How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt
How to Turn Old Tees Into a Quilt
This quilt project is an awesome way to repurpose old shirts from sports teams, school, bands, and vacations. Use them to create an unforgettable and precious gift for a family member or friend. This tutorial shows how to make a t-shirt quilt with sashing, but you can use these instructions to make your own pattern. It's quite rewarding to see so many parts of a person's life and interests and create an item that encapsulates an era or a person.
Most quilts are made from simple geometric shapes (squares, rectangles, or triangles) that are sewn together with straight lines. In many ways, they're easier to create than clothing or other craft projects that require a precise fit. Just think of a quilt as one big rectangle made up of many little rectangles. Let's begin!
What You'll Need
- T-Shirts. You'll need anywhere from 12-24 pieces. Twelve tees make a 42"x60" lap quilt. Twenty shirts make a large lap quilt (five rows of four). Twenty-four shirts make a twin-sized quilt (six rows of four).
- 1 Twin-Sized Package of Quilt Batting. I use the because it's soft, unbleached, and has a rich felt-like texture. It's easy to work with and never shifts like polyester does. This is my go-to quilt batting. Craft stores have a good selection of batting sold in packages and by the yard. Warm and Natural one
- Backing Fabric. A regular flat sheet will work for this, or you can purchase quilt backing (also called fat backs) that is sold in 108" wide bolts. You can also use regular-width fabric and sew the pieces together. For a lap-size quilt with 12 tees, you'll need two yards of 44-inch wide fabric.
- Several 2-Yard Packages of Pellon Wonder-Under Fusible Interfacing. The number of packages depends on how many quilts you're interfacing. Fusible interfacing usually runs $5 per package and is an iron-on web of nylon-like material that will stabilize the jersey tees. Wonder-Under comes with a non-stick paper backing that is peeled off after it's applied.
- Cotton Thread/All-Purpose Sewing Thread. I use Star brand cotton quilting thread by Coats & Clark, which costs about $8 for a large spool. They have a great selection of solid colors as well as some cool variegated options.
- Iron. I use a cheap unbranded model. The only requirement is that it must get very hot.
- Scissors/Rotary Cutter and Cutting Mat. You can find kits on Amazon that include a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler.
- Marking Tools. These include items such as a lead pencil, tailor chalk, and disappearing ink
- Sewing Pins
- Large Ruler/Tape Measure. My favorite is Olfa's O'Lipfa ruler. It wraps around the edge of your cutting mat to help you make accurate cuts.
- Lightweight Cardboard. This is an optional supply that can be used to make a square template. It's great if you don't have a large ruler or cutting mat. Tip: Cereal boxes are the perfect type of cardboard!
- Extension Cord. This is to help you reach the middle of your quilt when you're fusing.
1. Square up Your Shirt Designs
Stabilize your shirt and cut squares.
- Separate the front of the shirt by cutting along the side seams. You can remove the sleeves or just cut all the way under the arm.
- Next, you need to make sure that the graphic on the front of the tee will be in the middle of your squares. The size of the blocks depends on the size of the largest graphic. I measure the largest design and add 1/2 inch to each side. That's the measurement you'll be using for all of your shirts. Usually, a 13-14" square will work. It can also be a rectangle if that's a better fit.
- Everyone has their own method for cutting up the shirts, and this is what works for me. I start by aligning the ruler so it is parallel with the top of the logo. The edge should be close to the bottom of the collar. See the photo above for reference.
- Make a straight cut across the chest from shoulder to shoulder seam. By making the first cut at the top, we are sure the design is aligned at 90 degrees, and it gives us a good foundation to make the other cuts and measurements.
- Make sure the center of the design is aligned with the center of the square and that there is an even space on each edge.
- Make two notches on the top edge, marking the width of your block.
- Make one cut down the left edge of the shirt that's perpendicular from your first horizontal cut.
2. Cut and Add the Interfacing
This will give you one 90-degree corner to align with your squares of fusible interfacing. Before you iron on the interfacing, make sure there are not any deep wrinkles or creases, which might become permanent when fused.
- Cut the fusible interfacing in 14" squares (You can cut five 14" squares from a 2-yard roll of interfacing.)
- Gently place your t-shirt on the ironing board, making sure it is neither distorted nor stretched.
- Align the interfacing with the two straight edges of your t-shirt and the notch. (See photo) Fuse this side first to maintain the alignment.
- Set your iron to medium, which might also be the Wool/Silk Setting or "II" mark to fuse. Use a downward pushing motion instead of gliding. Keep the iron on the fabric for about 10 seconds in each spot to fuse. You'll be ironing the paper side.
3. Fuse the T-Shirt Squares
- Iron on the interfacing with a smooth left-to-right motion, starting at the top and working down. Make sure the corners are well heated since this is where you will start peeling off the backing paper. Follow the package instructions if you're confused.
- Once you have the interfacing attached to the shirt, square off the edges of each block in measures of 14" inches square, or whatever size you are using. The process of fusing and squaring off 20 shirts takes about 3 to 3.5 hours and can be completed in one afternoon.
Tip: Keep the paper backing on until you assemble the blocks. Always allow the fabric piece to cool before peeling off the paper. If you have trouble with the interfacing lifting up, iron down the corners again to make sure that the interfacing has adhered. Put the paper backings aside for use later in the assembly process.
How to Incorporate Sweatshirts in a T-Shirt Quilt
Sometimes it happens. You have a favorite shirt you really want to include, but it's made from a thick, fleecy sweatshirt material. Don't fret! You can include it, but you have to keep the following tips in mind.
- To minimize extra bulk, don't interface the whole shirt front. Apply a frame of 1.5" interfacing strips to stabilize the edges. Keep your strips 1/4" from the outside edge to keep the seam allowances as thin as possible.
- If desired, apply spray starch to the shirt before cutting and applying the adhesive. It's up to you whether you'd like to complete that step first.
Make sure that your shirts are heat-safe before ironing. Nylon sports jerseys can be used too if you're careful. Some plastisol inks will melt and smudge, so avoid direct contact with the iron.
T-Shirt Quilt Assembling Option 1
The easiest way to assemble your t-shirt quilt is to sew the blocks to each other. Sew the blocks together into rows, trimming them to make sure the top and bottom are parallel. Then, attach the rows horizontally.
T-Shirt Quilt Assembling Option 2
The second option is to add sashing. Sashing is like a border around each t-shirt square. It's a great way to add size to your quilt, tie together a theme, or tone down a busy quilt. Don't worry, sashing is easier than it looks!
Sashing Example Steps
1. For this example, I used 2" wide sashing strips for a finished width of 1.5 inches. Cut sashing and borders from fabric running parallel to the selvage. This direction has the least amount of stretch, so it will lie flat and won't flare out or ruffle.
2. Cut the sashing strips a little bit longer than your blocks. Pin the sashing and tee right sides together, aligning the edges at one side and letting the sashing hang off the other end.
3. Assemble all of the rows with vertical sashing. Make sure the edges are parallel and pin together rows with horizontal sashing.
4. Cornerstones are optional accents for the sashing intersections. For the example, the sashing strips are 2" wide and the cornerstone blocks are 2" squares.
Tip: As you assemble your rows, you'll need to iron the seam allowances flat. Lay several sheets of the paper backing on your ironing board, and iron the seam allowances toward the tees. Your tees will stick to the release paper instead of your ironing board!
Put the rows aside and allow to cool before removing the paper again.
Curb Quilting Errors
Mistakes, big or small, happen to the best of us, especially when you're dealing with stretchy t-shirts. I prefer to call them challenges. In this case, the logo was a little bit distorted. It was also the longest design of all the shirts, which means that I cut all the blocks to this size. However, trouble struck when I cut the edge a little too close, and the design looked like it would be cut off when I sewed the pieces together. Here's the remedy.
- Sew guide stitches at the edge of the design with a large basting-size stitch.
- Pin your block to the sashing strips and sew from the t-shirt side.
- Follow the guideline, keeping your new stitch line just inside the first row of stitches.
- Flip your project over and admire your perfectly-placed seam!
Quilt Sandwich: Layer the Backing, Batting, and Top
Before you "quilt" your quilt, the backing, batting, and top must be secured together in a quilt sandwich. The first step is to fuse the quilt top to the batting.
- Lay your batting on the floor. Smooth it out from the center to the edges.
- Lay your top on the batting and smooth it out in the same way.
- Get your iron and an extension cord. Turn your iron to the wool or cotton setting.
- Use a muslin pressing if necessary to prevent the plastisol t-shirt ink from melting onto the iron.
- Fuse each block to the batting. Try not to distort the fabric with the iron.
- Press down and hold the iron there for a few seconds. (Use a downward-pressing motion rather than gliding side-to-side).
- Fuse the whole top moving from the center out to each corner. NOTE: Use a dry iron with no steam whenever you're working with the fusible.
There are several ways to attach your backing to the sandwich.
- I prefer to use spray adhesive because it's so fast. My favorite brand is 505 Spray and Fix by J T Trading, but Elmer's Spray Adhesive also works. Elmer's is a fraction of the price and is available at drugstores and grocery stores. Lay your batting on the floor with the t-shirts facing the ground. Lay your backing on top with the right side facing up. Peel back the backing to the midpoint and spray the fabric in 12-15" increments. Lay the backing on and smooth it out. Peel the backing up again and repeat until the backing is attached. Smooth the back again to prevent bubbles and bagginess.
- Big safety pins are also a good alternative. They are fast and work well. It's important to check the edges during the quilting to make sure the safety pins aren't bunching up the fabric. You may need to smooth out the back and re-pin the edges and corners.
- The old school way to baste a quilt is to use a needle and thread, taking long stitches that can easily be removed. This works fine, but it takes an unforgettable amount of time! Only use this if none of the other options are feasible.
After your sandwich is together, you're ready to quilt!
Tee Quilting Options
Option 1: Stitch-in-the-Ditch
If you want to keep it simple, stitch along the seams only. This is called "stitch-in-the ditch." Using the Warm and Natural brand batting allows you to quilt up to ten inches apart. When you're stitching in the ditch, you can feel pressure as the needle pushes against the fabric, like a little wall, that allows you to stitch right on the seam so the stitching is almost hidden. Don't worry if you swerve a little. No one is going to look that close. Use your ballpoint needle to protect the jersey fabric and provide a nice, clean finish.
Option 2: Tying Your Quilt
You can tie your quilt if you're most comfortable with that. This provides a relatively quick finish if you don't want to use your machine.
Option 3: Free-Motion Quilting
You could do free-motion quilting, also called "stippling." For this method, you'll need a sewing machine with droppable feed dogs and a free-motion quilting foot.
When quilting, set your stitch size to approximately 3 mm (unless doing free-motion.) Roll your quilt up like a scroll, so it will fit under the machine. Always start in the middle and move out to the sides.
Use ballpoint or Jersey needles when piecing and quilting t-shirt quilts. These needles have a wider/fatter tip that pokes through knitted fabrics without tearing or ripping the fibers. I like Schmetz or Organ ballpoints size 70/10 or 75/12.
Once you're finished quilting, square off the quilt. Now, check out how to bind a quilt neatly and quickly.
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