How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt

comments (15) August 11th, 2008     

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lcampb Lilly Campbell, contributor
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The finished product is just waiting to be moved to my dorm bed.

The finished product is just waiting to be moved to my dorm bed.

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I am proud to say that my summer project is complete and just in time, since I will be heading back to school this weekend. I wanted to offer a tutorial for my quilt as a goodbye and good luck to all you crafters out there.

Note: Given my time constraints and inexperience, I cut some corners, literally and figuratively, in putting together this final product. I did not bind the quilt because I was intimidated by all the instructions I found for binding. Unfortunately, Mary Ray's "How to Make Mitered Corners for Bindings" came out just a few days too late because I think her awesome tutorial would have given me the courage to try. Regardless, you can apply binding and quilting techniques to your T-shirt quilt if you're up to the challenge.

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

How to Make a T-shirt Quilt


  • 24 cotton T-shirts (this was for a 4-foot x 6-foot quilt for a twin-size bed). You may want extras so that you can decide to leave some out at the end if they don't fit your color scheme.
  • fabric scrap strips, up to 14 inches long and 1 inch to 4 inches wide
  • large fabric piece for backing, 2 yards (72 inches) by 3 yards (108 inches) gave me enough extra to make a border for the front
  • rotary cutter, cutting mat, long plexiglass ruler, and scissors
  • sewing machine, pins, and thread
  • iron and fusible interfacing
  • heavyweight batting
  • 3 skeins neutral-colored embroidery thread and embroidery needle

Making the Quilt Face

1. Take your first T-shirt and cut a straight line down the middle of the back up to the collar of the shirt. Cut all the way around the collar to remove it. Then, cut off both of the sleeves of the shirt. For shirts that do not have seams on the sides, this gives you more fabric to work with. If the shirt has side seams, you can cut off the back along those seams. Iron the fabric and repeat for all shirts.

2. Decide if you want all T-shirt panels to be the same size or if you want to only cut the design from the T-shirt and make the squares the same size using varying fabric pieces. I just cut out the design on my shirts so I used the cutting mat and ruler to choose a specific length and width. I cut the T-shirt to this size using the rotary cutter, mat, and edge of the ruler. Also need to decide on a maximum size for bigger designs. Since my final squares were to be 14 inches, my maximum length and width was 13 inches, so that I could have a 1/2-inch border all the way around on even the biggest designs.

3. Once the T-shirts are cut, iron on fusible interfacing to the back of the shirts. This will help prevent stretching and make sewing on the machine much easier.

4. Start adding borders to make your squares. Pin fabric strips right side down onto your squares along the length or width of the T-shirt and machine sew using a straight stitch and leaving a 1/4-inch hem. Remove pins, press the border flat with the iron, and repeat on the open ends of the T-shirt. Continue to add borders in a log cabin style until your square is at least 14 inches wide; bigger is OK because you can trim it later. Repeat for all the shirts.

5. Find a big surface to lay out all your squares and decide on an order that works well. Starting with the first column on the left, sew all of the squares in that column into a large strip by placing the second square right side down and upside-down onto the first square. Pin the bottom edge and sew with a straight stitch. Remove pins and press. Repeat for all squares in the column. Then repeat for all columns.

6. Next sew all of your columns together. Place the second column facedown on top of the first and pin the edge between the two. Sew with a straight stitch, remove pins, and press. Repeat until all columns are attached.

7. I added a border to my quilt face in the same way I added borders to my squares: I sewed a long strip to the top and bottom of the quilt and to both sides. My sources recommended that for turning a quilt (directions to follow) you should use the same fabric for your border that you are using to back the quilt because some might show through.

Quick-turning a Quilt

I used directions from this site because they were the most clear ones that I found. Quick-turning really only makes sense if you are planning to tie your quilt, so if you are planning on quilting, you will probably have to return to Mary Ray's great tutorial on binding. You will also want to reverse the order of the steps and quilt before you bind.

1. Make a sandwich with the batting on the bottom, the backing right side up in the middle, and the quilt top right side down on top. Your quilt top should be slightly smaller than the backing and batting, so you can trim the bottom two layers.

2. Pin through all three layers around the outside of the quilt top leaving a 20-inch gap in the middle of one of the sides. Also pin through all the layers in a few spots throughout the middle of your quilt.

3. Sew around all four sides with a straight stitch, leaving a 1/4-inch hem and stopping before the 20-inch unpinned gap. Trim excess batting and backing to be even with the quilt top's edge.

4. Remove pins, including those in the middle of the quilt, and begin to roll the quilt, beginning at the edge farthest from the opening and working toward the opening. Continue until the entire quilt is rolled near the opening, and then flip it through the opening inside out. Unroll the quilt on the other side, sandwiching the batting and backing. Tug to get all of the layers lined up. Hand-stitch the gap closed.

Tying Your Quilt

Since I spent a lot of time talking about quilt tying earlier, I want to share some tips, based on my experience. I certainly learned that my glorious idea to include a design with every tie was unreasonable. It turns out that ties are needed at intervals of between 2 inches to 4 inches, which means that tying was A LOT more time-consuming than I anticipated. Double-knots were about all I could handle.

I tied along the edges between rows and columns of squares and then at about 3 1/2-inch intervals throughout the quilt. Because my squares didn't line up perfectly, my tying distances were also imprecise when keeping them lined up with the squares.

1. Thread an embroidery needle and, starting at the bottom of the quilt, pull the needle up through the corner between the border and the first square on the left. Make a small stitch, pull the needle down through all three layers, and then insert it back up at a 2-inch to 4-inch interval. Repeat, stitching across the bottom edge until you reach opposite corner.

2. On the quilt back, cut halfway between each large stitch. Tie a double-knot with the two ends of embroidery thread and trim to about 3 cm in length. Note: I wanted my ties on the back of the quilt so as not to interrupt the designs on the front; you can easily alter these directions to have the ties on the front.

3. Repeat all the way up your quilt. When you reach the top border, you are done.

I hope this helps anyone interested in making a T-shirt quilt. I'd be happy to answer questions or clarify if need-be. I have had so much fun posting this summer, and I know that will continue to be one of my favorite distractions this year.

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Comments (15)

lorahyatt writes: Awesome job on your quilt this post couldn't of come at a perfect time! I was given a huge bag of T-shirts from my Grandaughter a couple of weeks ago. She will be a senior this year and has been playing softball since she was knee high to a grasshopper. Just got through prepping all of the shirts, cutting sleeves and neckbands off and stood and stared at all the different sizes of the emblems. Your post just saved me a lot of thinking time, lol
Scraps ! What a perfect idea since I have lots of those! Also the idea of tying it off instead of quilting it, now I'm kind of tossing the idea around about using some really tiny ribbon to tie it off with and make some tiny little bows since she and her teams always wore hair ribbons, I could color coordinate with the shirts. Found some really cute softball print fabric for the backing too! Oh my, the ideas are flowing now! Thanks for your post, and again great job,
Posted: 6:23 am on September 1st
SonyaMae writes: I used your tutorial to make a lovely quilt from about 40 Harley Davidson shirts (for a friend). It turned out beautifully. instead of other fabrics I used the extra fabric such as sleeves and tails from the same shirts and mixed and matched the colors. Thank You very much for sharing the step by step tutorial. Started the quilt on October 2 and delivered it to my friend on Nov 17. This was in my spare time between working my full time job.
Posted: 8:01 am on November 21st
mariadvg writes: I haven't sewn before and want to tackle this project. Is there hope for me??
Posted: 9:23 pm on June 25th
LSzogas writes: Hi!

I just finished my first t-shirt quilt, and I'm ready to start tying. My squares are 12", and my sashing is 1-1/2". I've decided that I'll tie every 4" in the shirt, plus at 4" intervals on the seams. Does this sound reasonable?

Your method of tying sounds very efficient - I hadn't thought about making a line of stitches, and then cutting them. What kind of thread did you use to tie? I was thinking about embroidery thread - but not sure whether 3 strands or 6 strands would be best. I've seen both mentioned.

Thanks again for your suggestions.


Posted: 1:59 pm on September 12th
librarygirlo writes: Very inspiring. I think the key to success just may be the use of interfacing behind the t-shirt material!
Posted: 10:16 am on March 7th
sd101 writes: how long did it take you to make the quilt!!
It looks fabulous!!!
Posted: 6:45 pm on November 26th
Posted: 5:25 am on July 16th
Mickderb writes: Your quilt is very nice, so colorful and fun. T-shirt quilting is my favorite pass time. I would like to share with readers that recycling the unused backs and sleeves of the t-shirts can be donated to animal shelters or to painters/construction companies. (Some who might even pay for them as clean-up rags).
Posted: 12:45 pm on January 17th
coffee_snob writes: Thank you. Your instructions have inspired me to make a t-shirt quist for my husband. He collects t-shirts, but he no longer wears the older ones. This way he can enjoy them all over again.
Posted: 8:26 am on October 15th
4dogs3cats writes: I am delighted to find this....its something I have planned to do, for a long time, for my son..he was into all kinds of activities and each time, we got another t shirt..this will be a REAL memory quilt! thanks.......
Posted: 2:49 am on September 28th
KeetaCollection writes: What a wonderful quilt. I can see you put a lot of time into it.
Posted: 4:20 pm on September 18th
_nikki_ writes: is that a t-shirt with a Corgi on it I see!?!!?
Posted: 4:21 pm on August 25th
IggyJingles writes: Congratulations, it looks just beautiful. Don't forget to sign the back. Quilters will often sew a small hand written (or embroidered) label with their name, the date, and any name they have given the piece. It's art. It deserves a signature.
Posted: 9:28 pm on August 11th
MichaelaMurphy writes: Wow, Lilly, this is terrific! I agree with Diane, the framing really sets off the whole quilt very nicely. Thanks for all of your hard work this summer! Good luck at school, I'll miss you. M
Posted: 6:08 pm on August 11th
Sister_Diane writes: I love the idea of framing the t-shirt pieces in other fabrics - the mix is really fun, and also makes this more elegant than any other t-shirt quilt I've seen. Nice work! And, good luck at school!
Posted: 5:01 pm on August 11th
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