Introduction: T-shirt Quilts

New Addition: My newest quilt finished in 2014 for the Harley Davidson lover in my family.

This collection of T-shirts was soooo large I decided to make a two-sided quilt. This was great for including all the favorites but proved to be a challenge when matching the two sides together!

Not recommended for a first try.


If any of you are like me, you have lots and lots of T-shirts that have sentimental value and have been in your possession for years but you just dont wear them anymore. Maybe you keep them in dresser drawers taking up valuable space from clothes you actually wear, or maybe they are in boxes in the attic or garage, or hanging in every closet of the house. Maybe you've even considered finally getting rid of them after all these years...WELL DON"T ... here is a great solution!

Make a warm, cozy, T-shirt Quilt and keep the memories without taking up all your drawer space.

A personal T-shirt quilt provides:
Tears of joy,
Sparks of memories,
Gifts of love for any and all occasions, and
An outlet for creative thinking and design.

This project requires little money because you are primarily using materials you already have on hand i.e.) T-shirts, a blanket, a sheet, all your leftover thread and yarn from previous sewing projects, time, and your brain. The only expense required for this project is medium weight iron-on interfacing. This quilt is great because you can just throw it in the washer and dryer. It can be made any size from a small lap-throw to a king-size bedspread depending on the collection of T-shirts chosen.

I am working on my 4th T-shirt quilt, but I am always learning better techniques for creating a great, usable finished product. By no means are my methods the final say in T-shirt quilt construction and any suggestions are welcome to improve the method. If you are looking for an exact step-by-step pattern for T-shirt quilt creation, this is not it. Every T-shirt quilt will come out differently so be creative, resourceful, and make a personal heirloom.

Step 1: A Few Thoughts Before Starting

I will warn you, the hardest part of creating an Awesome T-shirt Quilt is the initial layout and design.  It takes math, not scary square roots and you won't have to factor anything, however, you will need to measure, add, subtract, divide, and think critically about the design and construction (calculators allowed).  Creating a T-shirt quilt can be challenging, but once the quilt block sizes and layout are established the rest is EASY!   With a hot iron, a steady Singer sewing machine, and ample workspace, you will be admiring your finished T-shirt quilt in no time.

This T-shirt quilt is based around the "design" portion of the T-shirt.  This can include all screenprinted, painted, embroidered, autographed, appliqued, or patched portions on a T-shirt.  I have used "designs" found on the sleeves, the pockets, and of course the fronts and backs of shirts.  I recommend looking at your T-shirt collection with a new vision in mind....most "designed" parts are usable as long as they meet some basic minimum-measurement standards. 

Be cautious and think BIG .  You can always reduce the size of your quilt blocks for a better fit but, once they are cut you cannot make them any bigger.  I find it is best to start out with larger 'rough' quilt blocks to start laying out and visualizing the design before making the final cuts for the quilt construction.  Once the sewing begins and all those seam allowances are taken up, your quilt will be quite a bit smaller than it originally seemed!

Step 2: Gathering Materials

Materials Needed:
*Lots of T-shirts: More is better! Having a few extra on hand to fill in any mistakes or make color variations may come in handy.  My smallest quilt (52x66in) contains 20 full size design blocks and 13 pocket size design blocks.
*Clean Blanket: Acts as the batting, so old or new (it won't show) as long as it is large enough for your desired finished dimensions.
*Clean Sheet: Will be the back or underside of quilt. This will show so any large single piece of fabric (check thrift stores; bedspreads, table cloths, curtains, groovy tapestries...) It has to be large enough, but it really does not have to just be one piece, seams are totally fine if needed to accommodate your selection.
*Medium weight Iron-on  interfacing:   The interfacing stabilizes the stretchy jersey/knit T-shirt material, without interfacing it is nearly impossible to keep quilt blocks square and straight.  The amount is tough to judge and depends on the desired finished quilt dimensions, so get the widest width you can and I usually start with 10 yards.  Interfacing is great because you can use it in any direction, and even the smaller "waste" pieces can be used for your smaller quilt blocks.

The Basics:
*Sewing machine
*Ironing Board
*Cutting board, rotary cutter, straight edge : have extra blades handy as there is a lot of cutting.
*Scissors can be used to cut quilt blocks but the project will be faster and more precise with a rotary cutter.
*Iron with steam
*Sewing machine thread: Use up the ends of your spools or choose a color.  Remember, your T-shirt quilt may contain all the colors of the rainbow so sticking to a single color isn't necessary, most stitching is barely seen.  Variegated thread is pretty fun to try!
*Embroidery floss or yarn:  Again, use up those scraps!  These are used for tying the quilt together so short lengths work too (>8in).
*Seam Ripper, sewing measuring tape,  straight pins, large-eyed/darning needle, safety pins

*Blanket Binding is an easy finished border option but I tend to make my own binding from the backing material.
*Clear quilting template plastic
*Any quilting accoutrements that make life easier

Step 3: Cutting the Shirts

Use scissors or a rotary cutter to get rid of the bulk of the T-shirt.  Cut up the sides of the shirt, around the armhole, and across the neckline. This will separate the usable  "design" portion from the rest of the material.  This is only the first "rough" cut so don't worry about being too precise and DON'T over trim.   Just remember to keep plenty of material at the corners of your block and all excess material around the design can always be trimmed later if you determine you do not need it.  Once the final measurements are determined, the blocks will need 90 degree corners with the design centered and enough room around the edges for seam allowance.

You will be amazed how this step whittles down your pile of T-shirts to a manageable size and allows you to get a better idea of the various dimensions of your T-shirt "designs".  Start to notice and separate into piles those "designs" that are of common dimensions.  Big, wide prints into one pile, narrow and long into another, small pocket prints together... inevitably you will still divide these piles further based on true measurements, but for now just start organizing. The number of T-shirt quilt blocks available will be the primary factor in determining the final dimensions of your quilt.

When all your T-shirts are cut into "rough" blocks and organized by size, consider what you actually will need to create complete vertical strips of the same width that travel the desired length and width of your envisioned finished T-shirt quilt.  Blocks with designs of large dimensions cannot be made smaller without loosing some of the design.  But, smaller design areas can be made into larger blocks by allowing more material to encircle the design. 

Step 4: Start Measuring

Now that you are more familiar with your T-shirt designs, from the pile of the widest "designs"... measure the widest print you want to include.  This "design" will dictate the width of the entire vertical strip.
Be sure to include all aspects of the design you wish to be displayed in your quilt.

My widest design is 14 inches.  I am able to include an additional inch on each side (1/2 inch border and 1/2 inch seam allowance).  The little bit extra around the border of the design helps to minimally frame the image and gives just enough room for a slight variance of the seam.  So, the final width of my first quilt strip will be 16 inches wide

Now, start measuring the other designs beginning with the widest pile.   Measure the design width only and use this measurement to create sub-piles of equally measured designs. Be sure to measure anything that looks close to the desired dimension...sometimes your eyes are deceiving and the true measurement is more than originally thought (circular designs are quite wide). 

I ended up with 6 piles:
#1 WIDE: any measurement above 12 inches wide (7 designs)
#2 LESS WIDE: any measurement between 10 and 12 inches wide (9 designs)
#3 MEDIUM: any measurement between 8 and 10 inches wide (13 designs)
#4 NARROW: any measurement below 8 inches wide (4 designs)
#5 POCKET PRINTS:  pocket-sized and small inclusions (17 designs)

Step 5: The Layout

The T-shirt quilt blocks are assembled in individual strips and then the strips are sewn together building the body of the quilt. From personal trials, I believe that constructing the quilt based on vertical strips is the easiest because there is a little more room for adjustment in the length of material available from your shirt block. This instructable will construct a quilt made from vertical strips .

Remember, be patient and flexible with your design...this is the most difficult part of the project!  Think of this part as a may have to move or rethink the sizes of specific design blocks to make it all fit.  There is no simple solution or step-by-step procedure, just keep fitting individual blocks by folding the excess material at the edges and re-arranging.  Also, keep the color of the blocks in mind during this phase as well.  I prefer varying my colors and not having too many like-colored blocks adjacent to each other.

It is best to work from widest design to narrowest design because the narrow designs can still be made to fit into wider strips if needed!

You will need floor space or a VERY large work table  to fully lay out your T-shirt quilt (I have never owned a table that large).  Collect design blocks from your widest pile (my 16 inch pile) and begin making your first vertical strip approximating the finished length of your quilt.  Just fold the edges around the design at this stage of the layout to adjust for proper width and length of the strip.   Don't forget, you will loose at least 1 inch of length per block with the seam allowance, so don't underestimate your desired final dimensions. 

If your widest vertical strip is too short, start adding the needed pieces from the next-size-down pile (my 14 inch pile), just make sure that the overall material dimensions of the design block with border will meet the needed width for the strip. 

Be sure not to exceed the finished size of your blanket and backing !

Continue laying out similar-width strips.  My 5 strips are 16, 14, 12, 10, and 5 (pocket print-width) inches wide.  Once the strips are assembled they can be arranged in any order.  The easiest way to incorporate pocket prints is to design a vertical strip, however, a more interesting way to integrate these small prints is to incorporate them as "design blocks" within existing same-width strips.

Step 6: Examples of Previous Layouts

Just a little proof that the initial layout can be complicated and less formal than this instructable may indicate.  Making certain that beloved and invaluable designs fit into the layout can sometimes take a little adjustment.

The larger quilt below consisted of over 70 T-shirts and 20 pocket prints.  This quilt was made for a friend to primarily accommodate all her concert and music T-shirts from over the years.  This was my most difficult design to date!  The finished dimensions were approximately a standard Queen size and was constructed using vertical strips.

The smaller quilt was constructed with 25 T-shirts and 8 pocket prints using horizontal strips and was made as a bereavement quilt for a friend.  This was designed to be a wall hanging.

Step 7: Doing the Math

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what your finished quilt will look like.  These next steps will determine the final measurement for cutting the individual blocks and the overall dimensions of your finished quilt top. 

This is not as complicated as it may seem!  However, to preserve complete designs (not sewing into any of the print) and have a centered and balanced quilt, a little math is required.  Follow the steps below to determine final cutting measurements.

Step 1: Choose any vertical strip to start with
Step 2: Measure the height of each "design" only in the strip, total, and write down.
Step 3: Add 1 inch (1/2 inch seam allowance at top and bottom of block) per # of blocks in the strip and add to the total in Step 2.  This determines the absolute minimum height of the strip.
Step 4: Calculate the same minimum height measurement for each strip.
Step 5: Use the longest length (my 16-inch strip @58.5) to help determine the desired height of the finished quilt top.  Ideally, your measurements should be pretty close.  However, if any measurements seem too different, consider adding an additional design block or two to make up the difference and achieve closer measurements. (I added a 2 inch high design block to my 10 inch wide strip to increase the length to 56.5 inches.  Don't forget the seam allowance too!)
Step 6: Determine your desired quilt  height.  This can be based on your blanket size, your backing material size, standard bed sizes, or just because it is the size you desire.
Step 7: Subtract the minimum height from the desired height to determine how much more length is needed.
Step 8: Divide the additional length needed by the number of blocks in the vertical strip, this will give you the amount that must be added to each design block. 
Step 9: Now you have determined how far beyond each design your cut will be.  This "total additional per block" is then divided in half to evenly distribute the material around the top and bottom of the design block.  Round these numbers UP slightly if needed to make measuring easier.

CONGRATULATIONS, consider a sigh of relief because the hardest part is now over!   On to the cutting...

You have all the measurements needed to make the final cuts to your design blocks.  So lets get cutting...

Step 8: Final Cutting of Each Block

Now you can cut your design blocks to the exact measurements.  I find it a great help to use transparent plastic templates to keep the design centered during cutting.  Cut the width for each block within a strip.  Then measure the additional needed material from both the top and bottom of the design and cut the length.

Remember this is the final cut , so measure twice and cut once!

Step 9: Stabilizing With Interfacing

Now that each design block is cut to final dimension it's time to attach fusible interfacing to aid the sewing and stabilization properties of each quilt block.  Position design blocks on your interfacing yardage to have the least amount of waste, you can cut right up to the edge of each design block.

Use a hot iron with steam to adhere interfacing and refer to the interfacing directions if you have trouble.  Not all screen prints are created equal, so to avoid melting the ink use a damp ironing cloth over the print when needed.  Press well at this stage but there will be numerous other opportunities to ensure complete adhesion.

Once the design blocks are adequately attached, remove them from ironing surface and carefully cut apart with scissors or a rotary cutter.  Press individual blocks again with steam paying special attention to adhering all edges.  Complete one vertical strip at a time and lay them back out in the order of your final quilt top.

Step 10: Sewing the Strips

Keep each strip of design blocks in order as you assemble for sewing.  Sew one vertical strip at a time.  In order, place the first two design blocks together with right sides facing and in the proper direction, attaching the bottom of one block to the top of the next one below and pin in place.

Sew the first two blocks together with a straight stitch keeping the 1/2 inch seam allowance.  Now align the next block (check the direction of the design) to the strip, pin, and sew.  Continue attaching design blocks until the vertical strip is complete.

As vertical strips are completed, lay out together and check for any mistakes before continuing.  Press all seams open before sewing the strips together.

Step 11: Completing the Quilt Top

Align each strip next to each other lengthwise and attach the strips together in the same fashion as the blocks.  Pin the strips with right sides facing and keep the seams open as you attach.  Make sure that you align the top and bottom designs so they match at the edges.

Now sew the first two strips together.  You may need to help feed the bulk through the sewing machine to keep strips in place. Try to keep seams open, but if a couple close as you sew it is not the end of the world.  Continue attaching and sewing strips to complete the quilt top.  Unfold the strips to examine and press ALL seams open when strips are attached.

With the completion of this step, you will have finished the top to your T-shirt quilt, Congratulations!

Now all that is left is attaching the blanket batting, the backing material, and finishing the edges.

Step 12: Attaching the Batting and Backing

This T-shirt quilt is finished in the same manner as many other quilts.  I have expedited many of the steps considering that the difficult portion of making a T-shirt quilt is completing the top, which you have now done! 

Basically, the batting and the quilt top are attached to each other and secured with safety pins from the top side.  Place the blanket batting on your work surface and lay your quilt face up on the top surface.   Use as many safety pins as needed to keep the top from moving off the batting too much.  All the pins can be easily removed once the back is sewn on and the quilt is turned right side out. 

Dealing with the edges of the batting is primarily dependent on how you wish to finish edge.  If you desire batting within your blanket binding edge, then extend the batting as much as needed beyond the edge of the quilt top.  If you desire very little border, then fit batting closer to the quilt top edge and so on.  If extra blanket batting extends beyond your desired area just cut it off, it will be secured when the finished edging is sewn or attached.

Once your quilt top is secure to the blanket batting, place your backing material face down on top of the pinned quilt top and straight pin along the outer seam edge adjusting to your desired technique of finishing the edge.  This will create layers (starting from the bottom) of blanket batting, quilt top (face up), and backing material (face down).  These layers are now ready to sew together. 

This can be a fairly bulky maneuvering process, remember to use the rolling technique when feeding through your machine.  You will sew three edges completely, leaving the fourth edge with enough open (unsewn) area to turn the quilt right side out.

When the quilt is turned right side out, you will want to press the edges flat, close the open portion on the fourth edge by hand or machine.  Once the final seam is closed, lie the quilt out flat on your work surface and shape the edges and corners into their final placement.  Now, carefully remove the safety pins from the top and batting and immediately replace each pin through the backing material, now including all the layers of the quilt.  This will keep your layers from shifting while you continue with blanket binding, or even top-stitch to finish the edges.  You can be creative with your edging and find plenty of other sources for quilt finishing options, have fun with it.

Step 13: Finishing Your T-shirt Quilt

Finishing your quilt means permanently attaching all three layers together.  This can be done by stitching the top in any manner of design, or using a traditional method of actually tying the top to the backing.  I have done both and prefer tying quilts especially with the random seam patterns created by T-shirt quilt designs. 

Using a darning needle and embroidery floss, yarn, or any other strong thread, sew a tight stitch from the top just barely catching enough of the backing material to be secure.  I use a square knot, but a nurses knot or any other secure knot will work as long as it wont come undone.  Place these tied knots in any pattern across the top of the quilt ie.) across each seamed corner, in decorative places within the designs, truly doesnt matter as long as no large areas of the quilt top remain untied to the back.  When the knots are made, cut away the excess and admire.  Tying a quilt can be done quickly when invite and teach a few friends to help!

You have now completed your first awesome T-shirt quilt!   

Step 14: A Few Final Thoughts

I hope this Instructable provides the details needed to make your own T-shirt quilt.  I hope you find that the time spent in creating the design is well worth the quality of the finished product.  This quilt was the fourth T-shirt quilt I have made and I have requests from two friends to make T-shirt quilts from all of their favorite and beloved shirts.

Above is my very first quilt made in 2004.  This quilt and I have been through a lot and I am reminded of great memories everytime I use it! It has probably been washed over 6 dozen times, has never needed any repair, and only gets softer and better with age!

So please make a T-shirt quilt and vote for my Instructable.

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