Sunday, August 21, 2016

T-Shirt Quilts De-Mystified - a Tutorial

Hi, all!

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

You'll also need a good interfacing.  I really recommend using a woven fusible interfacing - it will stretch less than the Pellon-type interfacings, and give you a more stable quilt.  I purchase the one shown above from Amazon - it comes in a 60x72" sheet, which also means there is less waste than with a 22" wide strip of interfacing.

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!




  1. One niece carried around soft knit pajama pieces instead of a favorite toy or blanket. She wasn't ready to give them up at night, but was afraid of being teased. We cut them up and made a blanky for her bed and she was so, so happy.

  2. Thanks for the tutorial Sarah! My husband is a retired Boilermaker and I want to take his t-shirts and make him a quilt.

    Happy Stitching! Anna

  3. Sarah, what do you use for batting on your t-shirt quilts? I know they can be quite heavy, so I'm curious. Thanks! Wendy at

  4. Thank you for the tutorial. Great information to add to my files. I completed 2 for my son's mother -in -law who lives in Mt. Juliet too. One was from here military flight nurse service and the other from family vacation t-shirts. I had quite a time cutting all to size and creating blocks to fill in. For me, success times two. Now I am doing another for one of her sons. Thanks again, Donna Weeks aka Momma Llama (

  5. This made me smile since you were the first person I turned to when I needed to make my first T-shirt quilt. You're advice was priceless. I made one with all different sizes of badges and shirts and she didn't want a lot of sashing, quilt math? can you say nightmare, LOL.

  6. Excellent tutorial and advice here for T-shirt making. They do take planning and time, but what great memory quilts they make.

  7. Great tutorial Sarah! Yep, you were the first person I turned to when making my first t-shirt quilt! You are the unofficial expert!! As you know, mine was made up of all different sized blocks...I didn't use quilt math like I should have, instead I just laid them out and started stitching...NEVER AGAIN! Based on all the time & effort I should've charged at least double, lol! But at least I know better for next time :-) Thanks again for ALL OF YOUR HELP!!

  8. Nice tutorial! I did my first puzzle-style T-Quilt this year. To me, it's a PITA!! Your process is much like my own, except... I am a fan of NON-fusible interfacing.

  9. Very nice tutorial! I make a fair number of t-shirt quilts each year but I've never used the interfacing you use. I think I'll give it a try. I've made some puzzle style quilts and the thing to remember is that you will be using partial seams. To make it easier for yourself, leave what seams like a bit too much when doing this. Yes, you'll have to go back over the first seam a little more, but it will make manipulating the pieces so much easier. Gee, guess how I know that? :-) After a chaotic and rough couple of weeks here, I am ready to start on the last t-shirt quilt that I have here so I better head over to Amazon to find that interfacing. Have a great week!

  10. Thanks so much for the tutorial. You make it sound so easy! My hubby has some favorite tee shirts that need to be retired, so maybe I'll talk him into saving them for a quilt and getting some new ones.

  11. Well this is soooo helpful Sarah! I have always thought nope, ain't gonna happen in MY corner of QBL but I am going to bookmark this post and maybe, just maybe, one will happen...having a grandson makes me think one might be in my future!

  12. Thank you Sara for posting this tutorial so soon after I emailed you asking if you had a tutorial foot T-Shirt quilts. Like Dana and Sharon, you were the 1st person I went to for help. This may be a silly question is regular quilt cotton that is used for the sashing and corner stones? If so then I can mix in regular same size blocks of cotton with the T-Shirts? I'll take anyone's help here so Sara doesn't have to answer so many questions. Thanks again Sara and to anyone who can help me with my extra questions.

  13. Interesting interfacing - I might order some and give it a try! I use plain old Pellon fusible on mine, and use the leftover bits on the smaller blocks. The puzzle ones really aren't that hard IF you make sure there's no partial seams. I've made a good dozen and only the last one required partials...and it was the biggest PITA!

  14. Hi Sarah! I am excited to order this t-shirt specific interfacing, I had never heard of such a thing! I would love to get some more information on the math you use for the sashing! I am currently beginning work on a couple of memory quilts for some children who lost their father tragically. The mom likes the puzzle layout, I favor the Too Cool method, but she also likes the sashing between the shirts for the finished look. Any ideas of how to accomplish this??

    Thank you for your time! And if email would be easier, I can be reached at


  15. Hi Sarah! I don't know if you remember me, we were Instagram friends, I followed along for the Christmas Star quilt. I'm not on IG any longer but knew where to go for my first t-shirt quilt😉. However, my very first attempt is s puzzle style ( only because there were many t-shirts and the finished quilt would have been astronomically huge😳). I love your t-shirt quilts!! I'm at the quilting stage and can honestly say, ugh. Being a puzzle style I have no seems to stitch in the ditch. I've never MN asked quilting lines on a quilt don't even think I have the proper marketing tools but I'm sure I'll figure something out. Also this T-shirt quilt has no batting in it is that standard ?

    1. Hi, Carol! I do remember you, but unfortunately you're a no-reply blogger, so I hope you get this reply. Use a Hera marker (from Clover, about $7) to mark your quilt - it works better than anything else. I guess you don't have to use batting - I always do, if only to give some padding between the seams on the front and the backing, but for a lighter quilt you could go without. The last t-shirt quilt I did, I marked in a 5" diagonal cross-hatch grid for quilting. Worked pretty well, and the blocks that were too heavily "inked" to quilt through, I quilted around, then continued with the diagonal line on the other side. Email me directly at salliesue57 (at) gmail (dot) com if you need more info!

    2. Thanks Sarah! The lady I'm doing the quilt for requested that I don't use batting. I'm worried about the seams though, you can feel them through the backing😳

    3. How about a layer of muslin between for a little extra cover?

  16. Should I add interfacing to the back of the sashing? To make it as thick as the t shirt squares.... Without it, won't the quilt top be uneven thicknesses?

  17. Going to use your instructions for first tome project


Comments make me smile!! If you want a PDF of a pattern, PLEASE leave your email address in your comment, or email me directly at salliesue57 (at) gmail (dot) com!