My husband and I enjoy the luxury of each having a room on the third floor of our house dedicated to our individual hobbies. I have my quilt ‘studio’ and he has his ‘lab’, where he does lots of electronics and computerising, invents stuff (which works: I can open our garage door with my telephone, just by pressing a button, thanks to a program he wrote) and plays his bass guitar… But there is also room in the lab for chilling out on the sofa with a good book. We recently got a new cover for the sofa, in dark blue to match the colour-theme of the room, but there were no covers available for the small rectangular cushions that came with the sofa originally. And they were kind of, well, pink.
So I decided to make new covers myself, but I wanted cushions that weren’t too dressy or fussy for the lab, which has a bit of a 60’s-70’s vibe, with a sloping ceiling of natural wood and a wooden floor, and one dark blue wall. Cue several very enjoyable hours browsing through books and patterns.
Recently, I bought a June Tailor Charming Circles Ruler, which allows you to cut circles from old jeans (or other fabric) to make 5″ finished patchwork squares, that, on the front, have folded over semi-circular flaps with a charm square in the middle (this will become clearer as we progress!). The edges of the denim flaps are allowed to fray, giving the patches a slightly shabby look. This seemed to me to be an ideal rustic-chic type of cushion for the lab.
I hunted through my stash for some fabric for the centres of the squares that would fit my man-friendly cushion project, and came across Carolyn Friedlander’s collection “Doe” for Robert Kaufman Fabrics. These are abstract, with stripes and dots and a good mix of fairly soft colours, like ochre, pale yellow and light blue, but with the occasional zingy orange and turquoise. Perfect! Now for the denim…
In the days between Christmas and New Year (when it rained here instead of snowing and freezing as usual) I did some catch-up clothes mending: darning holes, sewing on buttons and elbow patches, patching jeans… One pair of jeans (my husband’s) was unsalvageable (honestly!), so away I went.
I cut the legs off, cutting away the thick seams and any really worn areas, and pressed them well.
I could get 8 circles out of each jean leg (so 16 circles from pair of jeans), which was exactly what I needed to make two cushions of 8 circles each (2 rows of 4).
The ruler works by having you mark out a circle on the wrong side of the denim. The lines that make up the square are where the 5″ charm square comes, but also mark the stitching lines and the edges of the finished patch, once the curved flaps are folded over the centre square and sewn down. The patch is therefore automatically backed with denim, making for a sturdy cushion cover, or bag, or quilt. If you want, you can put thin batting under the charm square and really make a quilt of the fabric sandwich, but I chose not to do that this time.
You can cut the circles with a rotary cutter or a pair of scissors. I used scissors, as it was easier with the tough denim. Once the circles are all cut and marked, you start sewing the patches into rows, by sewing along the marked lines of the edge of each square.
I tried to vary the direction of the denim twill weave patch to patch, to make the semi-circles more contrasting. Above you see vertical, horizontal, vertical.
Then you seam the rows together: in my case two rows of four circles each.
I pinned the rows carefully to align them properly. Because there is basically zero seam allowance where one sews from circle to circle, it is important to align the patches so that there isn’t a hole when you unfold the rows. I had to use much thicker pins than usual!
Once the rows are sewn together you press the ‘flaps’ to the side, and prepare to insert the charm squares. Theoretically a 5″ charm square fits under the flaps, but I found that they wrinkled a bit, so I trimmed mine to 4 7/8″ and then they all lay nice and flat.
To hold the charm squares in the correct position whilst sewing down the flaps, I put a tiny square of fusible web under the centre of each square. Pinning wasn’t an option because of the thickness of the denim. To keep the flaps flat, I put a tiny rectangle of fusible between them and the charm square. It worked a treat.
There are two ways to finish the circles: either stitching to cover and neaten the edges of the flaps, or stitching away from the edge so that the flaps fray up to the stitching with time (and washing and drying) giving the shabby-chic effect. I chose for the latter, so did a zig-zag stitch in denim blue about 1/8″ from the edge of the flap. The weak point of the construction is where the four corners of each patch meet (lack of seam allowance) so I made sure to zig-zag over the junction without stopping to make them stronger and more durable. In fact, it was possible to zig-zag all the flaps in one long round, by moving from left to right and top to bottom over the cushion top. It felt much more secure at the corners by the time I was done.
I didn’t have enough fabric from the pair of jeans to make the cushion back, but I did have some other left-over denim from a project from some years ago, so I used that.
There are two ways of adding the cushion back: either you can turn under the edges of the cushion back fabric to make a piece the exact same size as you cushion top, then layer (wrong sides together) and topstitch close to the edge all the way around (neat finish), or you can leave the raw edges of the backing sticking out around the top, topstitch and then let the backing edge fray. I decided to make one cushion of each. Cushion one had the neat finish.
I cut two pieces of denim to make the back, with a centre opening fastened with Velcro. Then I finished the edge with my serger, and turned the hems under to the wrong side of the fabric.
Then I layered the top and the cushion back together, and pinned at intervals.
The I topstitched around the edge with a straight stitch, as close to the edge as I could go.
I added a label to the back.
The inserted the cushion pad, from the original sofa cushions. It fitted perfectly!
For cushion number two, I decided to up the 60’s vibe by doing the zig-zag stitching in bright orange thread. I used another orange and a turquoise charm square to make the cushions a pair, but mixed up the other fabrics a bit, and changed their positions.
I was really pleased with the extra pop that the orange zig-zag stitching gave to the top.
I was also pleased with how well the stitching strengthened and neatened the intersections.
For this cushion I went with the fray-finish for the backing. So I cut it to size, made the Velcro fastening in the middle of the back (which I did hem and finish neatly) then layered the top and bottom wrong sides together and topstitched all around the edge of the front. I did the topstitching in denim blue as I didn’t want it to be a visual feature of the cushion.
So that the backing wouldn’t fray all the way to the topstitching, I stitched a row of orange zig-zag on the backing, just off the cushion top.
Then I cut the backing off at 1/4″ from the cushion top all the way around, using a ruler and a rotary cutter. The 1/4″ is the ‘fray space’.
I added a label to the cushion and put in the cushion pad. And Lab cushion no. 2 was complete.
Cushion no. 2 went together much more quickly than cushion no. 1, because I had more experience in how the circles fitted together and how to construct the top, but this is a fun technique. I have come across it before, but never tried it: in Europe this folding of a circle over a square, made with regular quilting cottons, is known as Japanese Folding Patchwork. If you cut accurately and use a striped fabric as the background, it is possible to get very elaborate graphic effects as the striped bits of the flaps can form stars and other secondary patterns when the patches are seamed together. With denim the effect is of course very casual, but ideal for a man-friendly decor!