This fun tutorial will show you how to sew fun and one-of-a-kind placemats from scraps of old jeans plus some pretty ‘focus scraps’.
Really you can use any type of fabric using this technique so don’t stress if you don’t have any torn jeans to cut up – cotton fabric or whatever else you have will work great too.
Table of Contents
Scrappy Denim Placemats – Supply List
Supplies below for a set of 4 placemats.
- (4) 14″ x 20″ pieces of quilt batting.
- (4) 12.5″ x 18.5″ pieces of backing fabric (this will be the back of your placemats).
- A pile of denim strips of different lengths at least 2″ wide each (can be wider).
- A handful of small fabric scraps to add a pop of color and interest (fussy cut images, bright colors or bold geometric prints would be great here).
- Coordinating thread.
Improv Stitch & Flip Method
You have two options for how to approach what are essentially quilt-as-you-go stitch and flip placemats.
Option 1 Pre-pieced Strips: Piece strips of denim and focus scraps ahead of time.
The number of strips you will need depends on how wide your denim strips are. The downside of this method is it involves a bit of math and pre-planning….
Option 2 Improv Strips Method: Go improv and trim and stitch as you go – this is how I did it. It’s more fun for me but if it isn’t for you go for option 1.
For Option 2 what I did was take a pile of denim scraps I already had from my Double Orange Peel Denim & Scraps Quilt and put them beside my sewing machine and cutting mat.
I set aside my backing fabric and had a piece of batting in front of me landscape style (as it would be in front of you at a table).
Note on batting: you can use any leftover batting for a placemat. For a hot plate use insul bright heat resistant batting.
I found some strips that were long enough to cover my batting vertically (so approx 14″) and some that were shorter.
I trimmed each strip when I chose to use it just to straighten it up.
The strips don’t need to be perfect but vaguely vertical and vaguely straight is the easiest to work with so we can stitch in a straight line!
For the shorter strips, you will see in a minute that they don’t need to be long enough to cover the whole piece of batting.
To start I placed one long strip right side up at the far right-hand side of the batting.
I then placed two shorter denim strips right side down on top of that first strip leaving a gap somewhere where the batting shows through. This is where I add my focus scrap later on.
The gap can be anywhere – it doesn’t need to be in the middle.
If you are going with option 1 you won’t have any gaps as you would piece the shorter denim strips with fabric scraps until they are 14″ long.
Note: the placemats will be trimmed down to 12.5″ x 18.5″ so it is not necessary to cover completely to the edge of the batting but it is useful to sew a bit bigger than you need to make it easier to trim to size and not be cut short.
Next, sew using a 1/4″ inch seam allowance through all 3 layers of fabric on the left-hand raw edge of the strips.
I sew straight through the gap after the first short strip and carry on to the second strip.
Note: I have a built-in walking foot in my machine if you have a separate one you will likely want to use it for this project.
Finger press open and top-stitch or ‘quilt’ just beside the seam line using the inside of your presser foot as a guide.
I used a stitch length of 3 for both piecing and quilting as I didn’t want to have to remember to change my stitch length for the quilting!
Adding Focus Scraps
To add my focus scraps I took a piece of fabric a bit larger than the gap I left in the two denim strips (you decide how big you want your focus fabric pieces to be!).
I turned the edges under on 3 sides of a square of fabric.
I then stitched it down over the gap in the denim strip as close to the edge of the fabric scrap as I could get (see the video tutorial at the end of the post if this doesn’t make sense).
You only need to stitch down the 3 turned-over edges.
The key thing is to cover the raw edges of the denim.
What this does is create a fun over/under effect when we add the next row of denim as the one remaining raw edge will get captured in that seam.
Because of this your focus scrap doesn’t need to be exactly the same width as the strip you are adding it to – it can be wider and partially cover a bit of the previous strip. You can have lots of fun with this and I think it adds a touch of interest.
I also like that doing it this way, I don’t have to plan my strips and scraps ahead of time I can just have fun and choose as I go.
Repeat until Batting is Covered
Repeat this stitch-and-flip method alternating randomly between full strips of denim and partial strips with focus scraps until your batting is completely covered.
You could choose to add a focus scrap on every row or only on one – this is your opportunity to make something totally unique to you.
Adding Backing Fabric
Trim your placemat top to 12.5″ x 18.5″.
Place your backing fabric right sides down on top of your placemat.
Sew all the way around with a 1/4″ seam leaving a 3-4″ turning gap on one of the short sides of the placemat. Backstitch at the start and finish.
Finishing Your Placemat
Clip your four corners (taking care not to cut through your stitch line) and remove any loose threads on your batting side – especially if you have used a light-colored backing fabric.
Turn our placemat right side out and poke the corners out with your finger or a chopstick.
Press your entire placemat flat with an iron and turn in the raw edges of the turning gap.
Using a stitch length of 3, top stitch all the way around the edge of the placemat to close the turning gap and give a finishing touch.
You should now have a gorgeous finished placemat!
My Finished Placemats
So far I have made two sets of placemats. One set with bicycle focus scraps and one with a mix of more abstract blue and purple prints.
- Personalise these as gifts with favorite colors, images and more. Give each family member their own placemats that reflect their decor or hobbies.
- If you are going to do the improv method make a little ‘nest’ for yourself around your sewing machine with your cutting mat, rotary cutter and piles of denim strips and focus scraps.
- Batch sew these placemats by chain piecing from one placemat to the next OR take a piece of batting 4 times the size stated and make one big piece and then cut it down into 4.
- If you like the overlapping look of the focus scraps but you don’t want to turn under all those edges you can make your focus scraps raw-edged. It’s a different look but equally cool!
- You can make different themed sets for holidays so you always have one for every special occasion. Start saving those small pieces of fabric from your other projects so you always have the right ‘focus scrap’.
Frequently Asked Questions
12″ x 18″ is a standard placemat size. I make my pieces a little bigger because of the seam allowance when adding the backing fabric.
No. If it is a placemat to be used under a dinner plate on your dining table you can use any type of batting you have leftover from your other projects whether that is polyester, cotton, bamboo or 80/20.
IF however, you are wanting to make a hot plate (to go under a hot dish fresh out of the oven), then you should use insul bright either in place of or as well as your batting.
It doesn’t on my machine. The feed dogs should move it through just like any other fabric. As with any sewing project, you should always clean out the lint under your stitch plate at the end regardless.
You can buy denim needles which many people think are really helpful. I have used them but when I don’t have any left I just use a universal needle and I haven’t had any issues. I didn’t use a denim needle for this project.
Yes. Although I think it would be a shame to hide all the hard work you put into the front, you can use these as reversible placemats and have the back side fabric be the top if you like!
I hope you like these diy placemats. Here are some other fun projects you might enjoy: