I used to live overseas and we’d make these quilts whenever friends were due to depart. A group would inevitably get together to make “the quilt” with each donating a T-shirt meant to represent themselves. These quilting get-togethers were loads of fun and there was usually plenty of adult beverages consumed. Once the quilt was finished, we’d sign a farewell message or some sort of witticism on the quilt with a permanent marker. The quilts were coveted and everyone departing wanted one.
If you’ve ever wanted to make a quilt yet felt intimidated by conventional quilting, then a T-shirt quilt is perfect for the beginner. It’s ultra easy and doesn’t require a lot of money or special supplies, only a little patience. And imperfections will not ruin this kind of quilt, are easy to blend or cover-up, which further helps to make it a favorite of the novice quilter. Some like to purchase new, unused shirts for these quilts, but I find used T’s tell a story of its previous owner and help lend a more personal touch to the quilt. Besides, IMHO slight imperfections are what handmade is all about and it should be about the thought and love that went into the making of something, not what you spent or how perfect it is.
I’m going to teach you the basics as well as tips and tricks I’ve learned to make your first quilt a huge success!!
But enough yakking, let’s get you quilting!
Step 1: Supplies Needed
Twenty (20) – 12.5” T-shirt squares
Queen flat sheet
Quilt batting – twin size
Fabric for 12 – 2.5” squares
Fabric for 31 – 12.5”x2.5” rectangles
Scissors and/or rotary cutter (optional)
Seam ripper, optional
Pencil, fabric marking pencil or permanent marker
2.5” lucite square OR cardboard template
12.5”x2.5” lucite rectangle OR cardboard template
12.5” lucite square OR cardboard template
Rotary cutting mat, optional
Thread for sewing machine
I made many of these quilts using cardboard templates, but using lucite makes it easier to see what's directly below the template. I suggest you not go out and incur the additional expense unless you think this is something you’ll want to continue to do.
Tip: You may also hear about fusing each T-shirt square to Trans-Web in order to give the square support and keep the edges from rolling. You can do this if you like, but I don’t subscribe to its use. Reason #1 is the additional expense. Reason #2 is you can pin enough to reduce the problems incurred from the fabric’s tendency to roll. #3 is I don’t like the stiffness that occurs from its use and like my T-shirt quilt soft like a T-shirt, not stiff like paper. It’s not a bad thing, I just don’t like to use it and won’t be covering it in this instructable.
Step 2: Arrange, Mark and Cut Your T's
I want to demonstrate how I choose a design and what you can do to "make" a design work. I didn't have 20 Harley T-shirts so I improvised. Many times if we needed squares we didn’t have, we’d cut a square of blank fabric and appliqué 4 or 5 over-the-heart logos onto it to create a “square.” Because they were usually from the same shirts we were already using, they’d blend right in.
Tip: don't miss the great designs found on sleeves, cuffs, around the hem, and the top of the neck in the back. You might need one or be able to slip one onto a perfect spot.
Over-the-heart pockets are terrific and when added to a quilt is the perfect spot for reading glasses, a remote or maybe a kleenex.
The first five pictures are from the same shirt. Luckily, it had the same design on the front and back (a 2-fer!). I laid the shirt out flat and began situating the 12.5" lucite square until I found its best placement.
Tip: don’t stretch your shirt or it will throw off the squares in the quilt. Also, don't allow any design you want showing to be in the outer 1/4" of the template. The template includes a 1/4" seam allowance. This means the 1/4" around the outer perimeter will not be visible. Trick: don't worry about details that show-up in the outer edges of your square that aren't part of the design you want to see. When it's all put together, the eye will not see it, but rather will focus on the main design in the square. (I.e., in picture #1, the lower eagle's wing-tip is barely touching the far left side - I kept his wing tip from entering the seam allowance. The wings of the eagle further below him are in the frame, but you won't notice them in the finished quilt. Look for yourself.)
If using a cardboard template, set an edge where you want it and lay the cardboard over the design, peeking under each side to make sure you have all areas you want covered.
In picture #2, you can see where the outline has been drawn around the template with a permanent marker (the line won't show in the finished quilt). Notice how I went over into the sleeve seam on the right side to keep from going into the Harley logo on the left. Picture #3 shows how I used a small plastic bowl as an impromptu template to capture the logo. Though it may seem off-center, I'm actually capturing one side at a time and you can further see in picture #4 what I was attempting. I fine-tuned the circle by trimming with scissors when I began cutting-out the square. In picture #5, I flipped to the back-side of the shirt because I wanted to capture what I thought was the best square of the whole quilt - a pair of riders in the moonlight.
Picture #6 - You can see I was unable to get the entire design, so I adjusted my template until I found what I wanted. Note that I'm keeping the top and bottom out of the seam allowance, but have allowed a portion of the "S" in Santa and the end of the splash on the opposite side to run over.
Trick: the eyes will tell the mind the "S" is complete and no one will ever know the splash to the right didn't end where it did.
Picture #7 - I needed the square, but couldn't fit it all in - either the V-twin was going to be cut or the Harley name and logo would be lost. It was a judgment call on my part. How would you have done it? The beauty is - there's no right or wrong answer!
Picture #8 – A perfect fit. A smidge outside the seam allowance, but no worries.
Picture #9 – A whole lot of the design wouldn’t fit, but I kept working the template until I felt I captured the best of what I could. How would you have done it differently?
Picture #10 – Arrrrgh, Matey. Another good fit.
Picture #11 – A hawg on a Hog. Ha! You can just barely see the top of the template where I opted to include the top vs. the bottom of the design. Maybe you would have liked to have kept the entire picture of the hawg instead of the wording. In that case, you would want to draw a horizontal line above the tip of his ear. Anything remaining above that will fall out of the line of vision.
Picture #12 – Call of the Wild. You can’t see the rider, but it still looks great.
Picture #13 – Harley Davidson, San Juan, PR. I had a hard time deciding what to do and was not going to use the shirt because I just couldn’t make it work. Whatever I did, I felt I was losing the image. But, I needed the square so I made it work by adding an appliqué of a HD logo from another shirt. You can see it in the finished quilt and I’ll explain the procedure below.
Picture #14 – Great picture, although a little challenging. You can see I opted to clip his upper wingtips in order to save the lower lettering.
Well, are you getting the hang of it?! Remember, there aren’t any right or wrong answers. It’s all good!
Tip and trick: Adding an appliqué. What’s an appliqué? It’s a French term that means to sew a piece of fabric onto another. We use appliqués on T-shirt quilts to cover something up (like maybe a stain), add interest, or fill in dead space. The appliqué started in pictures #3 and #4 is being sewn in picture #15 using a satin zig-zag stitch. Note pin placement to hold while being sewn. When you see the square in the finished quilt, it looks like it belongs there.
Now, you'll want to outline your template placement on each shirt with a permanent marker. Remember the lines won't show on the finished quilt. Then cut out all your T-squares and any other pieces you've chosen to use as appliques. You can either hand-cut with scissors or use your rotary cutter and mat. I cut all mine old-school using scissors.
Step 3: Decide on Placement
Place your backing in a facedown position. If it’s a sheet make the seams face up. If it’s a printed fabric, orientate the print towards the floor. Lay-out your T-shirt squares on the backing, four across and five down the length of the sheet, see above picture. You want to lay them on the backing so you can see how they play out. Then begin moving them about until you find a configuration that is pleasing to you. I like to break up like colors, real colorful ones with not so colorful ones, etc. Play with them; you’ll know when it’s right for you.
Tip: once you have them all where you want them, take a picture so you can remember their order later. Trust me, it’s easy to get them out of order in the coming steps.
Pick your T-shirt squares up starting in the upper left and run across, putting shirt two below one, shirt three below two and shirt four on the bottom. Repeat with each row until you have five stacks of shirts. Keep the rows in order from top to bottom.
Step 4: Cut the Strips and Squares
You need to cut the 31 - 12.5”x2.5” rectangles and 12 – 2.5” squares. If you’re using a queen flat sheet (like I did) to also use for the rectangles strips, you must first determine the excess fabric from your backing.
Understand that the T-shirt squares should measure 12” finished, each rectangle strip 12”x2” finished, and each square 2” finished.
You must also account for the border around the quilt which is 2” all around on my quilt. Therefore, 2-1/4” is added on all four sides of the backing as well as the front’s four sides. In other words, you’ll be wrapping the backing’s edges from the back over to the front of the quilt and stitching it down to make a perimeter border. There is a 1/4” seam allowance for each side, front and back. This equates to an additional 9” of backing fabric added to the total needed in width AND length.
The width should equal four squares + 3 rectangles + the 2.25” inch border (x 4, this includes seam allowances) for each side = 48”+6”+9” = 63”.
The length should equal five squares + 4 rectangles + the 2.25” border x 4 = 60”+8”+9” = 77”.
Therefore, you need to account for 63”x77” worth of backing and anything beyond that can be used to cut the rectangle strips.
Tip: make it easier by using two of the already finished edges on the sheet. I.e., I started with the upper and right edges and worked my way over and down. That way I only had to measure and cut two of the four sides.
Mark off 63” across from the right and 77” down from the top. You want to start marking the inside of your backing with either a fabric pencil or marker. I used a permanent marker that was close to the sheet’s color. Doesn’t take a lot, just enough to be able to draw a line from dot to dot, like you see me doing in picture #1. Once you have the area marked, use a straight-edge to draw a line across your marks. It’s ok to make it a bit larger, but try not to make it any smaller than your intended area. (It’s always a good idea to measure twice, cut once.) Most likely your straightedge won’t cover the entire area, just line up your marks, draw a line, then continue to slide your straightedge further along the line already made until the entire area has been marked. Then cut along your line with either scissors or a rotary cutter, see picture #2.
Once the excess backing has been trimmed away, you’re ready to begin measuring and cutting the strips.
We need to get the excess fabric into a more manageable size, so you’ll fold the width in half and then half (into fourths) as shown in picture #3 and a close-up, #4. Lay the folded fabric on a flat surface so you can make an accurate measure. You want all edges to meet. Picture #5 shows the fabric on my work center; the worktop serves as a straightedge.
Tip: lay the excess fabric on top to help anchor your work instead of letting its weight drag what you're working on to the floor.
Since you’ll be cutting the rectangle strips from this fabric, you’ll need a piece 12.5” wide. Take a measurement 12.5” long on the left, right and center. Use a straightedge to either draw a line and cut with scissors or use the straightedge as a guide using your rotary cutter.
Tip: if using scissors, you’ll want to mark and cut a single layer of fabric at a time. Otherwise the fabric will likely shift if you try to cut too much at once. (There isn’t anything wrong doing it old school, it just takes more time and patience.)
You should now have a four-fold piece of fabric 12.5” wide. Picture #6 - place your 12.5”x2.5” template against one edge and either draw a line for scissor cutting or use the rotary to cut the first four rectangle strips.
Tip: if using template and rotary, be sure to bear down on the template so it doesn’t shift while you cut, as in picture #7. If cutting using scissors, remember to cut one layer of fabric at a time. You should have plenty of excess fabric if you foobar; it’s all good - just cut more strips.
Continue and repeat as necessary until you have 31 rectangle strips.
Do the same technique with the smaller piece of fabric for the fabric squares. You’ll need 12 of these.
Picture #8 shows my stacks of rectangle strips and colored fabric squares.
Step 5: Sew T-shirt Squares to Rectangle Strips
Tip: when pinning keeping the pointed end of the pin toward the fabric edge. Your sewing machine should be able to run right over these.
Tip: I like to pin the ends and the middle and then work toward either end, but you’ll find your own comfort zone as you go along. You can’t have too many pins and as you progress you’ll find you require less pinning.
Picture #3 shows a row pinned from the front, and #4 from the back. If you accidently pin something backwards or upside down, un-pin and then re-pin. Better to find out and fix it now then to find out after it’s been sewn together (hence the seam ripper, tee-hee).
Note the various uses of appliqués in #3.
Picture #5 demonstrates where the edge of the fabric needs to be to insure the needle maintains a ¼” seam allowance. Picture #6 shows the placement and line-up of the needle and sewing foot over the fabric. Picture #7 shows all rows sewn and laid in their proper order. It’s starting to look good!
Step 6: Sew Fabric Square and Rectangle Rows
Picture #6 shows me pressing the seams open in each row.
Tip: assure your iron setting is compatible with the chosen fabric.
Continue as with the T-shirt rows in pictures #7 and #8.
Tip: pay extra caution when ironing open T-shirt seams. Avoid any areas where there is screenprint ink as it can melt onto the iron causing the design to be marred as well as accidently ironing it onto one of the other pieces and ruining it as well.
Picture #9 shows were we are so far. We’re getting closer!
Step 7: Sew All Rows Together
Step 8: Add Quilt Batting
Step 9: Attaching the Backing, Machine Quilting and Binding
Start pinning all columns and all rows following the rectangle strips. Pin on each side of the rectangle columns and rows, see picture #2. This will aide you with machine quilting.
Once everything is pinned, start at one end of a rectangle row or column and set the sewing machine to a ¼” seam allowance within the column or row. Sew up and down each side of a column and row, see picture #3.
Tips: take your time, watch out for pins, roll the quilt as you work. It may help if you have a second pair of hands that can help guide the fabric away from you so it doesn’t bind, but isn’t necessary. Just use patience and you’ll do fine.
Once all is sewn, fold the backing edges in half over to the front of the quilt to form a border. Turn border edges under so that the remaining border measures 2”, see picture #4. Pin all the way around (lots of pinning helps) and sew all border edges to the quilt. Fold corner edges over one another. What method you choose is unimportant, but be consistent with all four corners.
My finished quilt is in pictures #5 and #6.
Thanks so much for talking the time to read my first instructable. It was a lot of work, but loads of fun. Please let me know if you have questions and I’ll do my best to answer.