Thursday, June 4, 2015

T-Shirt Quilts with out stabilizer!

I have previously stated, a little over a month ago in fact, that I hate doing T-shirt Quilts. I never make them for myself always for customers of my mom's quilt store. Most of the time people are never happy with the final result, even though I explain the process, what the final product will be and how much the final thing will cost. On our quilt store website we have price break down on our services and in the end it seems to come as a total surprise to people how much the quilt costs.  I do take care when creating these special memory filled quilts making sure to preserve the most of each article and using as much of the clothing and printed designs as possible. With all that in mind and my general frustration at creating these one of a kind memento quilts when push came to shove I was pushed. A mother brought in her son's soccer jerseys and said it was for his grade 8 graduation, I crumbled. I told her yes I would do it, I am so weak! I explained people are never happy with the product or the price. (I have had one exception to this in my years of quilting!) I then proceded to show the mother what I would do and marked out exactly what of each shirt I would be using in the quilt. I wanted to make sure there would be no surprises in this one!

So here is a break down of my process of making quilts from clothes.

Tools I use are as follows:

-Rulers and/or templates for the exact size piece of the clothing I will be using.
-Marking pencil, I like the Fons and Porter Mechanical Fabric Pencil or a chalk marker if I don't need to be exact.
-Straight Pins
-My Sewing Machine and 1/4 inch foot
-Cotton Piecing Thread, I like aurifil 50wt.
-Rotary Cutter and Mat

So here goes my process:

1. Step one evaluate what parts of the clothing will be used and what will be the exact design of the quilt. For this quilt I am using a blue fabric as sashing between 12 Shirt squares and a 6 inch border. The finished quilt will be 3 x 4 t-shirt blocks sashed with blue.  I have marked the parts of the shirts using my 12 1/2 inch square ruler and a chalk marker. The importance of this step is that you will have a visual of what you will be actually using. This will show you any surprises like seam, collar, or shirt logo bulk! In my experience most shirts by the time you want to make a quilt from them have stretched and faded. Shirt logos and such will be a little off center if they were ever center.

2. The next part is actually cutting these one of a kind fabrics into usable quilt shapes. Take your fabric scissors and cut up along the side seams and through the under part of the sleeves on each side of the shirts. After making the shirts a single layer, place the ruler on the spot of the t-shirt you will be using. Make sure the shirt is laying stress free and flat, when you are happy with the shirt and ruler placement you can begin to cut. It is important to be able to cut all four sides without moving the shirt. Use the corner of your cutting mat in the corner of the table where you can reach two sides of the table or a swivel cutting mat.

3. After cutting all the shirts needed, cut the vertical sashing. This needs to be 2 1/2 inches wide by 12 1/2 inches long. You will need 8 pieces. An important part of this process is to have an accurate 1/4 inch seam and know how to do quilter math! Pin the sashing at the minimum places both ends and in the middle. If you have a particularly stretchy shirt pin more. Press towards the sashing, make sure you lower the temperature on you iron, use a pressing cloth, and don't stretch as you press.

4. Pin the rows together with the sashing. PINNING IS IMPORTANT!!!!

5. The next step is to cut the horizontal sashing. Here we will need our quilters math. The two outside t-shirts measure 12 1/4 inches, two 2 inch sashing and the middle t-shirt is 12 inches. All measurements totaled together equals 40 1/2 inches. This is the measurement we will use to cut our sashing. I have then marked the wrong side of the sashing with the above measurements. We will be pinning the sashing at the measurements, if you need more pins use them! With this method you will need to force the t-shirts to fit because otherwise things will get stretched out of proportions.

6. Join your rows together at the sashing using the measurements marked on the wrong side, following the desired layout. In order to keep the feel of the t-shirts and the bulk of the quilt make sure to pin and keep an accurate 1/4 inch. When starting and ending you may tend to make a narrower seam, check this using your ruler.

7.Once the rows are pieced together with their sashing you will need to cut the borders. For this t-shirt quilt we decided on a 6 inch finished border. Now for some quilter math again. To cut the two side borders we will need to add two 12 1/4 inches, two 12 inches and three 2 inches, for a total of 54 1/2 inches long by 6 1/2 inches wide, Cut two. Mark the wrong sides of the border pieces with the measurements listed above. Pin the border at the seam lines and the markings.

8. Now for the top borders. We will be doing the same marking and pinning as we have done all along. The quilting math is as follows, two 6 1/4 inches, three 12 inches and two 2 inches, for a total of  52 1/2 inches. Again mark the wrong side of the border and match them to the seams. PIN!

9. Now that your top is together. Give it a final press. Layer with your favorite batting and backing. When pinning or basting your top together don't be fooled by the stretchy t-shirts make sure you use the borders and sashing to make sure it lays flat. If your shirts are a bit trouble some place extra pins and make sure they aren't stretched in a weird way.  Free motion quilt to your liking!

This has been my process for making a t-shirt quilt top. Tips for quilting these types are loose all over patterns that are rounded, sharp pointed designs can create a strange pull on the shirts. When Stitching through logos your machine may skip stitches. I have been known to go stitch by stitch with my needle up down button to make sure the paint doesn't prevent my quilting. If the shirts have embroidered patches do all you can to avoid them. They are usually too think for regular needles to penetrate and can cause your machine to break needles.

Hope this has given you some confidence to create your own t-shirt quilt. Post again soon!


  1. Thanks for sharing your process. I have a stack of T shirts I need to do something with, but have been to scared to touch them.

    1. Good luck. Some shirts work better than others. Try not to use shirts with thick printing or mesh ( jerseys usually have some of this stuff) it makes things much harder than they need to be on a first go!

  2. Very nice tutorial Adrian, thanks!

    1. Thank you. I wrote this post out a few times to make sure I didn't miss a step.

  3. These tips are great thank you! My sister wants me to do this for my nephew so I will definitely be coming back to reread while I work on it.

    1. Thanks Kelly. If you get stuck at any point just send me a message!

  4. Sorry to hear that some of your clients are dissatisfied with their T-quilts. Luckily, I've only had 1 dissatisfied client out of all the T-quilts that I've made in the last 15 years. (Client insisted on shirts in chronological order!) Do you often make them without a stabilizer? I keep meaning to try it, but always use the lightest weight, fusible, NON-woven interfacing available. Re: price, I usually require a 50% deposit to cover materials and time (in case the client flakes, I've covered my cost!)