Introduction: I Spy Quilt

About: I enjoy creating and designing. I love trying out tools and/or materials that I haven't used before. I have not been able to stick to one specific craft in particular and there is always a project under way i…

Dropping temperatures means kids are spending a lot more time indoors. If you're looking for ways to keep the kiddos warm and provide some fun activities all in one, this project has you "covered".

I Spy Quilts are quilts made with pictorial or novelty quilting fabrics. The reason I am calling this particular “I Spy” quilt "In-Jeaneous" is because it utilizes recycled blue jeans and there are indoor activities to do with the quilt. I’ve compiled a list of games to play so it is sure to entertain both young and old for hours.

Don't have any denim jeans to recycle? No problem! You can also make this quilt by using a purchased denim fabric alternative.

This pattern is beginner friendly and you can sew it on a standard sewing machine, so don't hesitate to try the project even if it is your very first quilt.

Step 1: Gather Materials and Tools


* NOTE: The quantity of recycled jeans, denim fabric, charm squares, batting, and binding fabric will depend on the size of the quilt you elect to make. See the "Determine Size of Quilt" section in this Instructables project for directions on sizing your quilt.


Step 2: Determine the Size of Your Quilt

If you are sewing a quilt for a specific bed, it is best to measure the width of your mattress and add the amount of overhang you want on each side and then measure the length of your mattress and add the amount of overhang you want on the end. These are target sizes.

This quilt uses 5"x5" square "charms" that fit inside the 7" denim circles so the finished square will equal 5"x5". If your block calculations don't work out quite right, just round up. I chose to make a quilt big enough for my son's twin sized bed. My calculations are 65" (width of quilt) divided by 5" (finished square) = 13 blocks and 88" (length of quilt) divided by 5" (finished square) = 17.6, which would round up to 18.

So 13 x 18 = 234 charm squares and 234 denim circles. My layout is 13 blocks wide by 18 blocks long. My finished quilt measures 65"x90”.

Step 3: Cut Denim Circles

Now that you have calculated the number of 5"x5" squares needed for your desired quilt size, start by cutting your recycled denim jeans or purchased denim fabric into the same number of 7" diameter circles. There are several methods to choose from in cutting the circles.

  • OPTION A: Use the OLFA CMP-3 Circle Cutter. This is the method I chose to use.
    • Directions for cutting the circles using the OLFA CMP-3 Rotary Circle Cutter: Set the compass point to 3.5″ radius so that it will make a 7” diameter circle. Remove the cap from the compass point and deactivate the safety on the blade. Place denim onto cutting mat and use the tool to cut your circle. TIP: spraying temporary fabric adhesive onto the back side of the denim will keep your denim from moving while you are cutting your circles.
  • OPTION B: June Taylor Charming Circles Ruler.
  • OPTION C: Use a 7" diameter circle template made out of cardboard and a marker to trace the circle onto your denim. Then, cut the circle out with scissors.

IF YOU ARE USING RECYCLED JEANS: The easiest way I found to cut them is to cut up the entire inseam, from the bottom hem of one pants leg, up to the crotch, and down again to the bottom hem of the other pants leg. Next, cut off each pants leg, place each leg onto your cutting board, and proceed with cutting the 7" circle using Option A, B, or C.

IF YOU ARE USING PURCHASED DENIM FABRIC: Make sure to pre-wash your fabric first. Fold your fabric in half (matching your selvage edges). Use an erasable marker to draw a vertical line 4” from the right edge of your folded fabric and then every 7.5” to use as guide lines for cutting the circles. Next, draw a horizontal line across the bottom at 3 1/2 inches from the selvage edge. These lines create an intersection for the first circle cut. You can now cut 3 sets of circles per line by using the lines as a guide for your centers of your circles.. If the circles are cut close enough, you can get three circles from each row of the doubled fabric (yielding a total of 6 circles per row). Use Option A, B, or C to cut the amount of circles you need for your quilt size.

Step 4: Cut 5” X 5” Fabric Blocks

Cutting your own 5” x 5” fabric blocks is optional because pre-cut charm packs are available online or at your local quilt shop to purchase.

For my quilt, I elected to purchase 100 pre-cut charms from a couple of different sellers to give me a better variety and then I utilized a bunch of novelty fabrics I had on hand in my craft stash to make up the remaining blocks required.

If you are choosing to cut your own blocks, the use of a cutting template will make the job much easier and quicker. Many quilters use cardboard templates, but preventing an accidental cut of your template is tricky business. I decided to ask my husband to cut a 5” x 5” Plexiglas square for me to use as a window template and it works great! Pre-made 5" square rulers are also sold at craft stores.

To cut your blocks, place the fabric right side up on top of the cutting mat and center the template on top of the fabric where you want to cut your block. Next, use a rotary cutter to cut the fabric by using the edges of the template as a guide. This method is a huge time saver and results in absolutely perfect cuts.

Another great advantage in using a window template tool is that it allows your to “fussy cut” your blocks with ease because you can view through the template to center your images to your liking before you cut.

Step 5: Sew Rows: Basting Method

There are two methods to choose from in sewing your rows. This Instructable will show both methods.


If you are using heavy or recycled denim, place a 7" Circle right side down onto table or mat, spray the wrong side of the 5" square lightly with temporary fabric adhesive and press it into the center of the denim circle (repeating until you have each circle and charm matched and basted together).

If you are using light weight denim fabric, place a 7" Circle right side down onto table or mat, spray batting square lightly with temporary fabric adhesive and press the 4" batting square into the center of the denim circle (repeating until you have each circle and batting square matched and basted together). Next, baste your 5" charm square on top of the batting square with right side up (repeating until you have each circle, batting square, and charm square basted together).

Sew Rows Together to equate to the numbers you calculated in step 2. My quilt is 18 rows of 13 blocks so I will sew 18 rows with 13 blocks and then attach each of the 18 rows together.

Make your rows. Take two basted circles and place them with the right sides of the denim circles together. Line them up by matching the corners/points of the squares together. Use the outer edge of the 5" square charm piece as your sewing line and sew with machine quilting thread making sure to back stitch at both ends of the blocks and reinforce at the corners. Proceed by adding and stitching circles together to build your row.

Once each row is stitched, press the seam allowances open. You can use an iron and steam, and it is also very helpful to use spray starch as well to make the flaps lay nice and flat and reduce the bulk in your seam allowances.

Step 6: Sew Rows: Marking Method


In this method, we will insert the fabric squares and/or batting AFTER all of the rows (denim circles) are sewn and joined together. The only difference here is that we will mark the squares into the center of the circles and use the markings for our sewing lines. I've demonstrated both methods with photos in this Instructable and found that method B is the one I prefer.

Place a 7" circle right side down onto table or mat, mark a 5" square on the center of the wrong side of the 7" circle. Match each circle to the next circle (lining up the lines).

Sew the circles together to equal the total needed that you calculated in step 2. My quilt is 18 rows of 13 blocks so I will sew 18 rows with 13 blocks and then attach each of the 18 rows together.

Take two circles and place them with the right sides of the denim circles together. Line them up by matching the corners/points of the marked lines together. Sew with machine quilting thread making sure to back stitch at both ends of the blocks and reinforce at the corners. Proceed by adding and stitching circles together to build your row. Once each row is stitched, press the seam allowances open. You can use an iron and steam, and it is also very helpful to use spray starch as well to make the flaps lay nice and flat and reduce the bulk in your seam allowances.

Step 7: Attach Rows Together

Secure one row to another. Line one row up with another row using the same method we utilized to build the initial rows. Place the right side of the denim circle together and pin carefully (making sure you have everything lined up perfectly). Sew all the way across the top of the blocks, block by block and this will now yield two rows sewn together. Next, press the seam that goes between the rows open using the same iron and spray starch method you used when building the rows. Join the other rows in exactly the same fashion until you have all of your quilt rows completely sewn together. Press and starch the remaining flaps down all the way around the perimeter of the quilt.

NOTE: If you used Option B of sewing your rows, you will baste and pin the fabric squares (and batting if you chose to use batting) in behind the flaps into the front of the quilt at the end after all rows are sewn and attached together. I found it easiest to add my fabric squares one row at a time during the flap sew down process (Step 9 of this Instructable). This method reduced the number of pins in my quilt that had a tendency to poke me as I was sewing the flaps down. Rolling the quilt during the flap sew down process also helped keep the fabric squares nice and taught as the quilt is moved around and in and out of the sewing machine. I chose to sew my flaps down after I assembled all of the rows together but another option is to sew the flaps down on each row before you sew the rows together.

Step 8: Applique (Optional)

This is a really special quilt for my son so I decided to embroidery machine applique his name into the back of the quilt. I elected to place the name into the center of the last row on the back side of the quilt. You may choose to place applique anywhere into the backside of your quilt if you desire. You will just place it into the row or rows where you want it to go.

I happen to own a really nice embroidery machine so I used it to sew my applique. Applique is optional and if you do not have an embroidery machine, applique can be done by hand by cutting out your design and using hand embroidery or your standard sewing machine to finish. You can also decide not to add any applique at all. Since I used my embroidery machine, this Instructable will explain that method.

  1. Load the digital applique design into your embroidery machine.
  2. Hoop the block (be sure to stabilize it with your stabilizer).
  3. Stitch the placement stitches.
  4. Place your applique fabric on top of the block. (TIP: Use temporary adhesive to hold fabric in place).
  5. Sew your tacking stitches.
  6. Remove hoop from the machine (leaving fabrics in the hoop) and cut away the excess applique fabric).
  7. Put the hoop back into the machine and finish the stitching. Your machine will run a final tacking stitch and then proceed to the outline stitch.
  8. Remove from your machine, remove block from hoop, and trim away the excess stabilizer from the back side.

Step 9: Stitch Flaps Down

Now it’s time to stitch the flaps down (unless you chose the quilt as you go method and sewed the flaps down before you attached the rows together). Use a 3/8" seam allowance here if you desire a frayed edge effect on your quilt. Alternatively, use a decorate stitch here (along the outer edge of the flaps) if you prefer to have a more tailored effect.

If you have previously joined the rows without stitching the flaps down, I have found that the easiest way to sew this step is to sew in a figure eight pattern. I used my standard sewing machine to sew the flaps down on the entire quilt. If you use a large table that is big enough to support the weight of the quilt, and you roll the quilt as you sew, it is fairly easy to do. The table and your lap are enough to support the weight of the quilt. I found it most helpful to leave the feed dogs up on my machine because of the weight of the denim. Sew the horizontal "figure eights" first and roll the quilt to fit into the throat of the machine, (rolling again as you complete the sewing of each row). Start sewing on one end of the quilt, sewing row by row until you get to the middle of the quilt. Then, flip the quilt around and sew the other half of the quilt in the same manner. Once the horizontal rows are stitched, sew the vertical rows using the same technique.

Step 10: Finishing the Outer Edges

If you are not going to sew binding to the quilt, sew a reinforcing seam around the outer edges of the quilt, right next to the original curved seam lines. Since the edges are all now finished, binding is optional.

If you are going to bind the quilt, use your straight edge, rotary cutter, and cutting mat to trim the edges of the quilt so your binding will lay nice and flat. Alternatively, it is possible to add binding over the flaps. I chose to trim my edges. The next step will explain the binding process.

Step 11: Machine Binding (Optional)

    Calculating the Binding

    To calculate the amount of binding that you need for a project, measure each side of the quilt and add up those measurements. Then, add an additional twelve inches to that number to account for the four mitered corners, and use that as the length of binding to create. My quilt has a parameter of 310" so if I add 12" to that total, my continuous length of binding will need to be 322" long. To determine how many strips you will need to cut, divide that number by 42" (the width of your fabric cut from selvage to selvage) and round up to the next whole number. My quilt calculation is 322 / 42 = 7.66 so I cut a total of (8) strips. I chose to cut my strips at 2 1/2" wide.

    Making the Binding

    1. Cut strips of fabric from selvage to selvage to create binding.
    2. Join the strips of fabric together to create a continuous length of binding by placing two strips right sides together, at a 90-degree angle, as pictured. Make sure the strips extend over the edge by about 1/4″. You can use a straight edge and a marker to lightly draw a line between the points where the bottom strip meets the top strip that will serve as your sewing line but you may feel confident in sewing without having to mark. Sew on the line (back stitching at the beginning and the end of your seam.)
    3. Remove the strips from the sewing machine and trim 1/4" from the stitched line.
    4. Press the seam open with your iron.
    5. Continue to sew one strip to another in the same fashion until you have the continuous length required to fit your quilt. Once you have the total length needed, fold the strips in half lengthwise with wrong sides together and press with iron.

    Sewing the Binding Around the Back Side of the Quilt

    1. Since we are binding with the sewing machine, place the binding along the back of the quilt. Start in the middle of one side, place two pins into the quilt 12" apart, line up the raw edges of the binding with the raw edges of the quilt, leaving about a 10" tail of binding strip loose at the end. Start sewing at the first pin mark using a 1/4" seam allowance. Don't forget to back stitch at the beginning.
    2. Continue to sew along the edge of the quilt until you are about a 1/4" away from the corner. At that point, stop sewing. Clip the thread and remove the quilt from your machine.
    3. Rotate the quilt so that the edge that you just sewed is on the top.
    4. Fold the binding strip back along the line you just sewed, making a 45 degree fold. Then fold the binding strip down, making a horizontal fold that lines up with the quilt’s top edge. Crease with your finger to create a mitered corner. Pin in place.
    5. Put the quilt back into the sewing machine and begin to sew the binding to the next side, starting at the top, and back stitching at the beginning. Repeat each side and corner until you have worked your way around the entire quilt but stop sewing about 12" from where your started sewing the binding onto the quilt.

    Closing the Binding Using the Binding Tool

    For closing the binding, I chose to use a binding tool. By making just just two measurements and two cuts with the template, it works out perfectly every time.

    1. Place the tool to the left edge of your binding where the stitching ends. Transfer the marked line onto the binding by marking your binding.

    2. Open up the binding and line up the marked line on the tool with the marked line you just made. Using a rotary cutter, trim around the tool.

    3. Rotate the tool and place it against the right edge of your binding where you stopped stitching. Mark the line. Open the binding up and place the tip of the tool on the marked line. Trim with a rotary cutter.

    4. Open up the binding ends and line them up using the pressed line as a guide. Hold the two ends in place with pins.

    5. Press the seam open and stitch the binding to your quilt for a smooth-looking edge without any bulk.

    6. Finish sewing the rest of the binding to the back side of the quilt.

    Sewing the Binding to the Front Side of the Quilt

    1. Turn the quilt over so that the top is facing up, and pull the binding up from the back so that it lays flat, extending beyond the edge of the quilt. Press the binding to remove any creases or wrinkles that formed while you were attaching it. Pin or clip in place.
    2. To create a miter on the back, fold the binding in on one side, making sure you are covering your stitching line. This will create a folded point at the corner. Place a pin on the front to hold the binding in place.Once you get to a corner, stop sewing and leave the needle down, and pivot the quilt so that the mitered edge is facing you. Treat each corner like you did the previous.
    3. Stitch the binding in place "in-the-ditch" of the seam. When you get back to the side of the quilt that you started on, sew over the first sew stitches that you made, back stitch a couple of stitches to lock the seam, and then remove the quilt from the sewing machine.

    Since I was machine binding, I chose to use a decorative stitch with a variegated thread and I really love how it turned out.

    Your binding is finished!

    Step 12: Fray (Optional)

    If you are going for the ragged edge look, the edges of the flaps need to be clipped. Use the Friskars Easy Action Rag Scissors or small sharp scissors to snip the edges every 1/4” being careful not to snip past the sewing line. Once you have the edges clipped, use a stiff brush to fluff the snipped edges buy rubbing the brush back and forth against the clipped edges (this speeds up the fraying process). After the quilt is washed and dried, the edges will start to fray more evenly.

    WARNING: Running the clipped and brushed quilt through your washer creates quite a mess! I gave the quilt a big shake to eliminate most of the loose textile before I put the quilt into my dryer. I used my hand to remove the loose textile from the washer basin. Next, I finished up the laundry room clean up by getting out my broom and dustpan.

    The time it took me to clean up was definitely worth the effort because the fraying gave the quilt an amazing texture and I was pleasantly surprised with how soft the frayed areas became. The softness made the quilt even more cozy.

    Guess what? Your quilt is ready to go! All this work calls for play so let's play some games!

    Step 13: Let the Games Begin!

    Here are some games ideas to keep your kids occupied at various ages and stages so they will be able to enjoy their quilt for many years to come.

    GAME 1 - Find specific things in the quilt.

    • Alphabets
    • Animals
    • Baby Things
    • Birds
    • Bugs
    • Cars
    • Dinosaurs
    • Disney Characters
    • Fish
    • Flowers
    • Fruits
    • Musical Instruments
    • Shapes
    • Superheros
    • Things that are a certain color
    • Toys
    • Zoo Animals Etc.

    GAME 2 – Find things in the quilt that go together.

    • Characters from a story
    • Things that fly
    • Bat and Ball Etc.

    GAME 3 – Find things in the quilt start with the same letter.

    • Airplane and Apple
    • Bat and Ball
    • Cake and Cat
    • Mator and Mickey Mouse Etc.

    GAME 4 – Find things in the quilt that rhyme.

    • Cat/Bat
    • Dog/Frog Etc.

    GAME 5 - Make up a story using multiple squares from the quilt.

    GAME 6 - Toss a few coins on a the quilt and make up a story based on the squares where the coins have landed.

    GAME 7 - Write I Spy riddles to go with the fabrics/pictures on your quilt. Look for interesting words and phrases to rhyme. Try writing to a rhythmic pattern called dactylic tetrameter or create a rap (which also has four main beats to a line.) Use Alliteration and or assonance to aid in writing your riddles.

    GAME 8 - Find two or more players and play a traditional game of I Spy but use the fabrics/photos in the quilt for the objects spied in the game. The rules for the traditional game are as follows:

    • Chose two or more players. (There is no limit to the amount of players that can play).
    • Select the first "Spy".
    • The first "Spy" selects an object in one of the quilt blocks but doesn't reveal what they selected. Instead, they give the first hint to what it is they have selected.
    • The other players take turns trying to guess the object.
    • If no one guesses correctly on the first try, the "Spy" gives another hint by choosing a different adjective and concentrating on a different feature of the object.
    • The player that guesses the object correctly is the next "Spy".
    • If none of the players are able to guess, the Spy can either give another clue or pass the turn by selecting another player to become the "Spy".

    GAME 9: Find all the matching blocks.

    GAME 10: Find all the blocks that do not have a matching block.

    Step 14: Enjoy!

    Thank you for viewing my "In-Jeanious I Spy Quilt" Instructable. If you are inspired, please vote for this Instructable in the Sew Warm Contest. Happy sewing everyone!

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