Designer, maker and quilter Elizabeth Wells lives in Portland, Oregon. Elizabeth is passionate about textiles, but also loves to dabble in other mediums including surface design, printing, painting, and ceramics. She says she is obsessed with detailed piecing, and is attracted to geometric patterns and graphic designs. Wells began sewing in 1978 with her grandmother and designed her first art quilt in 2010.

In 2020, Elizabeth’s sister generously offered fifty pairs of high-end jeans for creative reuse. Although the number was a bit overwhelming, she could not bear the thought of the jeans ending up in an incinerator or landfill. Paired with the knowledge that the denim would be transformed into a lasting memory, she began the challenge.

Elizabeth started by deconstructing the jeans, cutting along the inseam into large pieces of fabric, and stacking them on her cutting table.  While searching Instagram hashtags for denim quilts and saving her favorite designs, she came across The Quilt Show episode starring Jennifer Sampou and Alex Anderson. Jennifer was demonstrating a sawtooth star block pattern using her SKY collection of fabric. Minimalistic in nature and graphically bold; inspiration struck, and the sawtooth star pattern immediately went to the top of her list of favorites.

Rather than make a quilt with one size sawtooth star block throughout, Elizabeth decided to add mini star blocks. She drafted the mini star blocks with (4) 2.5” x 5.5” bars, (4) 5.5” squares, (1) 2.5” center star square, and (8) 1.5” fold over squares for the star points. While making the blocks, she tried to incorporate the interesting features of the jeans, the worn pieces and the beautiful double stitched side seams within the blocks. Elizabeth used a denim 100/16 needle, changed the needle often, pressed the seams open, and used a longer stitch than normal.

Elizabeth shared how lucky she is (and all of Portland, really) to have the Pendleton Woolen Mill right in her own backyard. Every Friday, the scrap bins at Pendleton are replenished and the fabric is sold by the pound. Elizabeth visits the mill often acquiring an assortment of pieces, and was able to completely piece the back with a lightweight flannel. She washed the flannel before piecing in order to equalize the fabrics, and prevent future shrinking.

Elizabeth quilted the Gravity Blanket, named for the weight of the quilt, on her Gammill Longarm. She used a lightweight batting quilting a simple horizontal line pattern, and varied the spacing being careful to avoid intersecting seams. She used a variegated thread which created a beautiful design as the threads disappear and reappear while blending and contrasting with the denim.

Although Elizabeth hasn’t used all the denim from the fifty pairs of jeans, she says will never tire of working with this material. The environmental benefits of upcycling are undeniable, but the beauty of the fabric, the way the color shifts, and the imperfections, she is enamored with this quilt.

I think we all are, Elizabeth.

72” x 96”
Pieced and quilted by Elizabeth Wells

This quilt was based on Jennifer Sampou’s Sawtooth Star Pillow. The free pattern can be found here.