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

comments (15) April 22nd, 2009     

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erika_kern Erika Kern, contributor
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A close-up of the quilting on my T-shirt throw. I love how the randomness of the quilt lines play with the gridlike nature of the patchwork.
The finished quilt ready for summer festival season!
If youre doing straight-line quilting, 1/4-inch quilters tape makes laying out your pattern as easy as can be. You can find it in the quilting section of most craft and fabric stores.
A close-up of the quilting on my T-shirt throw. I love how the randomness of the quilt lines play with the gridlike nature of the patchwork.

A close-up of the quilting on my T-shirt throw. I love how the randomness of the quilt lines play with the gridlike nature of the patchwork.

Photo: Erika Kern

Last week I took all my old, beloved T-shirts and made them into a quilt front; this week I finish the quilt. This is the part that often seems to intimidate the novice quilter, like me. The quilt front is easy enough to fudge, but the quilting seems so permanent, so easy to mess up.

The first hurdle to quilting the T-shirt quilt was figuring out the backing fabric. I wanted something that complemented the jersey of the quilt front, and I found it in a set of T-shirt sheets. Check out your local thrifts for jersey top sheet. I found a gray T-shirt sheet set at Target for $20.

Now it's time to start quilting. The quilting technique I used for my quilt is super-easy. If you're making a T-shirt quilt for yourself, these simple steps and tricks will turn your awesome quilt front into the coziest quilt in your house.

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:

  • Flat T-shirt sheet (queen size for twin/full-sized quilts, larger for larger quilts)
  • Cotton or cotton-blend quilt batting
  • 1/4-inch quilter's tape or chalk marker
  • Quilter's grid or straightedge
  • Saftey pins
  • Scissors
  • Thread
  • Sewing machine
  • Walking foot
  • Quilter's gloves (optional but super-handy!)
  • Rotary cutter and mat
  • Straight pins

First, lay your quilt top out on a large, flat surface. For most of us, that will be the floor. If you have a table large enough for your quilt, use that. Oh, by the way, I'm jealous. Once your top is laid out, mark it for quilting. There are several ways to do this. You can use chalk or disappearing markers to mark you quilting lines, but I like using quilter's tape.

If you're doing straight-line quilting, 1/4-inch quilter's tape makes laying out your pattern as easy as can be. You can find it in the quilting section of most craft and fabric stores.

I decided to use a horizontal and vertical crooked criss-cross pattern for my quilting. This style was both quick and easy and went along with the rock-and-roll nature of my T-shirts. If this style is too haphazard for you, feel free to use another quilting technique.

Use your quilter's grid or straightedge as a guide for your tape or chalk marks.

The horizontal quilting plan all taped out.

Once the quilting plot is figured out, it's time to put together the layers of your quilt.

Quilt sandwich! Lay out your backing fabric wrong side up, quilt batting, and quilt top. Your backing and batting should be larger than your quilt front.

Make sure that the three layers are all flat. Once flat, the quilt needs to be basted. You can do this with loose stitches, but I like safety pins.

Place the pins about 6 inches apart in an alternating pattern.

After pinning your quilt, trim your excess batting and backing, making sure to leave about 3 inches of overhang.

Don't throw out the fabric you trimmed from your backing. Save it to use as the binding for the quilt.

Once the quilt is basted, you can start quilting! If you don't already have a walking foot, run out and get one. A walking foot gives you a second set of feed dogs on the top of your fabric, allowing it to feed through evenly. This is super-handy on any sewing you might do using several layers (like quilting!). You should be able to get one for around $20, and it's a lifesaver!

The walking foot! Trust me, you want one of these if you're doing any straight-line, machine quilting.

You might also want to invest $5 for a pair of these bad boys:

Quilting gloves. Not necessary, but super-helpful. The gloves have little gripper dots on them that help you control your fabric with less effort. You can find them in the quilting section of most fabric stores.

Plus, these gloves are great for any impromptu musical numbers that might arise! They are, after all, jazz-hand ready. Anyway, back to the quilting...

Start quilting from the center. It's awkward stitching, but if you don't start at the center you risk bunching.

Remove the saftey pins as you sew, making sure they stay out of the way of your sewing.

Continue quilting from the center out.

The horizontal quilting is finished.

I wanted a criss-cross look to my quilting, so I followed the same taping and sewing steps vertically.

Once all the quilting is done, trim the excess backing fabric and batting from around the quilt.

Now it's time to bind the quilt. Since the whole project is made of a jersey fabric, I continued the theme and used the excess fabric trimmed from the sheet I used for the backing as the binding fabric. 

Cut the excess backing fabric into 2-inch strips for your binding.

You can sew these strips together, but I used four separate strips to bind each side of my quilt, starting first with the verticals and then binding the top and bottom.

I used the binding strips wrong side up. This turns the somewhat annoying, rolling nature of the jersey into an accent on my quilt. To keep the strip from rolling while sewing, I used a lot of pins.

Sew the binding down using a 5/8-inch seam allowance, sewing the two vertical sides first and then the top and bottom. Since the fabric doesn't fray, I left the corner raw but added a few locking stitches along the edge so that dirt wouldn't get under the binding and into my quilt.

A close-up on the finished binding.

And we're done and quilted! 

The finished quilt ready for summer festival season!

Now, that wasn't that hard, was it?

I don't know about you, but I'm ready to rock in the coziest fashion possible!

posted in: recycle, t-shirt

Comments (15)

DreamingofTuscany writes: I really like your creativity, Erika. I'm on my second T-shirt quilt... as gifts to my 2 children when they graduate from high school. I backed the first one in a regular Egyptian cotton sheet. It will last a long time, but it isn't soft. So for the second quilt I am following your lead and backing in a jersey sheet made of Modal. It is SUPER soft, and is supposed to be durable, but it is very thin and stretchy. I hope I don't regret the choice because these are keepsake quilts with all of my children's T-shirts from Kindergarten to beginning of college.
Posted: 10:41 am on May 3rd
safracal writes: Hey! I really want to make this quilt but have never made a quilt before. How did you piece it together?? Did you just cut strips and then make larger squares?

Posted: 7:23 am on May 6th
doodah_mama writes: I did it! Finished my first and only quilt from your tutorial! Quite frankly, quilting never ranked high on the appeal scale for me....until I saw your instructions and pattern. My husband also thanks you as his memories are preserved beautifully and functionally and aren't being used to clean the tub and sink! My neighbor just finished it with her long-arm machine; it was worth the little bit of a wait. Thanks so much!
Posted: 2:49 pm on July 31st
AppleSweetTalk writes: I love this craft! I will do this when I have enough old shirts.
Posted: 7:14 pm on June 15th
jewelbox writes: I cannot wait to make this quilt.It is just too cool for words! I love the freedom that it gives me to show my own style whether it is country,rock and roll,pet lover's, the options are endless. I plan on making a pillow like pctulsa said she has already been doing.It also gives me the chance to get my 15yr. old daughter involved.Thanks again Erika for all of your handy-dandy tips!
Posted: 12:58 am on May 2nd
rubicat writes: I really love your quilt - it is beautiful and looks oh-so-cozy. I'm also very envious of your t-shirt collection! Thanks for sharing your wonderful quilt.
Posted: 10:48 pm on April 27th
pctulsa writes: I've been making tee-shirt quilts and pillows for years and continue learning new things all the time. I really like the starch idea but so far have found that the extra step to back the shirts in lightest weight pellon makes for quick and easy assembly. I iron on before I cut out the design. I've used quilter's cotton, flannel, homespun, and even courduroy for backing and I tie my quilts. Check out "view samples"
Posted: 2:25 pm on April 27th
claudiasburningink writes: Oh Erika I love it. I hope you have many great times this summer that get to involve the beautiful green grass and this super cute quilt. I just love making stuff out of recycled t's!
Posted: 8:10 pm on April 26th
gaileee writes: This is so cool! I put a link to your t-shirt quilt tutorial on my website. Was wondering how to do a t-shirt quilt with odd shaped t-shirt logos!

Thanks for the great instructions.

Posted: 6:50 pm on April 25th
Sister_Diane writes: This quilt is amazing, Erika! And your quilting tutorial has rocked my world. Who knew about quilting tape?! Or the glove?! Genius.
Posted: 1:03 pm on April 23rd
erika_kern writes: I never knew I was so brave! But really the jersey wasn't that hard to work with since I was using the annoying aspect of the fabric to my advantage, adding the rolled accent on the binding. And any proper quilter will let you know that the binding that I did was one of the easiest bindings to do since I binded all the sides individually.

Perhaps I lucked out, but I had no problem throughout the process with the jersey fabric. It felt like working with any other fabric. Perhaps I was just working in blissful ignorance. I do that a lot.
Posted: 12:02 pm on April 23rd
thelongthread writes: Yes, you are brave to use jersey binding! That makes me wince just to think about sewing it. I made a t-shirt quilt last year with my husband's old shirts, but it lives in the closet now -- yours is much more interesting. Many of the same bands.
Posted: 9:58 am on April 23rd
Deb2quilt writes: I have been wanting to do this and I like your rendition of not so formal and cuter . Nice ideas and site Debbie kelly
Posted: 11:11 pm on April 22nd
faithwooddesigns writes: This is such a fantastic idea to reuse old t-shirts! If I get brave enough with my crafting, this is something I definitely might try!:)
Posted: 10:26 pm on April 22nd
elbowyoyo writes: Ok, that is just too totally awesome for words!

I'm still scared to bind a quilt the regular way . . . and you go and have the guts to do it with the jersey material.

my rating:
Two "Jazz Hands" up!

BTW, I have that Decemberists t-shirt too!
Posted: 2:48 pm on April 22nd
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