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How to Make a T-Shirt Memory Quilt

Loretta learned to sew on her grandma's treadle sewing machine. She began sewing her own clothes in 7th grade and still enjoys fabric work.

The surprise quilt.  A success!

The surprise quilt. A success!

Memory Quilts Made From T-Shirts

If you've been storing favorite t-shirts (likely never to be worn again), put them to use by creating a snuggly quilt that will bring back fond memories of times gone by. This one is for our son who now lives in Berlin.

Step 1: Plan Your Quilt and Collect the T-Shirts

  • Decide the size of memory quilt you want to make—or let the number of t-shirts make the decision for you. I opted to make a not-quite-full-size quilt. Any smaller would not have served my purpose, and any larger would have been more difficult for travel.
  • Decide your theme. Since this quilt was for my son, I chose his many high-school clubs and his college visits. There is also a part-time job, a reference to us (his parents), and some trips.
  • Find all the t-shirts. You may need to acquire permission in order to chop them up. Then again, surprises can be fun! Calculate your own risk. To find the shirt, look in closets, trunks, drawers, window seats, basements, garages, and attics. Maybe under the bed? Laundry hamper? Freezer?
  • If you are more fastidious than our family, you're good to go. Otherwise, a final wash may be a good idea. And, of course, dry thoroughly.

Step 2: Cut the T-Shirts

T-shirts can be more annoying than sweatshirts as far as square sizes, especially if child-size t-shirts are being used. You can usually get a good square from a teen or adult sweatshirt; however, t-shirts may have a small design between the arm seam and the neck or a certain logo positioned for an odd cut-out.

It doesn't matter. Just cut.

Ideas for Using the Scraps

Also, consider how you might use some of the scraps:

  • You may choose to use some to fill in some bare spots for the quilt. Otherwise, large scraps make dust cloths and cleaning rags.
  • The ribbed necks can be used as headbands to keep your hair out of your face when you're washing your face. I do this when we go camping or on other travel. Then I don't have to worry about losing it.
  • The hems of the sleeves and the shirt bottom can be used on other sewing projects if you're crafty that way.

Step 3: Decide the Border of the Squares

I wanted an "Americana" quilt. What says American more than t-shirts and jeans? Ergo, I decided on denim to border each of my quilt pieces/sections. I used a pair of my old jeans and cut them into strips. I didn't have quite enough, so I needed to purchase some mid-weight denim.

Choose whatever will work for you. Since all the pieces are (generally) a light-weight knit, choose at least a mid-weight woven to keep the shape when finished and also to help from shifting during sewing.

Note: I used my serger for all piecing. The outside binding and "quilting/securing" were both straight stitches on a regular machine. A regular machine can be used for the entire quilt.

Step 4: Arrange the Pieces

This is where you will use some imagination. For instance, I wanted to represent a certain summer camp for the three years our son went there. Each year had a different logo. I didn't want three full-size pieces of essentially the same thing, but I did want the reminders.

Idea 1: Piece Small Pieces Together

If you look in the photo below, you will see I pieced three of those cut-outs into one piece before adding the denim border around all of them—the gray, pink, and blue pieces in the bottom right corner. These three then became one piece.

I did something similar with other pieces—basically piecing smaller pieces together, some with a small internal border, some without. These pieced-pieces then began to take on a rectangular shape of a similar size. I saw that any difference in sizes could be adjusted with the denim borders around each final piece/section.

You may also have odd-sized or odd-shaped pieces. That's okay. Square them up with other cut pieces or with border fabric. They can all work out.

You'll have to get creative to make some of the shirt cut-outs fit into the quilt nicely!

You'll have to get creative to make some of the shirt cut-outs fit into the quilt nicely!

Idea 2: Add a Border to Make Small Pieces Stand Out

I needed to do something with the USC piece, where he graduated with a degree in Cinematic Arts. (Yes, we're proud parents).

This "USC" emblem was very small. To make it useful, I put a couple of special borders around it using the colors of USC—Gold and Cardinal. Since I had decided to incorporate this piece with the front and back of a black t-shirt, I added a wider black border with a final gold border to make it stand out. I sewed this in between the black pieces making one large piece that then has the denim border.

Note: The final gold border is a woven fabric which helped stabilize it between the two black knit pieces. You may need to do something similar between knit pieces.

These pieces represent 6th grade (high-school) through college graduation.

These pieces represent 6th grade (high-school) through college graduation.

Each year, about 30 kids from our city are chosen to enter the IB Diploma program, essentially starting high school at age 11.  Yikes!

Each year, about 30 kids from our city are chosen to enter the IB Diploma program, essentially starting high school at age 11. Yikes!

Step 5: Fill and Back the Quilt

This is a very individual choice. You may want a very heavy quilt like my Grandma used to make. Use a thick batting inside and fleece or flannel backing. I loved the heavy weight of her quilts!

You might want mid-weight batting and a "regular" cotton backing. Good choice.1 Remember to wash and dry your backing, but not the batting. So many "b" words!

I needed to travel with this on a plane, so weight was a concern. I opted to use a sheet for the inside and a second sheet for the backing. This served two purposes. It lightened the load for the weight limit and made it workable to finish the whole thing on my Montgomery Ward sewing machine. (Haven't heard of that store for a while, have you)?

This was the point where I did need to use pins to keep the three layers together. For this, I used large safety pins instead of straight pins. I needed to fold, re-fold, roll, and re-roll my layers while "quilting," which was basically a stitch-in-the-ditch beside the large rectangles that finally emerged. The backside was not exactly elegant.

You may have a quilting machine or a local shop with equipment to help you out. All the better. Just know that you can do this, even by hand. That's the way our foremothers did it, right? Once you've secured your layers, you're ready to finish.

Step 6: Finish With Binding

I decided to put a binding around my quilt.

1However, you could incorporate that into the "backing" step. If you decide to do that, stop the prior steps after securing the middle layer—the batting. At that point, place the right sides of your pieced front to the right side of your backing fabric, sew 3/4 around, turn, and finish the opening. You'll then want to tack/quilt/secure the front and back.

Of course, if you are so inclined, you can make your own quilt binding. I have done that. It's time-consuming and may take more fabric than you want to deal with. That's why bias tape was invented.

I chose a 2-inch wide bias tape to forgive any unevenness on my quilt. I chose black because I didn't want the navy color to "almost but not quite" match the denim. One side of the fold is wider than the other side of the fold. Place the wide side on the bottom and stitch along the edge on the narrow side, which is now on the top of your fabric. Like a little sandwich. At the corners, just create a mitre on the fly—you don't need to cut and re-sew. Just tuck and sew.

You'll know you were successful when you get an email with a photo of your memory quilt in use during a Berlin winter. I guess a quilt can be warm in more ways than one.

The quilt in use

The quilt in use

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.

© 2018 The Sampsons


The Sampsons (author) from The Ozarks, Missouri on May 04, 2020:

BTW... if you need to cut your own hair, or a family member's, check out this article on hair tools for use at home.

blingbling88 on May 10, 2019:

Your article is very good. i will follow you together. Thank you so much!

vimu786 on March 19, 2019:

good job. keep it up guys...


Jassicaroy on March 05, 2019:

Thanks Nova, really great ideas. I will definitely try this. Thanks for sharing with us.

parulsharmaa01 on February 27, 2019:

Thanks For amazing Idea about Keep Memories. Loved this article thank you

The Sampsons (author) from The Ozarks, Missouri on February 01, 2019:

Nova Jones -

Thank you very much. If you look on my profile you will see other similar articles.

novajones001 on February 01, 2019:

Amazingly written. Let us know when you are done. Keep posting such articles.


The Sampsons (author) from The Ozarks, Missouri on January 07, 2019:

Great. Let me know how it goes.

Jackie on January 04, 2019:

I think I will try this.

The Sampsons (author) from The Ozarks, Missouri on December 19, 2018:

Let me know if you make one.

priyankawow on December 07, 2018:

Thanks for Amazing Post.. Totally Loved this article thanks for amazing Article :)

Keep writing more.

chatiraqia on December 06, 2018: