I designed my t-shirt quilt pattern for the custom projects we make for customers in the shop and thought I'd share it with all of you do-it-yourselfers out there who want to make it on your own.
What's the best part of making a t-shirt quilt?
For me it’s the look in someone’s eye when I return the quilt I made from all their favorite shirts!
All quilts are labors of love—but memory quilts are extra special because they’re made from fabrics that hold lots of sentimental value.
Personally I’m not a big fan of the traditional square block t-shirt quilt because it doesn’t showcase the shirts’ graphics to their fullest potential. If you cut one single size block—say a 12” or 14” square—you may end up cutting off the larger graphics while the smaller graphics float in a sea of ugly background color. And let’s face it—because these shirts have been worn (and well loved,) they’ve also been washed a lot so the background colors can be that dingy t-shirt white or a faded navy blue.
I designed my t-shirt quilt to showcase the fun graphic while downplaying the background fabrics. I do this by finding a common width for my shirts and then adjusting the height of each shirt according to the size of the graphics. The shirts are then sewn into vertical columns and bordered with some fun solid colors so the quilt reads contemporary and modern.
Here’s how to do it…
For a 60” x 80” quilt (large throw of short twin) you'll need the following:
16 to 20 adult t-shirts
8 yards of lightweight fusible interfacing (20” wide)
4 half yards of complimentary solid fabrics (for sashing & borders)
1 half yard of contrasting fabric for binding
5 yards of 44” wide backing fabric
Rotary Cutter, Ruler & Mat
Prepping the t-shirts—
Lay your shirt flat on a cutting mat and use your rotary cutter and ruler to trim it down so you’ve removed the sleeves, crew neck and shoulders. This is a rough cut so DO NOT TRIM the shirt down to the final size. Instead OVER cut the shirt so that you can measure and adjust for the exact size later on!!!!
- Try to leave space above the graphic so you can center the design later on.
- Leave twice as much space below the graphic. This will give you the wiggle room you need later when you’re adjusting the height of each shirt into the column length.
- Iron the fusible interfacing to the back of each over cut shirt.
NOTE: I find that ironing the fusible interfacing from the back works better than trying to iron it down from the front because the iron can melt the graphic decal and ruin the shirt!
Cutting your shirts to actual size—
Remember the old saying, “measure twice—cut once?” Well, here’s how that works.
Go through your pile of shirts and measure each of them. Don’t cut any of them yet! The goal here is to find a common width so that you can use that measure to cut all of your shirts the same size.
Take your ruler and turn it on its side so that you can read the numbers across the front of the shirt. Here’s where you’ll eyeball the sizing—before you cut anything!
Center the graphic so that you have extra space on either side. You’ll want to make sure that your graphic can be centered in the middle of your final cut. Remember—you’ll need to leave quarter inches on either side for your seam allowances!
The final cut line will often be consistent with the edge of where you trimmed off the sleeves.
- The larger adult shirts will yield wider column widths like 16” or 17” across.
- The smaller adult shirts and kids shirts may only yield 10” to 12” widths.
As you go through your pile of shirts, you may find that you have different size widths. No worries. I’ve made quilts with two different column widths. I’ve put the smaller shirts into one column in the middle and then flanked that on either side with the two wider columns so it’s symmetrical.
Once you’ve gone through your entire pile of shirts and found a common width—you’re ready to measure the second time—and cut!
Let’s say your common shirt width is 15”. You’ll going to want to center your graphic on this 15” width.
- Begin by turning your ruler and measuring the width of the graphic.
- If the graphic is 9” wide, you’ll center it so that you have 3” of fabric on each side. (15” minus 9” = 6” divided by two for each margin)
- Turn your ruler so that you’re cutting vertically. Use the 3” line on the ruler to line-up with the right side of your graphic and CUT.
- Turn the mat so that you can measure from the left side. Again line up the 3” line on your ruler so that you’re adding 3” to your shirt's graphic—and cut.
Repeat for each of your shirts! Remember you over cut the top and bottom edge of these shirts so that you have the wiggle room to size and adjust the column lengths.
Laying out your quilt top…
I use my cutting table to layout my quilt top—but you can use your dining room table at home.
- Layout the shirts with an eye on color. Don’t cluster the colors or your eye will always go to that one spot on the top.
- If you have two different column widths, layout the narrower shirts first by placing them down the middle column. Then you can balance out the color and designs in the wider columns on either side.
If you’ve got a special shirt—think about centering it. I’ve used shirts with names, colleges and/or special quotes in the center.
As you layout your shirts, adjust the placement so that you know how much you’ll need to cut from some of the shirts in order to come up with a common length.
Sewing the t-shirt columns…
I use quarter inch seam allowances to sew my shirts together.
Remember how we over cut the top and bottoms on each shirt? Here’s where that will come in useful because you’ll use that “extra” fabric to center and space your column lengths so they’re all the same.
- Make one column first by sewing the top and bottoms of the t-shirts together.
- Take your tape measure and to find the length of the column. This is the size you’ll need to achieve as you sew the other two columns together.
- Sew the remaining columns using the extra space on each shirt to adjust for a consistent column length.
Sashing and borders…
You can use one single fabric/print as your top’s sashing and borders like I did with Alysa’s quilt (pictured left.) Here we used a subtle small scale print that blended with the greys in the shirts so that the print recedes (meaning it doesn’t contrast with the shirts.)
Or you can create some added visual interest by creating a multi-colored effect. I like to use solids here because they read modern. I usually pull the colors from the shirts and use school colors for recent grads or dorm quilts.
The multi-colored effect is made from piecing 3.5”, 2.5” and 2” strips into a strip set.
From the strip set(s) I cut sections and then piece them end to end to make sashing and borders. The number of sections will depend on the size of your strip sets and the quilt top.
- Cut 3.5” sections for the sashing between the shirt columns.
- Cut 5.25” sections for the quilt’s borders.
Add the sashing to the middle shirt column.
Next add the outer borders to each of the side shirt columns. Then you can attach the sides to the middle section.
Finally, add the borders to the top and bottom of your quilt top.
Congratulations! You’ve completed your t-shirt quilt top.
Now it’s time to quilt the quilt. Because of the thickness on these t-shirt projects, hand quilting is really difficult so you’ll need to machine quilt. If you don’t have the time—or the inclination—consider sending it out to a long arm quilter. They can get this done for you in no time.
Happy sewing! We love to see pictures of all your projects so please send them along.