extra, and I love them! Below are the directions.

Pillow case

I first opened the side seams of the pillow case and refolded it so that the end openings now overlapped in the middle of the back. I couldn't resew it at this point, or I wouldn't be able to sew on the pockets. I marked the two sides of what would be the front of the pillow with chalk so I would know the boundaries. An important thing to remember is to not get the pockets too close to the edges, or it will be difficult to sew the seams back together.

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Laying out the pockets

The fun part was laying and overlapping pockets in all directions until I got the desired look. Then I added a few jean labels and buttons on the pockets for a little pizazz. After pinning the pockets down so I wouldn't lose my design, I started sewing them on with the machine. I can't believe I didn't break even one needle going through all those thicknesses of denim. It wasn't easy, it wasn't fun, and I wasn't looking forward to making the second sham. Putting some time in between the two helped.

Back to the process: All that was left to do was to fold the pillow case together inside out and sew the side seams. I was like a child turning it back and seeing my perfect pillow sham all covered with jean pockets! How cute! Needless to say, I immediately stuffed it with a pillow. The back overlapped so nicely; I didn't need to add buttons to keep it closed. Yes, I think it was worth it.

Here is a photo of the second sham stuffed with a pillow!

This bedspread is made of 8” squares.

This bedspread is made of 6” squares.

I was very excited at the end of summer to take the bedspreads and pillow shams to my city home and put them on the twin beds. Both my husband and I liked the look, and now I'm ready to finish decorating the room. The bonus is that he said I'm amazing. Yes, at this age, I can still amaze him! Ha!

Now, you need to save those old jeans with the holes in the knees. You can always make a small throw like I planned in the beginning. Or, how about a decorator pillow? I've also used old jeans to make baby bibs and pot holders. There are so many ideas and examples on the web; I'm sure you'll find something you'll enjoy sewing.

It always makes me feel good to reuse and repurpose, and especially to make something beautiful that costs practically nothing. Happy sewing!