This is the second (and final) installment of my post on how to make your own easy t-shirt quilt. In part 1, I did a tutorial on making each t-shirt’s block, including cutting the shirt, using fusible batting, and quilting the complete block, including the back. Then I laid out my shirts to determine how they were going to be put together in the finished product.
I found the most brilliant way to turn my 25 blocks into a quilt here. I can’t believe I never thought of this method! It’s a way to quilt as you go for the blocks, then attach them with minimal effort compared to machine quilting an entire quilt without a long-arm quilting machine. I went a little picture-crazy here, but it’s necessary to keep things straight and clear.
I recommend using a grid method to label the location for each block. In my case, my columns were A, B, C, D, and E, and my rows were 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. I wrote each block’s location on a sticky note and safety pinned it to the block so that I wouldn’t get them mixed up in the next steps. I also drew myself up a key, just in case I got confused about letters and numbers being rows or columns, or if any of the sticky notes tore off. Better safe than sorry!
So once you’ve figured out where everything is going and labeled appropriately, it’s time to start sewing again! Well, in a minute… first you need to cut some more fabric. For each vertical seam between pieces, you’ll need a strip that’s 1 inch longer than the height of the blocks and 2 inches wide and a strip the same length and 3 inches wide. For each of my internal 11″ blocks, I cut a 12″x2″ piece and a 12″x3″ piece. I had 16 vertical connections inside the quilt (4 rows and 4 columns), so I cut 16 of each. Then press the 3″ blocks in half so they’re 1.5″ wide.
All my vertical connection pieces
Starting with your top left block (A1 in my case), pin a 12″x2″ piece along the right side on the back, and a folded 12″x3″ piece with the raw edges also on the right. Be sure to remove the pins from the back before you sew, or it can mess up your machine.
1: Block A1. 2: Pin the 12″x2″ piece on the back of the right (when t-shirt-side-up) side. 3: Flip it over. 4: Pin the folded 12″x3″ piece with the raw edges on the right side.
Sew the 3 pieces (12×2, quilt block, folded 12×3) together using a 1/2″ seam allowance. The seam allowance must be as exact as possible, as I will demonstrate in a little bit! Repeat this process on the right side of all blocks EXCEPT the last column (hence, I only needed 16 for a 25 block quilt).
I’ve found a production line method is easiest: rather than pulling off and clipping the threads after each square, I pin them all at once, then just stitch on nothing for an inch or two before feeding in the next square. When I’m done, I just clip the threads between the blocks.
Once you’ve completed this, it’s time to start putting the blocks together into rows. Place your first block, A1, right side up and line up the 12″x2″ piece with the left side back of the block to its right, in my case B1 (2nd column, 1st row). Be sure to line up the blocks, not the strips between them! Stitch along the edge with a 1/2″ seam allowance (again, precision is necessary). I recommend doing this for all of the first and second columns at once: adjoin the A piece’s 2″ strip to the left side of the back of the B piece with pins, then sew all of them at once. When you look at the back side, you’ll see that there’s now a strip of fabric (that was your 2″ strip) sewn neatly between the backs of the two blocks.
Left: A1 upside-down, and B1 with the left side at the top. Center: A1’s 2″ strip pinned to the back side of B1’s left side. Right: The back side once the seam has been sewn.
Once you’ve sewn the back(s), it’s time to attach the front flap(s). Flip the block over to look at the front, and you’ll see the 3″ piece that’s folded is flapping in the breeze. Fold it down onto the right quilt block and stitch along the edge, making sure to cover any seam that may show from the back.
Left: Pin it up. Right: Sew right along the edge to secure.
It’s starting to look like a completed quilt already, isn’t it? If you look from the top or the bottom, you’ll see why you needed to stick to the 1/2″ seam allowance:
I didn’t follow my own rules – I went with a scant 1/2″, so there’s a small gap between the blocks. Learn from my mistakes!
Repeat a bunch of times until you have each row all stitched together. Be careful with that last column, make sure your blocks are right side up (it’s a little trickier without the strips already attached to identify the right side). Trim the excess length from the strips between the blocks so it’s all even and pretty.
The rows are completed (see, I told you I’d get that last block in there!)
Now it’s time to follow the same process for attaching the rows. Cut 2″ strips of fabric the length of each row (plus a little, for wiggle room) and 3″ strips of the same length (ironing them in half just like before). Mine ended up being about 56″ long! Pin the 2″ strip to the bottom of the back side of the top row, then flip it over and pin the folded 3″ strip with the raw sides aligned with the bottom also. As before, stitch in place with a 1/2″ seam allowance. Repeat for all rows except the bottom one (just like you left out the last column above).
Left: Pin the 2″ strip along the bottom of the back of all rows but the last one. Right: Flip over and pin the raw edges of the folded 3″ strip also along the bottom.
Just like when you created the rows, you’ll connect them by first sewing a 1/2″ seam with the first row right side up, attaching the 2″ strip to the top of the 2nd row. Then flip over and pin down the flap from the 3″ strip, covering any seams from the back.
Left: Back of 2nd row, front of 1st row, lined up and pinned. Center: Be sure to align the columns between each block. Right: Fold the flap down on the front and stitch down on the edge.
Now it’s REALLY starting to look like a quilt – all you have left is the binding! To make the binding (which does not need to be done on the bias), cut strips of fabric 4″ wide. You need to make one long strip, long enough to go around the entire quilt – measure it, you don’t want to find out you’re short while you’re sewing it on! To connect pieces of fabric to make the binding, lay the pieces at a 90 degree angle and sew from corner to corner along the diagonal (PAY ATTENTION TO WHICH SIDE IS “GOOD” AND WHICH IS “BAD” – I had to redo about 6 of these because I wasn’t paying attention!). You want all your seams on the same side of the strip so that they’re all hidden when you’re done. Then trim the excess off, leaving about 1/4 inch, press to one side, and turn over to admire your work.
Left: Sew along the diagonal with the two adjacent pieces at a 90 degree angle. Center: Iron the seam to one side. Right: Pretty binding ready to be folded in half.
Once you’ve got about 12 miles of your binding (that’s an approximate number, but what it will feel like), fold in half and iron so you have a 2″ strip with a fold on one side and 2 lined up raw edges on the other.
To bind your quilt, pin your binding on the back side of the quilt with the raw edges lined up with the outer edge of the quilt. At this point, I recommend switching to a walking foot. If you’ve never used one, the purpose of this tool is to help your machine push the fabric forward from both the bottom AND the top. It’s helpful when you have many layers of fabric going through (like a t-shirt, batting, quilt backing, and 2 layers of binding, for instance). It’s not absolutely necessary, but it will make your life much easier.
This contraption is a walking foot. The plastic pieces right by the presser foot act as dog feeds on the top of your fabric, helping it to feed through the machine. Consult your manual for proper installation – it can be a bit tricky!
Start stitching a few inches from the end of the binding, using a 1/2″ seam allowance. When you approach a corner, stop stitching 1/2″ from the end of the quilt (I used chalk because it’s not going to show anyway). If you’re not using a walking foot, backstitch a few times. If you are using a walking foot, you’ll find out quickly that you can’t backstitch – that’s ok, just stop where you are. Clip the threads and fold the binding fabric up so that the 45 degree angle goes through the corner of the quilt. Then fold it down so the fold matches the top of the quilt, and pin in place. Pick up stitching again 1/2″ from the top of the quilt (maintaining a 1/2″ seam allowance). Repeat at each corner.
Top: Start about where my pin is, a few inches from the end of the binding. Center: At the corner, stop 1/2″ from the edge of the quilt. Left: Fold binding up to match the corner of the quilt. Right: Fold binding down to match the top of the quilt, then begin stitching 1/2″ from the top.
When you approach your starting point, stop a few inches from where the binding begins (about 6 inches from where your first stitches started). Trim excess binding off so there’s about 1″ overlap, and fold each edge of the binding back so the folds meet. Pin in place, and iron binding. Then, pull the binding away from the quilt and attach the two ends along the creases you just made. Replace binding onto quilt back, pin in place, and sew the last bit in place, overlapping the stitches already there.
Left: Pin the binding ends and iron so folds touch. Center: Stitch along the creases. Right: Pin down binding and finish attaching to quilt back.
Finally, we are at the last step! Fold the binding piece around to the front side of the quilt and pin in place. Work the corners to create a mitered finish. Stitch along the edge of the binding to secure. Your stitches will show on the back side, so be sure to use a coordinating thread.
Left: Pin the binding to the front. Center: Wiggle the fabric to get a mitered corner. Right: Back side of corner.
You probably noticed that I used black thread to first attach the binding to the back of the quilt; I recommend buying 2 spools of thread for this project! I BARELY had enough to finish the binding… there was a lot of appealing to the gods of sewing to help me have enough thread to finish!
Too close for comfort!
But I finished it! And I think it looks great if I do say so myself!
My dad held it up for me… don’t you just love the designs on the back?? Such a unique way to show off your favorite shirts!