Monday, November 24, 2008

Tutorial: Rag-Quilted Coasters

Do you have stacks of old, worn-out, out-dated, or out-grown jeans lying around the house? Why not give that durable denim another life as a set of cute 'n' cozy rag-quilted coasters? (You can also get a more modern look by leaving off the hearts and flowers-- or opting for simple square or circular patches. But why would you want to do a thing like that?)


The prototypes for these coasters happened "by accident" last year, when I wanted to try out the rag quilting method before starting in on the actual quilt I was making. I had some smaller denim squares lying around, so I gave it a try. The ragging worked great-- and then, because I hated to throw them away, I started using the squares as coasters. That worked great, too!

This is a simple project that is easy for even novice seamstresses. It uses up smallish scraps of denim (whether new off the bolt or recycled from old clothes), and it's a fun way to test out rag quilting before committing to a large-scale pattern.

Note: The photos for different steps are not of the same coaster. Please don't let the changing colors and patterns confuse you!

Tools & Materials:
  • Denim scraps in a variety of colors or shades. Other material can also be used. To get the rag quilt effect, use a fabric that frays well, such as flannel. Also, you may need more layers to absorb condensation, if you use a fabric thinner than denim.
  • Thread of your choice of color. I used white. Other popular choices are navy and gold.
  • Scissors and rotary cutter, ruler & mat, if you have them. Scissors are a must. Rotary cutter is nice for quickly cutting the denim squares.
  • Sewing machine (fitted with a denim needle, if you're working with denim).
  • Ruler.
  • Pen.
  • Straight pins.
  • Rag quilt snips. (Optional. These make repeatedly snipping easier on your hands, because they are spring-loaded to automatically re-open after each cut. However, on a smaller project like this, they aren't absolutely necessary.)
Instructions:

1. Cut your denim into squares. I cut 5-inch squares to make generously sized coasters, but you can adjust to suit your own preferences. (For example, the 3-inch square is a common size for a coaster.)

You'll need 2 or 3 squares per coaster. (The more layers your coaster has, the more absorbency and furniture protection it will offer. I use 2 layers and have never had a problem with condensation leaking through to the furniture underneath.) Feel free to mix and match colors and shades in the same coaster.


2. You may leave your coasters plain-- just two squares of denim sewn together and ragged-- but I chose to decorate mine with small appliqu├ęs, which are also "ragged".

If you want to decorate your coasters, too, cut accent
shapes (hearts, flowers, clouds) from your smaller scraps of denim. Try to use shades that contrast with the top square of denim. You''ll need one shape (or one set of shapes, if several shapes make up one motif) per coaster.


3. Pin the shapes to only the top layer of each coaster. (Depending on your level of experience and the complexity of your design, pinning may not be necessary, but it helps if you're worried about things moving around as you work.)

Sew about 1/4 to 1/2 inch inside the edges of the accent shapes. (The larger the seam allowance, the more fraying you'll have. However, with small shapes like these, 1/4 inch may be the best you can do.)

After this step, I like to snip off the loose threads so that they don't get in the way later on. If you prefer, you can wait until the end, but you won't be able to get to the threads on the back of the top square.


4. Place the wrong sides of your denim squares together. (If you use three squares, the middle can be facing either way. Just be sure you have the "pretty" sides of the front and back squares showing.) Pin your layers of denim together.


5. Sew around the inside edges of the squares, about 1/2 inch from the edge. (You can also leave a smaller, 1/4-inch seam allowance, but this will make your finished coaster less "raggedy".) If you want extra durability (such as if you plan to toss the coasters in the washer frequently), sew a second square of seams just inside the first. Snip loose threads.


Here's a photo of my denim coasters prior to snipping:


6. Using either rag quilt snips or regular scissors, snip all the exposed seam allowances on your coaster. Make small cuts perpendicular to the seam. Snip about every 1/4 of an inch or so. Go carefully to avoid cutting through the seam. Pay particular attention to corners, where it is easy to accidentally cut away a large chunk of fabric. Instead, at each corner, choose one direction and stick with it. Don't try snipping from the other side.

Coasters after snipping:



7. Wash and dry the coasters.

I prefer to wash small "ragged" projects in an old pillowcase tied off with a rubber band, but if your washing machine has a filtered drain, this may not be necessary. I wash and partially dry them in the pillowcase, then take them to an out-of-the-way part of the yard (or right over a waste basket) and remove the loose bits of denim thread by flapping them, hitting them against my palm, and pulling gently at the raggedy edges. If you've never rag-quilted before, you'll be amazed at the amount of fluff that comes off these things! After removing most of the loose material, I toss them back into the dryer (out of the pillowcase and by themselves) for a while, making sure to check and clean the dryer's lint filter regularly, just in case it's getting clogged with fluff.

The more times you wash and dry a "rag-quilted" item, the more raggedy it becomes, so you may want to let them go through the wash two or three times before setting them out for use. So long as you keep them separated from the rest of the wash (by keeping them in a pillowcase, like I do, for instance), you can toss them in with similarly-colored loads of clothes or towels. Be aware that washing them loose with other items may mean that everything else gets covered in loose threads, until the majority of those have come off.



Now, kick back and pour yourself a cold drink! You've earned a break (and an excuse to try out your latest project)!