How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt
If you have a closet full of old t-shirts that you never wear but you just can’t bring yourself to throw away, why not make them into a t-shirt quilt? T-shirt quilts are the number one thing people ask me to make for them or want to know how to make themselves. Let me tell you – they are SO easy. Even if you are a beginning sewist you can easily turn your t-shirts into a work of art because you only have to sew in a straight line (or semi-straight – swervy seams just add character to your masterpiece).
Here’s what you need:
– T-shirts – I have made quilts that have anywhere from 9 to 30 t-shirts so pull out what you have.
– A large cardboard box (Optional) – to make a template for your t-shirt design
– Fusible fabric stabilizer – Pellon 820 Quilter’s Grid and 821 Quilter’s Grid On-Point are great choices because they have grid lines that help with layout and construction – if you are a beginner these are for you!
– Rotary Cutter and Rotary Mat – If you don’t own one, why not rent one from Loanables.com here? Beware that you will probably decide it is something you can’t live without and end up purchasing one of your own.
– Fabric for borders (optional) and backing – the amount of fabric you need depends on the size of your finished quilt so you will need to figure out how you want your quilt to look and go from there.
– Batting – I like Natural Cotton batting – it stays put, is nice and flat and is easy to sew on! Try Quilter’s Dream or Warm n Natural batting available at your local quilt shop or on Amazon.com here
– Sewing Needles
– Pins – quilting pins or safety pins
Making Your Quilt Top – Step By Step:
Lay out all your t-shirts and measure the largest design you want to include in your measuring tape. Common sizes for your “squares’ range from 10” x 10” for children’s t-shirts up to 18” x 18”. I often make a template that will cover the largest design and use it to cut out all of t-shirt designs.
Decide what size you want your quilt to be. This will be dependent on how many shirts you want to use and how big your squares are.
Below are some standard quilt sizes (although your quilt can be any shape and size you want and it will still be perfect!)
– Crib – 42” x 72”
– Twin – 66” x 96”
– Double/full – 81” x 96”
– Queen – 90” x 102”
– Standard King – 108” x 102”
– California King – 102” x 110”
These dimensions can be made entirely out of t-shirts OR you can add sashing/borders between the shirts to get your desired length and width. (NOTE: I ALWAYS use borders – I think it adds to the quilt).
Cut the t-shirt fronts off of the t-shirt backs. All you have to do is cut up the side seams and across the shoulders to free the shirt fronts from the shirt backs. You can then use the designs on either the front or back or both! I have even used little designs off of t-shirt sleeves as patches on my quilts OR I sew them together to make a larger square.
Cut squares out of your fusible fabric stabilizer the size of your desired t-shirt squares. This is SO quick and easy if you cut them using a rotary cutter and mat.
Iron the fusible fabric stabilizer to the back of the t-shirt designs you want to use – be sure to center the design in the middle o the stabilizer.
Cut out your t-shirt designs around the edges of the fusible fabric stabilizer. Again, this is VERY fast if you cut with your rotary cutter and mat.
Lay out your quilt top. Make sure the t-shirt designs are where you want them to be and lay out your borders until you are happy. If you are using borders, now is the time to cut your borders using your rotary cutter and mat OR, you can buy a Jelly Roll of fabric and use the strips as your quilt borders.
Pin the t-shirt design squares together directly or to a border. I usually pin one, sew it, iron it, and then pin the next one on it. Be careful ironing t-shirt designs as they may melt so make sure to use a low temperature iron.
Sew your shirts/borders together to make your quilt top.
Iron the whole quilt top so that it is really flat.
After you are done admiring your work, it’s time to construct the quilt back. I often wait until the top is done to choose my backing fabric – I like patterned fabric on the back to pull all the colors from the front together. Here is a quilt where I used a great patterned fabric and the leftover shirt designs for the back.
To make the backing:
Step 1: Measure your quilt. You will need to buy a piece of fabric at least as long as your quilt from top to bottom. If your quilt is wider than 44” or 60” you will need double this. There are some fancy ways to piece your back together using less fabric but for a first timer, I would go for 2xlength.
Step 2: Cut and piece your back together to be the same size as your quilt top.
Step 3: Iron your backing so that it is really flat.
Cutting the Batting:
Finally, cut your batting the same size as your quilt back. I usually lay my batting out on the floor or a very large table and lay my quilt back on top of it. I then cut around the quilt back using scissors or a rotary cutter.
Putting It All Together:
Now you are ready to assemble your quilt! I have done this 2 ways – both are great – it just depends on the look you are going for.
The Flipping Method:
I love this method as it is easy and finishes the edges without having to “bind” the quilt. To do this you should:
1 – Lay your batting out on the floor or a large table.
2 – Lay your quilt back face up on top of your batting so that the edges meet and are even.
3 – Lay your quilt top face down on top of your quilt back.
4 – Pin around the edges.
5 – Carefully pick your quilt up and sew around the edges leaving about an 18” opening. I would allow about a 5/8” to 1” seam allowance – sometimes the edges are uneven so a slightly bigger seam allowance makes sure you catch all the edges and don’t have any holes in your seam. If your sewing machine has a walking foot, it sometimes helps to use that to get the batting and quilt top and back through the machine evenly.
6 – Carefully flip your quilt right side out – the back should be on the back and the front on the front and the batting in between.
7 – Close the 18” opening by turning the seam allowance to the inside, pinning the opening closed and stitching close to the edge.
8 – Lay your quilt on the floor or table and pull it until it is really flat.
9 – Pin the layers together – I use a ton of pins…everywhere.
10 – Stitch through all of the quilt layers to hold them together. I usually just stitch in the ditch (in between the shirts or between the border and shirts in a grid like pattern) so that your batting doesn’t move in between the front and back and your quilt stays together. This also helps the designs pop out a bit.
The Sandwich Method:
This is a more traditional method with a binding. It takes a little more work but it turns out beautifully.
1 – Lay your quilt back face down on a table or the floor
2 – Lay the batting down on top of the quilt back matching up the edges
3 – Lay the quilt top down on top of the batting face up so that you make a sandwich
4 – Pin the quilt all over to hold it together while you sew
5 – I usually sew around the edge about 1” from the edge of the fabric to hold everything in the sandwich
6 – Stitch in the ditch (in between the shirts or between the border and shirts in a grid like pattern).
7 – Add a binding to finish your quilt. You can either make your own bias binding or buy pre-made binding from your local quilt shop or Amazon.com.
Here is a great step by step for binding a quilt on craftsy.com if you have never done a binding: binding a quilt
And that’s it! I love to help people complete their projects so if you ever have questions, feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org