Introduction: Collage Style T-Shirt Quilt

There are two main things that are often warm and fuzzy: blankets and memories. Corny, I know. But here we are.

Whether it’s your old college garb, your cherished rock concert t-shirts, or a family member’s well-worn and sentimental clothing, t-shirt quilts, a.k.a. memory quilts, are an amazing way to preserve warm and fuzzy memories.

There are all types of t-shirt quilts; ones that use a square ruler and cut every shirt to the same size, ones that have the same width size column with varying block heights, or a free for all. This Instructable walks you through the creation of a collage-style t-shirt quilt top*. This style is often more appeasing to the eye because you can’t focus in on a specific pattern.

The pros of a collage-style quilt:

  1. You won’t cut off any logos trying to fit your shirt in a specified 12”x12” or 15” by 15” square.
  2. You cut almost exactly what you need and don’t have to worry about your shirts being not BIG enough for a specified square size.
  3. You don’t have to do any hard math, and there’s no need for a calculator!
  4. You can use SO many more shirts. I used around 60 shirts in this quilt; if I could only use 12”x12” blocks, my quilt would be the size of a house (…that definitely would be warm and fuzzy…) or I would have to cut down to about 16 shirts. No way.

*This is an intermediate level quilt top.

Step 1: Materials

Materials --

  • T-shirts (the more the merrier)
  • Lightweight Fusible Interfacing (Pellon P44F)
  • Thread (white or cream for light shirts, navy or black for dark shirts)
  • Optional: Border Fabric

Tools --

Step 2: T-Shirt Preparation

  1. Quickly pre-iron all your shirts (only the sides you’re using). This is to help the cutting and interfacing steps go quicker.
  2. Use scissors to cut off the sleeves, up the sides, and through the shoulder tops, disconnecting the front from the back. If you have a large logo on the front or back, make sure you give yourself as much room as possible when cutting. Once you get confident, you can use your rotary cutter to make all the cuts; this makes it go a lot faster with smoother lines! Finish cutting all your shirts before proceeding.
  3. Take a shirt and roughly cut a piece of interfacing that is larger than the print/logo. Place the interfacing bumpy side down on the backside of the logo or desired section of shirt, lay an extra scrap t-shirt on top of it, and iron on the interfacing according to package instructions. You will lay the iron on one section, hold for about 10-20 seconds, and move on. After it’s cool, make sure the interfacing has adhered to the t-shirt. Finish prepping all shirts with interfacing.

I use a heat press to adhere interfacing to shirts; my press is set to 350 degrees F for 20 seconds. If you're doing multiple quilts or sew a lot, I think the investment of a heat press is a huge time saver, and they are reasonable in price and versatility.

Step 3: T-Shirt Trimming to Blocks

Here’s the secret to collage style quilts – you know before cutting that every single block size will be rounded up to one of these numbers – 4,8,12, or 16 (or any factor of 4). After that, you will add ¼” seam allowances on all sides. Stay with me. Here are examples of what I mean:

  • You have a logo or print that is 3.25” by 10”. You will round up the 3.25” side to 4” and your 10” side to 12”. Then you will add in your ¼” on all sides. That makes the final block 4.5”x12.5”.
  • You have a logo or print that is 4.5”x13.5”. You will round up the 4.5” side to 8” and 13.5” side to 16”. After adding in the ¼”, the finished block will be 8.5”x16.5”.

To make it easier, you are welcome to assume all block sides will be 4.5”,8.5”,12.5”, or 16.5”, but then you might cut off a logo. For example, you might have a logo that is 12.25”x12.25”; you think, that fits into a 12.5”x12.5” square, so I’m good. But when you go to sew your ¼” seam, you will lose sides of your logo. This is up to you. Sometimes I don’t mind if a snippet of a logo is cut off because I don’t want to go up to 16.5”, but sometimes the print needs to be wholly intact, so I round up to a bigger size.


So what’s the best way to start? Find the exact center of the print/logo. I start by measuring the height of the print. The Mizzou logo is 2” tall. Half of that? 1”. I mark the half point on the left and right side of the logo and draw a line connecting the two, creating the horizontal center line. Then I measure the width of the logo. This one is 10.5” wide, with the half mark at 5.25”. I mark the top and bottom of the logo and draw a vertical line. Now we have the “exact” center.

I know that my 10.5” width logo needs to be rounded up to 12” with a ¼” extra on each side of the center line (that means 6.25” to the right and left, equalling 12.5" total). Hey, I said this wasn’t beginner, right? :) Take your ruler (or rulers if you don’t have a wide enough one) and measure 6.25” off the right of the center line. DOUBLE CHECK. Then cut. Do the same thing on the left side. I double check to make sure I cut it right. 12.5” width? Yep. Moving on.

Now I will cut the top and bottom. My 2” tall logo has to be rounded up to 4” (totaling 4.5”). I place my ruler at the 2.25” mark and cut the top of the block. My identical next cut on the bottom will make the completed height 4.5”.

The staring logo was 2”x 10.5” and the final block is 4.5”x12.5”.

Step 4: Trimming Blocks Pt. 2

After all that previous work, the best feeling is when you have a logo size that matches a ruler you own! For example, a very common t-shirt quilt ruler size is 12.5”x12.5”. You have a logo that is 9”x10”? Place your ruler center on the logo and just cut around it with your rotary cutter! Bingo Bango done.

Step 5: Quilt Layout

When beginning to layout out your t-shirt blocks, first start by clearing a large spot on the floor. I had over 70 pieces, so I couldn’t get a spot big enough.

Do you have a favorite shirt that would be perfect for the center of the quilt? Pick it and let’s start. I chose my first ever sorority shirt because of the symbolism and because it’s so colorful, and I placed it roughly in the center of the floor. Then I picked a shirt that wasn’t so bright (plain and white) and laid it touching but higher than the first shirt; they are touching on the top and bottom 3” of both shirts.

The most important thing to remember when laying out shirts is each block side can be divided into 4” sections. (A 4” side is one section, an 8” side has 2 sections, a 12” side has 3 sections, and a 16” side has 4 sections.) To make the shirt layout work, you can’t just lay shirts out willy-nilly. Sides either need to line up perfect (i.e. an 8” side lines up to an 8” side) or the shirts overlap according to "sections". My first and second shirt overlap one section (they overlap 4"). This means an 8” tall block would fit perfectly on top of the first block and line up with the top of the second block.

You will get slight overhangs when laying out the quilt because of the ¼” seam allowance, but when sewed, the quilt fits perfectly together; you will understand once you start laying out the quilt. It will work, I promise!

Now, unless magic happened, there will be holes. In one of the last pictures, I have the quilt size I want, but there are gaps where I didn't have enough shirts. This is an easy fix. I know by looking at the quilt holes what size block I will need to fill these gaps. You will too. You will see a hole bigger than 4.5” but smaller than 12.5” and think, I need an 8.5” piece. Often, I will just need a 4.5”x4.5” scrap piece to fill a small gap. Other times, if I am widening a quilt, I will use bigger pieces. It just depends on the look you’re going for. After you know what size you need, pick a scrap piece of shirt, add interfacing, and treat it just like a regular t-shirt block.

Scrap blocks are a perfect way to add more color to an area or just break up a print heavy section, so don't throw those scraps away until the very end!

Step 6: Take Pictures!

Before you move on and sew anything, take a bunch of pictures! Take pictures of the whole quilt and at least one of each of the four corners. You will work in quadrants, so it’s important to document the layout. You could upload the pictures to a laptop or tablet and keep it on your sewing table so you always have the layout handy.

Step 7: Piecing (Sewing) the Quilt Top

The basic premise of piecing the quilt top is, start with the easy stuff and work outwards until you have to sew the hard stuff.

  1. Pick the quadrant you are starting with. I started at the top left.
  2. Yellow: sew the easy stuff. The small blocks are literally building blocks. You can’t move on until these are sewed. Basically, sew everything that has a 1:1 matching edge (like an 8" block and 8" block). Think: would I have to do anything weird to sew these together? I have squared in yellow the blocks I sewed first.
  3. Blue: next I sew together more 1:1 sides that I couldn't do in the previous step. For example, I can't sew a 4.5" to a 12.5" square, so I'll sew the 4.5" to an 8.5", which equals 12.5", and THEN sew those two blocks to the 12.5" square. Basically, just keep adding on. The light blue represents the first sections sewed together and the dark blue is just me adding on more blocks that line up perfectly.
  4. Magenta: this is where it starts to get weird. You'll reach a point where blocks don't line up perfectly anymore and you'll eventually need to sew a block into the "L" of another set of blocks. Yes, this is confusing. Don't worry; you'll know exactly what I mean when you get to this point! When you have a seam that just ends (like sewing a 4.5" side to an 8.5" side, stop 1/4" early on the non-flush end.
    1. Magenta pt 2 - picture 5 shows closer up what this means and where to stop sewing 1/4" early.
  5. Picture 6: I have sewed as much as I can without doing the "funky sewing". This picture shows that we have a large zig zag piece and we need to sew in the light pink KD section.
  6. First, flip the block over and line it up, right sides together, with the appropriate edges touching. I flipped the light pink KD over the vertical axis. Then I sewed down the vertical seam.
  7. Picture 8: This is what the stitching looks like after being opened up.
  8. Then flip the light pink KD section over the horizontal axis, line up the appropriate edges - right sides together -and sew the length of the edges.
  9. Continue on until all the quadrants are pieced and then repeat with the entire quilt. This process takes a long time as there can be numerous zigzags to connect. If you're ever wondering why these t-shirt quilts cost so much, this is it.

Step 8: Optional: Add Borders

At this point, you can be finished with your quilt top and move on to quilting. However, I wanted to incorporate more green and white into the quilt (my sorority's colors). Since I had TONS of scraps and shirt backs leftover, I created a scrappy border. I didn't want the quilt to be overwhelming cluttered, so before adding on the scrappy border, I sewed on a 1.5" white rose fabric border (white rose is the Kappa Delta symbol). The final white border is 1".

To create the scrappy border, I first picked out the greens, whites, light grays, and dark grays that I wanted to see more of. To decide on the width, I needed to make sure my finished top would fit on the batting and backing. (Currently, the quilt is about 80"x85" without borders.) Therefore, the top had to be under 104" (well, under 108" backing, but I like to leave myself wiggle room). Because of my dimensions, I knew I needed 4.5" strips.

I started by cutting a bunch of 4.5" interfacing strips (so 4.5"x 20"). Then I ironed the interfacing to the t-shirts and cut 4.5" strips. I took the strips and cut all different lengths so the border was extra scrappy and random. I then sewed on the strips to the white border, first the sides and then the top and bottom.

You are done with the quilt top!

Step 9: Extras: Quilt & Bind

I won't go into detail about quilting and binding because this is an intermediate level project and quilters all use different methods. However, I recommend using 108" backing so the back of this treasure of yours is seamless. I also used warm and natural cotton batting, making it thin. This thing already weighs a ton, so I don't need heavy batting. If you want to make it more warm and fuzzy, you could quilt it with fleece instead.

I personally longarm quilted my t-shirt quilt using swirls. Without a longarm machine, I would have probably drawn a diamond grid pattern on the quilt and sewed on my home machine.

I used the excess backing to create a bind. I folded the 2.5" bind in half longways, sewed raw edges together on the back of the quilt, and then flipped it to the front and machine sewed a 1/8" topstitch.

Step 10: Final Thoughts

I am so tickled (and have that oh so warm and fuzzy feeling inside) that my college sorority t-shirt quilt is finished. This blanket encapsulates years of great memories with awesome friends and lifechanging experiences.

Step 11: P.S. Warm & Fuzzy Part II

I had way too many scraps after making this quilt, so I wanted to use them to make something extra warm and fuzzy!

Make a t-shirt scraps rug! It costs nothing but time and thread since you don't need to use stabilizer. Cut roughly 1.5 million 2" strips. I said roughly, but that's what it feels like. Snip a little .5" slit into both ends of each strip and thread each strip with another strip as shown. Take your long strips and braid them together. Then start to circle around and around until you get your desired size. You could just start sewing, but then you won't know how much length you'll need. I ended up needing about 80 yards of braid to make a 4'x3' rug. You will use a zig zag stich to sew the braids together.

Unfortunately, these rugs curl upwards like a big bowl if you make them too big. You can try washing and stretching the rug or cut it like I did and sew around the edges to keep from unraveling. Either way, make it yours keep those feeties warm!

Warm and Fuzzy Contest

Second Prize in the
Warm and Fuzzy Contest