Tired of looking at all those old T-shirts in your closet? Are some of them too stained or worn to donate, and too precious to throw away? With a few supplies and a bit of time, you can turn them into a beautiful quilt that commemorates all your proudest moments.
Here’s everything you need to make your own t-shirt quilt:
- Old t-shirts and/or other sentimental garments
- Fusible interfacing
- Fabric to use as backing
- Quilt batting
- Sewing machine (Quilting machine optional)
- Cutting mat
- Straight edge or long ruler
- Soft tape measure
- Rotary cutter
Selecting & Organizing Shirts
The process begins with a trip down memory lane as you rummage through your wardrobe, identifying those sentimental T-shirts you’re not likely to wear again. After selection, fold the shirts into rectangles and arrange them on the floor in the pattern you’d like to use for your quilt. Aim for an evenly distributed color pattern, ideally without two similar designs side by side.
Once you’re happy with the composition, snap a picture for later reference. Label each stack of shirts corresponding to a column, and bring them to your work table.
This is where the precision work starts. Measure and record the dimensions of the usable portion of each shirt, as my mom demonstrated. You’ll want to choose a consistent width for all of the blocks so each column is the same size, but it’s okay for the rectangles to be different lengths.
Next, remove the backs of the shirts, which is also typically what you need to do if you send your shirts to a third party shop to have a quilt made. For some of the narrower shirts, my mom left the sleeves on for this part to leave the option to include as much material as possible.
Fusible interfacing adheres to the back of the t-shirts and stabilizes the fabric, adding some structure to the quilt.
You’ll need to cut a rectangle of interfacing to match each shirt. Cut a section large enough to match the length and width of each shirt piece you measured, and it’s a good idea to leave extra room around the edges. It’s better to have extra than to be forced to piece interfacing together later.
Iron the shirt on its own before applying the interfacing, to ensure that the fabric is as flat as possible. Then, lay the interfacing on top of the t-shirt and apply even pressure with a dry iron to fuse the interfacing to your fabric. Your interfacing may come with more specific instructions for how to apply it correctly.
If your interfacing is wider than the shirt fabric, be careful to avoid ironing the parts of interfacing that hang over! Otherwise, you may fuse the interfacing to your ironing board.
Cutting the Rectangles
Now it’s time to cut the rectangular blocks from each shirt. First, use a straight edge and cutting mat to align the shirt so that the design or words are as straight as possible. Use a rotary cutter to remove the top of the shirt, and then the bottom. Make sure to consult your notes from earlier so you know what length the rectangle should be.
Next, you’ll need to cut the rectangle to the width you planned earlier (for us, that’s 14″). My mom first marks the center point of the t-shirt design width a pin, and then finds where the edge should be based on that point.
Assembling the Rectangles
With the right (t-shirt) sides together, pin together all of rectangles in a single column, using a generous amount of pins. Sew each seam using a 1/2″ seam allowance, making sure to backstitch at the beginning and end of each seam. Then, press the seams open.
Then, again with right sides together, pin the columns to each other. Sew the columns together using a long seam, using your fingers to make sure the seam allowances on the shorter seams stay open.
You’ll also need to prepare your backing fabric, which should be a few inches larger in both dimensions than your quilt. You may need to sew multiple pieces of backing fabric together to get the right size.
Making a Quilt Sandwich…
…If You Have a Fancy Quilting Machine
To start assembling the quilt sandwich, my mom loads the backing fabric onto her fancy quilting machine and pins it to the carriers, wrong side up.
Then, she loads the batting on top and pins it to the backing fabric. She bastes the batting to the backing, which temporarily attaches the layers and allows her to remove the pins. She then repeats this same loading, pinning, basting process with the quilt top.
…Without a Quilting Machine
If you don’t have access to a quilting machine, you can lay out your backing fabric by taping it to the floor all the way around. Then, lay down the batting within the backing fabric border, making sure to smooth out any wrinkles. Then, lay down the finished quilt top within the boundaries of the batting. Pin the whole sandwich together using quilting safety pins, which have a special bend in them. Mom has a tutorial about this method on Instructables.
Select a design for your stitch pattern. Some machines have programmable quilting stitches which will control all the stitching for you, but you can also use a quilting machine or sewing machine to stitch in whatever pattern you’d like.
Finishing the Edges
If you’re using a quilting machine, remove the quilt from the machine and pull out the basting stitches along the top edge.
Next, lay the quilt out on your cutting mat, table, or floor, and trim the batting to the same size as the quilt top. It’s important that you do not also cut the backing fabric at this step, so make sure you fold the backing fabric fully under the quilt top before you start trimming!
Then, unfold the backing fabric and trim it to 1.5″ from the edge of the quilt top. Fold the raw edge of the backing fabric so it’s even with the edge of the quilt top and press. Then fold again over the edge of the quilt top and pin it in place.
Enjoy Your Quilt!
Congratulations, you’ve finished your t-shirt quilt!
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