Making a Quilt out of T-Shirts

Do you have a drawer full of memories in the form of T-shirts? Why not get them out of your drawer and on to your bed in the form of a quilt? It's easier than you think!

Start by evaluating your T-shirts. Are they all the same size or color? Do they have a theme, such as sports? Do they have a logo or a saying that you would like to emphasize - or deemphasize? Will this quilt be for a bed, a lap or a wall? The answers to these questions will help you decide how to lay out the quilt, which will tell you how to cut your T-shirts.

As quilters, we instinctively think of cutting the fabric (T-shirts) into blocks and sewing them into rows for a quilt. But it doesn't HAVE to be done that way! Consider using a fusible web (like French Fuse or Heat n Bond) to make a T-shirt logo into an iron-on patch. These patches don't have to be square! Perhaps your sports loving son might like a football shaped patch cut from his team T-shirt? Fuse these patches randomly or in rows on a background fabric. Use the fancy applique stitches on your machine to secure the edges and you will have a T-shirt quilt unique to you.

If you would rather cut your T shirts into blocks, that's fine, too. Take a look at your tee shirts and decide the best way to use them before touching your scissors.

The simplest layout is a straight grid. Four rows of four T-shirt blocks (maybe in sashing) will make quick work of 16 shirts. (left) As a very general rule, each tee shirt will give you a 14" x 14" square, so a 4 x 4 layout like the one above left will make a 60" square quilt, assuming no sashing and a small border.

If you have smaller shirts - say, babies or children's shirts, try putting them in sashing. Or, you could make them the center of a block, like a square in square block (above left) or a log cabin. Putting a block on point might also help you to cut around stains or designs you don't want in the final product.

Start by preparing your T- shirts. Wash them (don't use fabric softener) and take them apart, removing knitted cuffs and neckband so they lay flat. Since they are pretty stretchy, you will want to iron on some non woven fusible interfacing to stabilize them. Don't use a stretchy interfacing made for knits. Read the package - some interfacing needs to be pre-shrunk to avoid problems after fusing. If you are going to use your T shirts without sashing, you may want to staystitch the edges by stitching 1/8" away from the side. If you are using cotton fabric for sashing, you can skip this step.

CeCe centered the design on a square ruler, then cut around the ruler. She bordered each block, then set them into a quilt. Doesn't it look like pictures on a wall?

The sashing and borders is a good place to give your quilt some personality. (see above) Consider using blue jean fabric, flannel shirts (also stabilized, if necessary) or decorator fabric to add some interest. You can also embellish the sashing or borders to personalize it. Note the quilt at which has Boy Scout patches in the sashing. The quilt below used a girl scout vest appliquéd to a block.

For best results, try to use fabrics that are the same weight as your stabilized T-shirts. This means you might need to use heavier weight interfacing on the T shirts, or no interfacing on the sashing and border strips. The weight doesn't have to match exactly, just come close to feeling the same.
Here is a way to add sashing to a block.

Once you have stabilized them, you can cut your shirts just like you cut any other fabric although you may prefer to use a template if you are fussy cutting. Don't forget to add a seam allowance when cutting your blocks. You don't need to make all your blocks square, or all the same size. You can fill in gaps with filler strips or strips of smaller blocks, not necessarily made with T shirts. The block to the left has a filler strip made with blocks.

The quilt layout to the left has same size square in two different layouts which alternate on the quilt. One block is set on point in a square in a square; the other block has filler strips around two sides to make it the same size as the square in a square. This layout is a good option if you only have a few shirts, or they are small. The quilt to the right is a nine block layout with extra sashing to make it bigger.

To help you make your decision, lay all your blocks out with your chosen design in one place. Stand back and look at it. Would the blocks look better with sashing or without? Should you put them in a different place in your quilt? Now is your chance to make changes!

Here's is a hint from Tonia:

I just finished a T-shirt quilt. It was really very easy to do. I pick a size to make the squares. However I found I needed to make two sizes and then some didn't fit either size so I used them as fillers. I overcut the T-shirts and then ironed a lightweight fusible backing to each shirt and then cut them to size. I made rows of the larger size and rows of the smaller size. I put sashing between the blocks because it seemed to make each block stand out more. I used the extra shirts to make the rows even. I added small logos or pockets to the border. Saving the T-shirts over time is the hardest.

Use your walking foot to sew your blocks into rows, then sew your rows together. It will help you keep the layers together. Add the borders if needed.

Are you going to put batting into your quilt? If you just put the shirts together, a puffy batting tied to a fleece or flannel backing will make a cozy quilt. If you have found a prequilted fabric you like, you can sew it to the top all the way around the outer edges, right sides together, leaving a space for turning it right side out like a pillowcase. Quilts with cotton sashing and borders can be machine quilted.

Whatever you do, be sure to add a label telling the story of your tee shirt quilt!