T-Shirt Quilt–How I Made It

Hi all,

As you can see, there is a bonus post this month! As my baby sister is graduating with her Master’s degree, I decided that I would do something special for a graduation present. She is a former athlete and has chosen athletic training as her career, so she has acquired about 1,000,000 t-shirts, all of which have memories attached to them. Clearly, she did not want to get rid of them but also did not wear many of them anymore. I ended up asking her for 48 t-shirts and made a queen sized t-shirt quilt. I ended up using the backs of some of the shirts as well, which came to 56 squares total for the top of the quilt. There are quite a few ways to do this, but I took the “simpler” way and decided to use even sized squares instead of a “patchier” quality (i.e., using strips from sleeves or different sized squares). I also decided not to have borders between the shirts or around the edges, as she had plenty of shirts to create a nice looking top without them.

Here is how I did it! First, I bought my materials. A fiberglass square to measure the shirts, a rotary cutter to cut the shirts (cutting by hand with fabric scissors would have been KILLER), hand-quilting needles, and cotton covered quilting thread. Then I was ready to roll. I started out by placing each shirt underneath the fiberglass square and marking it at 12.5″ all around:

Cutting Shirts

After marking each shirt, I cut them using the rotary cutter and a cutting board into the squares. I cut about 2″ of extra material larger than the 12.5″ marks so that I had something to work with. You can always cut the extra material off, but you can’t add material back! This cut down my material pile significantly:

Pile of Shirts

The shirts were MUCH more manageable at this point and the project didn’t seem as intimidating. After cutting, it was time to add interfacing so that the shirts did not stretch while I was sewing or after my sister had it in hand. I chose fusible interfacing so that I could iron it onto each square instead of sewing it individually. You’re pretty much just gluing the interfacing to the shirts using an iron. This is easy to do–just put the bumpy side against the back of the shirts, set a damp cloth over the top, and let the iron sit on it for 30-40 seconds:

Ironing Interfacing

This took quite a bit of time, but eventually it was time to move onto the next step–designing the top of the quilt! I decided to just make sure none of the squares were the same color as the square next to it, so laying out the squares and organizing them did not take too much time. Some people think I was crazy to do this, but I decided to hand sew the top of the quilt. After designing the top, I put them into piles by row and numbered the rows with a piece of paper and a pin to keep track of the order. I pinned each row and began to sew:

Handsewing

I was typically able to get 5-6 stitches on the needle at a time. While doing this, I was able to listen to my first podcast and now I’m in love. It was better than music and TV because it gave me something to concentrate on without having to look up. After sewing each row, I began to sew the rows together (also by hand):

Rows

Eventually, the top of the quilt was complete!

Top of Quilt

Once the top was done, I essentially had this huge piece of material to work with. The next step was to add on low-loft batting to make it nice and comfy. Some people suggest using an old blanket or picking up some fleece. I found the batting to be cheaper than purchasing fleece, easier to work with, and much lighter weight. This thing was already getting heavy and I didn’t want it to get overwhelming to handle. At this point, I stopped with the hand-quilting craziness and started using my mom’s vintage Kenmore sewing machine. It took me awhile to get used to it, but I figured it out!

Moms Sewing Machine

Common problems I had when learning to use a sewing machine: 1. The thread kept breaking. I learned that this was due to a few things: having the machine improperly threaded (top or bottom stitch), having the new needle in backwards, or having cheap thread. 2. A pin getting caught in the inner most bobbin holder, which meant having to take the whole holder apart (something that my mom warned me would be a horrible experience). The bobbin holder has this magical quality…if you take it apart, it will not go back together until you are JUST ABOUT to cry. As soon as it can sense your sincerity, it will go back to looking like this.

Stupid Bobbin Holder

Once I figured out the intricacies of working with a sewing machine, I was able to sew a border around the edges of the batting and top of the quilt:

Sewing Batting

I then used the rotary cutter to get rid of the extra fabric before sewing the back on. I picked the comfiest, but lightest, material that I could find and I think it ended up looking pretty cool. When I saw this material, it screamed “Sarah Blowers”. I had to use 6 yards of material, cut it in half, and sew a seam up the middle of the back to cover the whole-huge-queen-sized-thing. Once I sewed the edges together, I stitched down each row and column to really hold it together. This created a grid on the back and it should stay together when she washes it:

Back Grid

Then the quilt was finished It looks pretty sweet:

Held Up Quilt

I also took a picture of it on my queen-sized bed (which it fit perfectly) so that I could see how it looked:

Quilt on Bed

There you go! Instructions/guidance on making a t-shirt quilt.

Until next time,

Amanda

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