Normally I just sew whatever strikes me, usually for the kids (as you’ve probably noticed). But a friend approached me a few weeks ago to ask if she could commission a T-shirt quilt. Normally, I’m not into sewing for pay (although Radar wishes I were!), but I’ve been wanting to tackle a T-shirt quilt and this was just the excuse to do it! The problem is, I HATE rolling up and trying to stuff a quilt into the small space under the arm of my machine to quilt it. Because of this, you may have noticed I tend to use various quilt-as-you-go methods (like here and here). But so far, I haven’t figured out how to put the blocks together and not make it into a rag quilt or look like kindergartener sewed it. Finally, though, all my Pinteresting and web browsing paid off, and I found a method! So, I’m going to do a tutorial for a T-shirt quilt that does not require advanced quilting techniques to sew, in 2 parts: part 1 will be about making the blocks, and part 2 will be about putting it together.
To start off, choose your shirts! The number you need will depend on the size of each block and the size you want your finished quilt to be. My friend will be mailing hers to her husband who is deployed with Radar, so we didn’t want to go too big – we ended up with 25 11″x11″ blocks to make a square quilt that will be about 55″x55″ when we’re all said and done. I would recommend 11″ or 12″ blocks for adult shirts (you’ll get most of the design printed on each shirt, but it will still work for size small shirts). If you’re using smaller shirts, like onesies or kid’s shirts, you’ll need to make your blocks smaller. Also, be aware that you’ll lose about 1/2″ on each edge of each block when you put it together. Cut out each of your shirts with a clear ruler and rotary cutter, trying to keep the fabric from stretching. I find it’s easiest to cut up the sides and across the shoulders of the shirt first. It gives me maximum placement room but gets rid of the bulk and lumps of the back.
Now let’s discuss the batting for the quilt. As you were cutting your shirts, you probably noticed the knit fabric stretched all over the place. That property makes a shirt comfy, but more difficult to sew. So, rather than using regular batting, I recommend using the iron-on thicker batting, like Pellon Fusible Thermolam, to stabilize the shirts. But the directions on the batting say to lay the batting glue side up, place your fabric right side up on top, and iron on the right side of the fabric. Unfortunately, screen-printed T-shirts don’t take well to direct ironing! They will stick to your iron, peel off the shirt, and make a general mess. So, after some playing around, I recommend the following method:
- Cut your batting to the same size as your shirt square.
- Lay batting glue side up on your ironing board.
- Place shirt square right side up, lined up with batting.
- Set your iron to the cotton setting.
- CAREFULLY press (down, no side-to-side motion) any parts of the shirt that DO NOT have screen printing.
- Lay a damp presscloth (I recommend a light tea towel or other lighter cotton towel) over the screen printed parts and press until towel goes dry.
- Your shirts will be damp when you’re finished, and the bond isn’t perfect, but you won’t melt the shirts and it will hold long enough for you to quilt it!
- If your screen printing is really old and doesn’t have that plastic-y feel to it any more, you can be less careful with the iron – it won’t stick.
Now you need to cut out the backing for each square. I cut them to be the same size as my finished blocks, but I suggest you cut them a little larger; you’ll see in pictures later, if I didn’t make my squares perfectly, I had some pulling and the backing was a little too small. It’s easier to trim later than to wish it was bigger!
Now you finally have all your layers together, so it’s time to start quilting! Lay your backing good side out on the back side of the batting and flip over. Use safety pins (quilter’s safety pins are even better, if you have them) to pin up your block. Try to avoid pinning through the screen printing, as the holes will stay forever. Also, keep in mind that you need to get your machine through, so don’t put the pins too close to where you plan to sew. There is pretty much no such thing as too many safety pins! If you don’t use enough, your backing will move around and you’ll have to take your stitches out – trust me, I have experience with this! Then use the design on your shirt to guide you as you quilt around. You can get as intricate as you want, although I prefer to keep it simple. And whatever design you follow on the front will show up on the back of your block – pretty nifty, huh? I used matching thread for the front of the shirt, and maroon to match the back, but contrasting thread would give a nice effect, too.
You’ll just repeat this process as many times as you need until all your shirts are turned into perfect, quilted blocks!
The really fun part now is laying them all out and deciding how to arrange the blocks! Below, you can see all the fronts, and I also got a shot of all the backs with their unique quilted patterns. I tried to mix up colors on the front, and intricacy of patterns on the back.
Stay tuned for part 2, where I’ll show you an easy way to put all your blocks together into your finished quilt!