I've been fielding so many requests for tips on how to make a t-shirt quilt - probably as a result of having made so many this summer! - that I decided it was time to do a down-and-dirty tutorial.
T-shirt quilts really aren't that difficult to make if you plan ahead. First of all, your t-shirts should be clean and neatly folded or hung up (this will save you time in pressing them) and should be washed in detergent but NOT fabric softener.
There are some tools that will make your task easier:
A good sharp pair of scissors
Rotary cutter with a fresh blade
Square rulers in a variety of sizes -
12.5", 14.5"-15", 16.5", 20.5"
A large cutting mat
Now take all of the t-shirts you want to use and sort them out. Here are a few tips:
If a t-shirt is very small and/or has a high content of spandex, you may want to leave it out. It's possible to use a small t-shirt by adding fabric in the neck area (using the back) and/or cutting into the sleeve area, but you may not be happy with the way it looks in the end.
Look at the size of the design on your t-shirts. This is where your variety of sizes of square rulers will come in handy. You can lay your templates over the design area and see exactly how large you need to cut the block. You can see how I've done that in the picture below...
And don't forget to look at the backs, too - they may have things on them you want to save, as this one did...
In this case, both sides of the shirt only fit under my 15" ruler. Because this is an important shirt for this quilt, I'll probably keep it and cut all of the other t-shirts the same size!
Look at all of your shirts and sort them out by block size. You'll probably see a trend in size. Most women's t-shirts have an imprint area that will fit under a 12.5" ruler. Men's t-shirts can go as high as 20", but most will fit under a 14.5"-15' ruler.
For your first t-shirt quilt, I highly recommend having all your t-shirts cut the same size. Once you've got a quilt under your belt, you'll be better prepared to experiment with quilts using different block sizes and layout designs.
For my first t-shirt quilts, I used a very simple layout - laid out in a 4 x 4 grid of blocks, with 2" sashing and cornerstones and a 5" border. With 12" t-shirt blocks, this quilt is about 68" square. Add a fifth row, and it measures 68" x 82" - pretty close to a twin size quilt. With 14" t-shirt blocks, it measures 76" square. Either size is a great size for college students to take with them for their dorm room - something I've done a lot of this summer!
Using a simple layout also makes it easy to know how many shirts you will need. Most people have a lot more shirts than they will actually need, which gives you some leeway to choose the best ones - whether that's based on size, content, color or condition.
Now that you've decided which t-shirts to use, you will need to deconstruct them. There are lots of different ways to do this, but here's how I do it. Using a sharp pair of scissors, cut up both sides to the underarm, then around the armhole and up the shoulder seam. Cut through the neck trim. Cut off the sleeve on the other side of the shirt, trimming right next to the seam. If you are going to cut blocks from the leftover fabric, cut the sleeve open at the seam and lay it aside.
Here's a good place to talk about the leftover fabric. There's a lot of stuff leftover from a t-shirt after you've cut the block out. I've had suggestions to use them for stuffing dog beds, cut up and crocheted into rugs, rags for cleaning - the possibilities are endless. I'm currently cutting my leftovers into 12.5", 6.5", and 4.5" squares, which I plan to sew together into a stadium/picnic quilt, backing it with reclaimed denim from jeans. We'll see how that goes!
Cut your interfacing blocks 1" larger than the size you plan to cut your t-shirt blocks. Lay the shirt piece face down on the ironing board and lay your interfacing, adhesive side down, on the back of the shirt. Center it on the design, folding it back to verify that you have covered the design and that it is basically centered. Because of the larger size of the interfacing, you've got some leeway if it's not exactly centered. Press the interfacing on the t-shirt back.
Now flip the piece over on your cutting mat, and center the ruler template over the design. Use the markings on the ruler to help center your design. Cut out your block. Repeat for all blocks. Congratulations! You've just finished the hardest part of the quilt!
Cut your sashing pieces the same length as your block sides, and 2.5" wide. Cut the cornerstones 2.5" square. Assemble rows of t-shirt blocks, alternating sashing strips between each block and on the right and left ends of the rows. You will have four t-shirt block rows. Sew together the cornerstone rows, alternating five cornerstones and four sashing strips. Make five of these. Then assemble your rows into the quilt top, alternating cornerstone rows and t-shirt block rows.
Cut your border strips 5 1/2" wide. Fold the quilt in half lengthwise and measure the length of the quilt along the fold. Piecing your border strips as needed, cut two pieces the length you measured and sew them to the right and left sides of the quilt top. Now fold the quilt in half horizontally and measure the horizontal length. Piecing the border strips as needed, cut two pieces the length you measured and sew them to the top and bottom of the quilt top. Congratulations! You've finished the quilt top!
Now for quilting. I used my long-arm to quilt my very first t-shirt top, which I also used Pellon-type interfacing on. I hated the way it stretched and pinched the fabric, so I've not loaded one on the frame since. I usually do straight line quilting on my tabletop machine, which works for me. You may choose to do free motion quilting, but be aware that the thicker ink on some t-shirts can be very difficult to stitch through, and sometimes sticks on the bottom of your sewing machine foot.
Generally, I use invisible thread on the top to stitch in the ditch around all of the t-shirt blocks, then using a neutral thread that blends well with the top, stitch a triple diagonal cross-hatch through the blocks and out into the border. A Hera marker is a great tool to have for marking those blocks for stitching - you'll be able to see the lines when you stitch, but there's nothing to wash out - just a slight crease in the fabric.
Once you've got a basic t-shirt quilt under your belt, there's lots of variations you can do. I've done a couple this summer where the customer requested some specific blocks be used that were different sizes, so I designed the quilt to utilize those and the smaller blocks too. One girl wanted her homecoming and salutatorian sashes incorporated in her quilt, and another had some badges that she wanted added. It's fun to work all those elements into the design, but sometimes it takes some serious quilt math!
I haven't yet tried a puzzle style t-shirt quilt - I have a feeling that they will take much longer than the simpler design I use, and of course, that means extra cost for the customer. I may try it with my husband's t-shirts, though, so I can have a basis for costing one out that isn't just guesswork!
Where, oh where, are the minions I need to do everything I'd like to do?!?!?!?!?
So - - - are you ready to make your own t-shirt quilt now? Let me know if you have any questions I didn't answer and I'll be glad to help if I can!