I would like to talk about t-shirt quilts. I have been approached twice in the last month asking how I make mine so today, I am going to share with all of you. I have made several t-shirt quilts and have learned what works for me by trial and error. The very first t-shirt quilt that I made was for my insurance agent's daughter. She had gone to law school and wanted a quilt made from her shirts that she had accumulated over those 8 years. It was one huge quilt! I did not know anything about applying an interfacing to the back at that time so I cut the shirts, sashed them together and hand quilted it. Although it turned out really nice, it could have been better with the interfacing. I would not advise using this method if you were going to machine quilt yours, as the hopping foot on your machine will have its way with the blocks.
This is one of the hand quilted t-shirt quilts made without using any interfacing at all. You can see it turned out very nice and drapes well when hung. I will agree that if I had known about the interfacing, it would have been even nicer though. This was done for a family friend to give to her daughter.
I actually made the first 3 or 4 t-shirt quilts without interfacing and they all turned out nice but now I use an ultra-lightweight fusible interfacing that I get from JoAnn's Fabrics. I want to put the emphasis on the word "ultra lightweight" as it does not add any extra weight to the blocks... but gives them just enough body for them to lay flat and behave while you are quilting the quilt.
This quilt was made for my daughter's 30th birthday. If you look back and forth between the photos of the quilt above and this one, you can see the difference that the interfacing makes. No wrinkles in these shirts.
The way I approach making a t-shirt quilt is to first press any wrinkled shirts. I then cut off the sleeves around the seam that holds them to the shirt. if your sleeve has a detail that you want in the quilt, lay it to one side and toss the remaining sleeve in another pile (not the trash!.. you will see why later). Next cut the sides open from top to bottom and then cut across both neck seams. Now you have 2 pieces, the front and the back. Keep the ones that have designs and toss the other to the discard pile. Keep doing this until you have all of your t-shirts disassembled.
Now find the largest design in the pile. I lay the shirt on my rotary mat and make sure it is straight on the mat. I then take my 6 x 24 ruler and lay it down one side of the design and allow for an inch extra past the design. I cut this side from top to bottom and discard the cut away. Without moving or shifting the shirt, cut the other side the same as well as the top and bottom.
The reason I say to start with the largest design is this... I said above to leave an inch outside the design when cutting.. Some shirts designs may not leave you an inch extra past the design and to the edge of the front of the shirt so if you only have 3/4" or 1/2"... then you will cut the remaining shirts with the same amount of excess past the design. To me this just looks better than having a few with hardly no excess fabric on the edges and some with 2 inches or more of excess. It gives the blocks a cohesive look. But I am no expert... this is just the way I approach it.
Once you have all of your shirts cut, iron the ultra lightweight fusible interfacing to the backside of all of your blocks. Yes, ironing this interfacing to the shirt blocks may get them out of square a little but I take them back to the rotary mat and size them one last time once they all have had the interfacing applied.
Now comes the fun part. You will need a fairly large floor space for laying out the shirts. I start laying the blocks out until I have the configuration that I want. You will want to have dedicated "rows" in mind when doing this even though some of the blocks may be larger or longer than the others in the same row. You will need to "build" the smaller blocks up in the row to match the size of the largest block. You can do this by adding the same fabric to the sides, top and bottom of that block from the same fabric that your sashing is from. Or, you can make some small to tiny quilt blocks using fabrics that play well with your t-shirts and add them around the smaller blocks. This is where you can get as fun and creative as you wish. I have never made the small blocks from other fabrics but that is on my task list for the next t-shirt quilt that I make. My friend Jean has just done one like this and if she will allow me to share her quilt, I will come back and update this post with her photo. I will put an alert at the top of this post to let you know the new photo is here if she agrees.
Once you have built up all of the smaller blocks so that each block in the same row is the same size it is time to sash the blocks together. And let me say this here.. All of the rows may not be the same height but each block within that same row needs to be. And we all know the length of every row in the quilt has to be the same once ready to go in the quillt. You will need to figure for this as you are adding extra to the sides of your blocks in each row as well. You don't want to have one row needing a 10 inch piece of sashing fabric (or the small blocks) to the outside edge while all of the others may only need 2 or 3 inches. Build each row with all of the other rows in mind as you go.
Once you have all of the blocks together it is time for the border. This too can be played up or down. So far I have only added a simple plain border but I am going to experiment on my next quilt. See how fun you can get!
I always use a good 100% cotton quilt shop quality backing for my t-shirt quilts. When I load the backing I always make sure it is at the very least - 12 inches - longer and wider than my quilt top is. This gives me plenty of room for error. Make sure once it is loaded that it does not sag anywhere... The top is going to be slightly heavy on its own so you do not want to give it any reason to sag on its own. Once you have the backing loaded and you think it is tight enough, give it 1-2 more turns just for good measure!
I use Hobbs 80/20 batting on the t-shirt quilts that I make. I do not use the high loft because I want to keep those shirts as flat as possible to avoid any pleats! I despise pleats!
Load your top and make sure it is straight across the top edge. I start basting it across the top starting at center and working to the left. Once I get to the outer edge I turn on my channel lock and baste down the left side as far as my machine will allow (to the belly bar). I take a few stitches in place and cut my thread here freeing my machine and move back to center of the top edge. Before I begin basting again, I take my hands and just ;lightly hand iron the top toward the right so any fullness is pulled that way. This is why I allow the 12 inches of extra widthon my backing. Starting at center, I then begin to baste over to the right side and then engage the channel locks and baste down to the belly bar along the outer edge.
Next I lift the quilt top up and over the belly bar and make sure my batting has no wrinkles. This is very important. Any wrinkle is going to look like a mound of something under those shirts... trust me... NOT very pretty. Once you know that your batting is flat, let the top fall to the floor again (I am a free floater) and smooth it out from the top edge toward your belly, starting at center and work over to the left and then back to center and work over to the right. I then take corsage pins and pin baste all along the belly bar so that the top is kept flat and secure for the quilting.
You will perform the previous paragraph every time you roll the quilt. The only thing you will change will be when you hand iron the top towards the belly bar before pin basting, you will change which direction you do first every other time. If you hand iron starting at center and moving left the first quilting pass, then you will hand iron starting at center and move to the right once you roll it for the second quilting pass. You will reverse which way you move from center every other time. This keeps you from moving the quilt top towards one direction as you quilt, keeping it straight as you go.
I wish I had more photos to share with you but early on in my quilting I was not always good at taking photos of every quilt that left my studio. I wish I could show you photos of the last t-shirt quilt that I did for a former teacher of mine. It was quilted in the square spiral design with wavy lines. That was a very fun quilt! My friend Karen and I finished the quilt on her longarm. We had a lot of fun with that one. I will see if she kept any photos of it on her camera.
You can google t-shirt quilts to get an idea of different ways to quilt yours but after quilting the free style square spiral it is going to become my "go-to" quilting design for these type of quilts. You do not have to break thread from one side to the other so you have no knots on the backing! I will upload a drawing for you of sorts to give you an idea of what I am referring to...
How do you attack a border around this design? I would do a meander across the top border moving from left to right until i finished it. I would tie off my thread and move the machine back over to the left side of the quilt. I would begin up near the top border doing the meander in the side border filling it as I move downward. When I got to the area where I would start my square spiral I would proceed to quilt across the quilt blocks there. Once I was over to the right side border i would start meandering in it moving up towards the top border, filling the space as I went being sure to finish on the outer edge of the top so I would have no knot showing on the backing. I would tie off and move my machine back over to the left side of the quilt and begin again in the same manner, picking up the meander where I left off the first time, working and filling the border space until i got to where I would start the square spiral across the quilt again. Continue in this manner until you have the quilt completed. Finish off with meandering across the bottom border!
What do you do when the rows may all be different heights and the width of the blocks are all different? Get out your yard stick or rulers along with your water soluble markers. Going by the measurement of the width of your quilt top, find a common divisible that you can work with. I try to make my quilts so that I can mark at least a 10 inch quilting space... and no larger than a 12 inch space. Use your water soluble marker and measure down from the top in several places and put a registration mark in these places. Use your yard stick to draw a line across your quilt connecting these registrations. If you measured down 10 inches from the top then measure across the top every 10 inches and place a mark. Do this at least twice.. and then connect those marks to create your quilting spaces for the square spiral. You will be disregarding the shirt designs and the size of the blocks. Trust me, it will look great once it is off the frame. You will mark these quilting lines every time you roll the quilt before you start the new pass. Do not spritz the quilt to remove the markings until it is off the frame. Let it hang over your belly bar and lightly spritz the markings with water and allow to dry.
And you are done!!
I almost forgot to show you what you can do with the leftovers you discard away... The first quilt in this post had several left over fabrics from the cut aways. I made this lap quilt for the daughter from those. Waste not, want not! that is what Granny Ella tried to drill in my head while I was growing up. :)
I hope you have enjoyed what I had to share with you today! :)