How to Make an Out-of-the-Ordinary T-Shirt Quilt: Part One

comments (30) September 7th, 2012     

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erika_kern Erika Kern, contributor
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Sew memories together into a warm and comfy quilt.
Use patterned shirts and the sleeves and backs to add color interest to the graphics of the tees.
My drawers were filled with memories of concerts past, so many T-shirts I rarely wear.
Sew memories together into a warm and comfy quilt.

Sew memories together into a warm and comfy quilt.

Photo: Erika Kern
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I've always loved the idea of a T-shirt quilt, the memories all sewn together to warm you in the cool night or to sit on at a picnic, but I've never been a huge fan of their look. It took me a while to figure out how I wanted it to look, but I think I came up with a plan. Inspired by log cabin quilt blocks and the work of Piet Mondrian, I improvised a pattern that is both traditional and modern, beautiful and full of memories. This post is all about making the quilt front; next week, we'll do the quilting.

Want to make some memories of your own? 

t-shirt Get more T-shirt projects:

• How to Restyle a T-Shirt into a Ruffly Cardigan
• How to Upcycle a T-Shirt into a Cardigan
How to Crochet a Rug out of T-Shirts

How to Make a Headband from an Old T-Shirt

Here's what you'll need:

  • Old T-shirts (I used about 20)
  • Scissors
  • Rotary cutter and mat
  • Quilting grid (I used an 8-1/2-inch by 24-inch grid)
  • Paper and pencil
  • Straight pins
  • Sewing machine
  • Thread in a neutral color (I used gray)
  • Iron and ironing board
  Start with a T-shirt. Well, 20 T-shirts...
  Cut your shirts apart along the seams.
  Use your rotary cutter and quilt grid to cut out the center graphic of your shirt. Keep the rest of the shirt front to use as the accent strips in other blocks of the quilt.
  Since the size of the graphics vary, I use a bit of an improvisational style when making my T-shirt quilt blocks. I just make sure to write down my measurements as I go so that all my pieces fit.

To make up for the difference in the sizes of the shirt graphics, I kept most of the accent strips the same width, 3 inches (3-3/4 inches with the seam allowance on either side).

  The beginnings of my quilt block cut and ready to sew.
  Pin your first two pieces together. Since jersey tends to roll, I usually use a lot of pins to make sure my seam allowance doesn't get tucked into my stitches.
  Sew pieces together using a 3/8-inch seam allowance. I use the larger seam allowance because of the fabric's tendency to roll.
  Press your seams flat before adding the next piece.
  Pin on the next piece of your block, and continue sewing and pressing until your block is built.

 

  The first part of the block sewn together.

Because I'm so bad at math, and the style of this quilt is so improvised, I built the blocks at my machine starting small, like the block above. Once the pieces were sewn together, I cut the pieces to complete the block. I did this for the whole quilt; if it's easier for you to lay out your whole quilt before sewing, you can do that, too.

  The finished block for the upper left corner. Each of my finished blocks measures around 20 inches by 24 inches.

To make the quilt, I joined three blocks together to form a row. The finished front is made from four of these rows and measures about 60 inches by 80 inches, not a standard size but great for a throw.

  Use patterned shirts and the backs of your graphic tees for your quilt.

Next week we quilt! Then it's off to the festival concert, comfy and unique!

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Comments (30)

SandyEvelynne writes: I too have been saving T-shirts till I 'got round' to making them into a quilt. Once again, you've set out the information beautifully - so now I have no excuse not to get it done!! Thanks for sharing with us all.
Posted: 2:56 am on June 1st
nanarobs writes: Thanks from New Zealand. I have been saving tshirts for years as I wanted to make a quilt like this but wasnt sure how to go about it....thanks for all the hints and know how.
Your amazing quilt and approach to it has opened up a vein of creativity in me thats been dormant for too long. Bless you
Posted: 3:15 am on November 10th
MegsQM writes: This looks great! I make t-shirt quilts for a living and I personally don't use interfacing either. Don't need it unless you're concerned about stretching the seams too much. If you're quilting on a long arm be careful not to over stretch either. But basically - go for it!
Posted: 9:03 pm on September 17th
Crochetgeek437 writes: I love it!!!!! Gonna make it for my bro on his birthday :)
Posted: 9:28 pm on September 7th
dea4 writes: I've made T-shirt quilts before but not like this, this is an interesting variation and would work great for T-shirts that have small logos or designs.
Posted: 3:33 pm on May 4th
ChristineDesigns writes: Fantastic way to make use of old T-shirts!
Posted: 11:50 pm on November 22nd
Edileusa writes: Hi, Erika. I am starting to be a quilter now. i finished my first quilt and the second is in the way. I just loved the idea to make a quilt using old t-shirts. I never saw it before. My mother was a quilter, and my grand too. We are brazilian, then because is so hot here, we used cotton cloth to do quilts . But it is so much better. Thanks a lot. I almost can*t wait to start to do my old t-shirts quilt.
Posted: 7:57 am on June 20th
kae1217 writes: OMGosh this is exactly what I have been thinking about making. I really dislike the other designs out there. Thanks for sharing this project. You did a great job! My husband is a firefighter and a total man/boy and I believe he has well over 200 t shirts many of them in storage totes. This will make a great gift for him!
Posted: 6:56 am on May 29th
Flippincool writes: Hi!

Just wanted to let you know I featured this tutorial and pt2 in a post all about upcycle crafting. Thanks!

Emily
The Handmade Experiment
http://emilyflippinmaruna.wordpress.com/2009/07/13/must-make-monday-upcycled/
Posted: 4:55 am on July 13th
georgiana writes: Looks like a great idea for using up your old t-shirts. I would use spray starch to stabilize the edges before I even cut the pieces with my rotary cutter and then sew it with the serger.
Posted: 10:00 am on May 21st
natalieleppard writes: I LOVE this! My boyfriend has a ton of shirts he can't part with but loves dearly so I'm making one from him. And, I hope you don't mind, but I linked to your tutorial because I'm blogging my quilting-learning-process and wanted to make sure you get all of the credit for the inspiration! (http://bloodrecollection.blogspot.com/2009/05/jersey-monster.html)
Posted: 7:16 pm on May 4th
karmarose writes: Thanks so much for posting this idea! I've been planning to make a t-shirt quilt for some time now, but I was going to do boring same-sized blocks...you've inspired me to be much more creative. Thanks :)
Posted: 10:03 am on April 23rd
paperrain writes: This is a really great idea! How many teeshirts have I hated to thrift because of the memories! And old teeshirts can be so soft! Great for a throw cover.
Posted: 7:17 pm on April 22nd
pctulsa writes: Having some trouble with my post, so if this is a duplicate, my apologies. I've been making tee-shirt quilts and pillow for years and today I learned something new...starch! Thanks. I too started out using Erica's pin method but as I made more and more quilts, I decided it was worth the time to iron on some very lightweight pellon, THEN cut the design. (JoAnn regularly has it 50% off.)It was too frustrating for me to wrestle and pin stretchy fabric so interfacing has eliminated nearly all pinning and basting for me. If you want to see some of my stuff...sashed, color blocks, patchwork...look at the sample page at http://members.cox.net/pcaudle2000/index.htm Love the log cabin design, Erica.
Posted: 10:21 am on April 21st
pctulsa writes: I've been making tee-shirt quilts for years and today I learned something new....starch! My first couple of quilts were made without interfacing, but as I began to make more, it was just too frustrating for me to wrestle and pin stretchy fabric. I now always cut the full front (or back or logo), iron on lightest weight fusible pellon, THEN cut. I rarely pin or baste which kinda makes up for the time spent interfacing. If you want to check out a few of my creations....sashed, color blocks, and patchwork....check out my website samples page and sew crazy! Love the log cabin look, Erica! http://members.cox.net/pcaudle2000/index.htm

Posted: 9:26 am on April 21st
erika_kern writes: Like I said, I didn't use any interfacing and didn't run into any problems. I've already washed it once and it looks great.
Posted: 6:50 pm on April 20th
DeeDeeM writes: I love it when an old idea gets a great update. Thank you.

Let me suggest a way to make the T-shirt material handle better for the cutting and construction phase. Pre-wash all the T-shirts with a light to medium fabric starch. Use the package directions. Iron the T-shirts flat with a steam iron and fine mist water spray after they dry. Use a medium heat setting and a press cloth or iron the back-side to protect any screen prints or puffy prints that might melt. The T-shirts will be stiffer, less stretchy, and will tend to roll less. It takes a little more effort at the beginning, but I have found it to be more than worth it in how it improved the handling of the fabric. The quilt can be returned to normal T-shirt softness by simply washing it after completed. Enjoy.

Posted: 3:55 am on April 20th
Fabricgoddess writes: I have been saving old vacation t-shirts to try making a quilt this looks simple enough for me to accomplish. I have heard different remarks about using interfacing, will not using it affect the t-shirts if the quilt is washed? Look forward to the finishing details and starting my own thanks.
Posted: 1:35 pm on April 19th
Paws2 writes: How do you come up with such terrific ideas?!! I will definitly do this quilt !....Thanks
Posted: 7:55 am on April 19th
erika_kern writes: I'll be covering the finishing the quilt in my 4/22 post!

I ran into no problems not using interfacing. To be honest the thought of using it never even entered my head. Since I knew that the edges of the fabric would roll I just made sure to give myself extra seam allowance and that seemed to work just fine.

Posted: 2:06 pm on April 18th
Cheriezel writes: How are you finishing the quilt? Are you using any sort of quilt batting in the middle or what kind of fabric on the back? I've done a simple t-shirt quilt before but had used a knit interfacing on the t-shirts so they wouldn't pull or roll up and polar fleece on the back wrapped to the front. Any problems with the quilt by not interfacing it?
Posted: 1:35 pm on April 18th
erika_kern writes: beyondhalfcentury: It really doesn't matter what direction the grain is going, I have it going all sorts of directions on my quilt. Actually I found that the grain on most of the shirts I was working with was all wonky to begin with, so I quickly abandoned the idea of staying with the grain.

I really had no problem with stretching, just make sure not to pull at your fabric while sewing and you should be fine.
Posted: 11:55 am on April 18th
missjuli writes: This is "sew" great! I have been wanting to make one of these for years. I belong to a camping group and we used to make our own original t-shirt for every year of camping. I have saved them all and really don't like to wear many of them anymore, some however, are falling apart. I always thought it would be great to use them to make a quilt and put our camping logo on the other side. I have talked about it long enough and I feel this is the year/month I will finally take on this project! You have inspired me Erika. Your quilt looks awesome and thanks for the tips!
Posted: 11:42 am on April 18th
beyondhalfcentury writes: I just love the idea of preserving memories this way. I just have one question, Erika. I haven't sewn much with stretchy material and wondered if you have to follow either the crosswise or lengthwise grain of the fabric when cutting out the pieces for the throw? Or does it really matter? Can't wait to get started making one.
Posted: 3:23 am on April 18th
mscraftypants writes: You're awesome - now just picture that quilt with all of Joe's old gamer T-Shirts and you know what mine will look like (oh and throw in a Mr. Bubble shirt for fun).
Cheers!
Posted: 3:42 pm on April 16th
erika_kern writes: Thanks all!

I just quilted it last night and it's soooo comfy cozy! All soft from years of washing. . . warm but not too warm. Like Jek said, great for summer! Oh and camping, this would be so good for that and so great for shirts and onsies that have sentimental value but that the kids have long outgrown.
Posted: 3:20 pm on April 16th
jekinthebox writes: fantastic! i need to make some camping quilts and this would be perfect for the summer quilt!
Posted: 12:57 pm on April 16th
MissesStitches writes: What an awesome idea! I have a bag full of t-shirts to make quilts for my two kids. Now I better get busy! Thanks for the idea.
Posted: 8:55 pm on April 15th
susanstars writes: Erika, that is so amazing, I love it! I've been saving favorite old t-shirts for a quilt and you've just given me a million ideas to mix them up :)

yay!
Posted: 2:00 pm on April 15th
elbowyoyo writes: Wow . . . this is positively bursting with awesomeness! : )

Like you, I loved the "idea" of a t-shirt quilt but I have yet to see one whose "look" I appreciated. Until now! Kudos!
Posted: 12:24 pm on April 15th
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