Introduction: Amazing T-Shirt Quilt

Do you have so many t-shirts that you can hardly shove your drawers closed? And you can't bear to part with any of them since they each represent an important memory in your life?

That's the way I felt about all of my show shirts. I do a lot of local theater and always buy the show shirt.

Then I saw a Groupon advertisement for a t-shirt quilt that looked positively hideous. You sent in your t-shirts they would sew them together - the way they saw fit. Ugh.

I knew I could make my own show shirt quilt that would be positively amazing. And it is. And you can make your own. Well, I doubt yours will be made of show shirts. Maybe sports shirts, or college shirts, or concert shirts. Whatever!

It will be your own design.

And it won't be hideous.

What you will need:

  • awesome t-shirts (for a 4.5’ X 6’ quilt, I used the front and back of 8 shirts. Obviously, if you want to use only the fronts, you would need 16 shirts)
  • contrasting fabric (2 yards of perimeter quilting fabric, 1/2 yard each of two other quilting fabrics)
  • medium weight fusible interfacing (3 yards)
  • polar fleece for backing (2 yards of 58-60” wide)
  • scissors
  • sewing machine
  • thread
  • rotary cutter, ruler and mat

Step 1: Pick Out Your T-shirts

If you truly want your blanket to look amazing, you will have to be selective. I limited it to shirts that had colors in common.

It should be noted that none of these t-shirts actually made it to my final show shirt quilt. Not unlike real life, they auditioned but did not get cast.

Step 2: Pick Out Your Contrasting Fabric and Backing.

Head to your local fabric center and bring the t-shirts. Find quilting fabrics that will tie your shirts together.

You will also need fabric to serve as the perimeter of your quilt. Get 3 yards of that. It has to match all of the shirts. I found a fun black and white polka dotted fabric that worked great.

The other contrasting fabric will be separating individual shirts and you’ll only need about ½ yard of each of those.

Pick out the backing. Polar fleece works great and makes for an extremely comfortable blanket. Get 2 yards of that. (I used solid black.)

While you’re at the fabric center pick up about 3 yards of medium weight fusible interfacing and cotton thread.

Step 3: Prepare the T-shirts

Cut each t-shirt out into a rectangle. Keep the rectangles as large as possible at first. You can always cut them smaller, but you can’t make them bigger if you start out too small. (I found that out the hard way.)

Iron on fusible interfacing on the back side of each t-shirt.

Note: Careful when ironing t-shirts. Don't iron over the front of the shirts. I accidentally melted the words on the front of one of my shirts. Good thing I didn't have a lead in that one.

Step 4: Design the Blanket

Arrange the cut out t-shirts and the pieces of the contrasting fabric to design your blanket. I found it easiest to lay everything on the floor (although my dog kept trying to lay on it while I was designing it).

Select the fabric to go between the shirts and the rows of shirts.

A couple things to keep in mind: You’ll be sewing 4 rows of t-shirts. Each row will contain 4 t-shirts and each row has to be the same width. So don’t put all the widest t-shirts in the same row.

Another thing to consider is that all the t-shirts in each row should be the same length. You can always add a strip of fabric to the bottom and/or top of one shirt to lengthen it (see examples above), but you probably don’t want to go overboard with this, as it does add to the complexity.

Take your time designing your blanket. Try a lot of different arrangements. You may like one arrangement and then find another you like even better.

Once you’ve decided what shirts go where, take a picture of it. (It’s easy to forget what goes where!)

Step 5: Adjust the Size of the Shirts As Needed

Now that you know where the shirts will go, make them into the appropriate sized rectangles using the rotary cutter and quilting ruler.

Step 6: Cut the Contrasting Fabric Into Strips

This is really an iterative process. You really can’t all of the strips in advance, unless you are exceptionally anal. Or a Mensa member.

Start by cutting the strips that will go between the shirts in the widest row.

Cut 3” strips of the contrasting fabric. With ½ inch seam allowance, there will be 2 inches between the t-shirts in this row.

Once the shirts and contrasting fabric are sewn together, the row of shirts should not measure more than 50”. If it does, you will have to either reduce the size of the cloth perimeter around the shirts, or get more polar fleece for the backing.

Note that it would be much easier to make a smaller perimeter than to get more polar fleece for the backing. If the blanket ends up less than 58" wide (including the perimeter), it will fit perfectly on the polar fleece!

Step 7: Sew Shirts Into the Rows

Starting with the longest row, sew the contrasting strip to the right side of the first t-shirt. Iron the seams toward the contrasting fabric. Then sew the second shirt to the other end of the strip. Iron seams toward the contrasting fabric.

Do the same with 3rd and 4th shirts in the row.

You will then have 2 sets of t-shirts connected by the contrasting fabric.

Sew a strip of contrasting fabric to the right of the first set of t-shirts. Next sew it to the left side of other set of shirts.

You’re done with the first row!

Basically repeat this for the other 3 rows except you may have to adjust the width of the contrasting strips (make them a little wider) so that each of the rows is the same length.

You may have to trim one or more rows of shirts when you are done to make them the width of the shortest row.

Step 8: Sew the Rows Together

First you will need to cut contrasting fabric into strips to go between the rows. I wanted there to be 4” between my rows, so I cut the fabric into 5” strips. (Again, assuming a 1/2" seam allowance.)

Using a similar approach as when you pieced the rows together, start with the top row and sew the contrasting fabric to the bottom. Iron in the direction of the contrasting fabric. Next sew the 2nd row of shirts to the contrasting fabric to complete the top half of the quilt.

Do the same with the bottom half.

Then sew another row of contrasting fabric to the bottom of the first half. Finally, sew the bottom and top parts together.

Step 9: Cut and Sew Perimeter

Start by measuring your quilt to ensure that, with a 4" perimeter it will not be larger than the width of the polar fleece backing (58”-60”).

You may need to adjust the size of the perimeter.

My perimeter was 4" wide, so I cut the strips to be 5". Cut out enough strips to fit around the perimeter of the blanket.

You will basically sew strips to each of the 4 sides of the blankets, starting with the left side.

Sew two strips of the perimeter cloth together to make a strip long enough to fit the length of the blanket. Pin and then sew it to the left side of the blanket. Press seam toward the perimeter cloth.

Repeat for right side, top and bottom.

Step 10: Sew Backing

With right sides together, lay the blanket on top of the polar fleece backing. Make sure both sides are lying flat, and pin the pieces together.

This is the most frustrating part of the project. I laid the blanket on the floor to pin it and it took a long time to get everything flat. Don’t just pin the perimeter. Pin all over the blanket and then flip it over to make sure the back is flat.

It won’t be. Pin some more and flip it over again to make sure the font is flat.

It won’t be, but it will be better than the first time. Repeat.

Have a glass of wine.

Repeat. When it is as flat as you care to make it, sew around the perimeter of the blanket, leaving about a 3” opening.

Then turn it inside out and admire it. You are almost done.

Step 11: Top Sewing

Pin the perimeter flat and sew around the outside of the quilt. Pin and sew around the perimeter of all seams on the t-shirt.

And you are done!

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