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Quilting With Recycled Men's Shirts

I enjoy writing, quilting, and combining my passion for each to help others!

A nine-block square section of an upcycled men's shirt quilt

A nine-block square section of an upcycled men's shirt quilt

Quilting on a Budget

Quilting is an extremely popular sewing hobby, with young and old alike creating incredible, homemade quilts. But anyone who quilts will tell you that once you start buying your stash of the beautiful quilting fabrics available, this hobby can become extremely expensive.

But it doesn't have to. You can make beautiful modern quilts with fabrics sourced for a fraction of the cost of new quilting fabrics.

Upcycled Fabrics

It's easy to get caught up in having to use only the 'quilting fabrics', but the reality is that there are many other fabrics you can use, which are not only more varied than the fabric available at quilting stores but are also cheaper and can have a lot more character.

Choosing fabrics to quilt with needs some careful consideration, but once you know what you are looking for, there is a glut of cheap fabric available at the thrift stores, at 2nd hand clothing stores, and possibly even in your own cupboards.

Some people choose to stick to the general rule of using only 100% cotton fabrics, while others will seek out wool, merino or other natural fibre products.

Then it's just a case of going out and hunting down recycled clothing with the specific fabric types you want. It's possible to pick up cotton shirts, sheets, table cloths, etc., for as little as $2 each, and a single item can provide more fabric than you would usually get in a Fat Quarter for three to four times the price.

Making a Shirting Quilt

Shirting quilts are cost-effective to make and can turn outdated clothing into a modern quilt.

What You'll Need

  • 9–10 men's shirts in coordinating colours
  • 2 x sheets, tablecloths or other fabric pieces to coordinate with the men's shirts for the sashing and backing fabric
  • Extra fabric for binding if not using the shirts
  • Batting
  • Thread
Prepping your materials

Prepping your materials

Nine-block square pattern

Nine-block square pattern

9-Square Block Pattern

This quilt is made up of a simple nine-square block, but you can use any pattern you choose.

  1. The first step in making a shirting quilt is to source the men's shirts. You should try to find shirts that are colour coordinated and of a similar texture.
  2. Wash the shirts, and then while they are still damp, dismantle them for the usable fabric (also keep the buttons) and then iron the fabric pieces. These pieces of fabric are what you will now use to make the quilt blocks.
  3. To make the 9-square block, cut out 9" x 4.5" squares from each of the shirting fabrics.
  4. Lay out the squares to create a pleasing combination, then sew the squares together with a ¼" seam. You should now have a 9-block square measuring 12".
  5. Repeat for as many squares as you need, depending on the size of the quilt you want to make. For this quilt, I did 5 x 5, 9 square blocks, so I needed to make 25 x 9 square blocks. With each block, I changed the layout of the squares but always tried to make sure that each pattern was nicely spaced from the rest of the same pattern.
  6. When you have sewn all of your 9-square blocks, the sashing then needs to be added in between the block squares.
  • Variation: You could also just keep the same pattern for every block. Do whatever pleases your eye.
  • Variation: You may decide not to use sashing and instead make more 9-square blocks to create a more solid pattern quilt.

Adding the Sashing

  1. Cut lengths of your sashing fabric at 3" wide.
  2. For the first block of the top row of your 9-square blocks, pin the sashing fabric to the left and right sides of your square block. These should be 12", but I tend to pin the sashing to the block first and then cut the sashing fabric to length.
  3. Sew these on and press all seams.
  4. Next, pin the sashing fabric across the top and bottom of your 9-square block, also coming across the sashing fabric on each side so that you box in the square completely.
  5. Sew these on and press all seams.
  6. For the next blocks, until the end of the row, add sashing only to the right side, and then the top and bottom. You already have the left piece of sashing in the block before it.
  7. Once you have completed all the blocks for the first row, you can now sew these all together.
  8. Now you can move on to the next row. This time, for block one, you need to sash the left and right sides and then the bottom edge. The top edge is provided in the row above.
  9. For each block after that, for this row, you need to sash only the right-hand side and the bottom edge. The left side and the top edge are provided by the blocks surrounding these blocks.
  10. Repeat the two steps above for all remaining rows.
  11. Stich all blocks together, then stitch the rows of blocks to each other. You now have a fabulous, modern shirting quilt top!
  • Variation: Many quilt patterns suggest doing all the blocks first, then sewing these together before sewing the rows together, but in this pattern, I like to sew it together row by row. It works either way.

Assembling the Quilt Layers

Once you have your quilt top, it's time to assemble the quilt layers. You will need your quilt top, the batting for the middle, and the backing fabric you have selected.

See the video below for details on how to assemble your quilt layers.


Next, it's time to do the actual quilting. Quilting is the process of stitching together all the layers of the fabric with either a simple stitch or a decorative stitch.

Just be aware that you will see your stitching on both sides of the quilt, so be mindful of how you decide to stitch your layers together.

For the nine-square block quilt, I decided to work with the formal lines of the men's shirts and quilt with straight lines ¼" inside the blocks, and a ¼" outside the blocks, running both parallel and horizontal, but you can do any quilting pattern you feel compliments the quilt top.


The last step for making your quilt is to do the binding.

  1. If you have enough fabric from your shirts, cut lengths of 2.5" wide strips and then sew these diagonally (see video) to create a binding strip long enough to go around your quilt.
  2. Once you have your full length of binding strips, fold and press the strip in half horizontally, wrong sides together, so you have two layers of fabric.
  3. Place and pin your binding along the right side (top) of your quilt, with the raw edge running along the raw edge of your quilt.
  4. Stitch the binding onto the quilt from the top, with a ¼" seam leaving a 6" opening, with the lengths of binding which will close it, hanging free.
  • Variation: If you only have scraps of fabric left, not enough to make enough binding, then consider looking for a 2nd hand cotton sheet in a solid colour that compliments the shirting fabric. A sheet will give you plenty of good long strips for your binding. Otherwise, if you really can't find anything 2nd hand to use, purchase a fabric that is complimentary to the shirt fabrics to complete your binding. There are plenty of neat striped fabrics out there.
  • Variation: Some people prefer to simply leave the binding free and stitch it as they go. If you are comfortable with this, go ahead. I tend to do a combination of both, leaving my binding mostly free but pinning it sparsely around the quilt just to hold it in place and not get in the way.

See the video above to see how to finish off the binding with a clean, tidy seam.

Well done! You have finished your modern upcycled shirt quilt. Now give it a wash, and then enjoy!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Tnt meyer on January 13, 2019:

Can quilting fabric and cotton fabric from shirts be used in the same quilt

Amber on March 12, 2017:

What size is your quilt that is pictured? I'm planning to get a set of sheets for the backing and to use for the sashing and want to know what size I should buy.

Simon from NJ, USA on April 22, 2013:

What a clever idea! Sharing this with all the 'crafty' women I know!

Katherine Sanger from Texas on April 21, 2013:

We have some local thrift shops that will have a morning (or day) when you can get a bag full of whatever you can fit in it for $1 or $2. Great way to get shirts for quilting or to use for other craft projects! Always worth checking out!

moonlake from America on April 21, 2013:

I love quilts from old clothes. I save shirts when I like the fabric to use in a quilt. Thanks for sharing. Voted up and shared.

Shasta Matova from USA on April 21, 2013:

I love being able to use recycled fabric for quilts. Not only can you save money, you are reducing how much you are putting in the landfill, and adding value to your quilt since the fabric comes with memories. I recommend the book, Scraps and Shirttails by Bonnie Hunter which uses recycled shirts and makes gorgeous quilts.

lilmrslay (author) from New Zealand on October 09, 2012:

Lol tuiteakid! I agree but luckily there are 2nd hand shops and thrift stores full of unwanted mens shirts, and in all sorts of patterns, colours and quality. I have picked up $150 shirts for $2 and got a good amount of great quality 100% cotton from them. Just have to be willing to look around a bit.

tuitea kid 5 on October 09, 2012:

hahaha i don't think boys will like to cut up there clothes but anyway that is really really creative

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on October 08, 2012:

Nice, creative and interesting hub. Very well explained and illustrated. Thanks for sharing.