How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 1

How to make a T-shirt quilt!

I have created a list of questions and information in a new post! CHECK IT! 

Let me start by giving you a few of my stats:

Base Price for a Quilt:
King: $450 , need 25 shirts
Queen: $350 , need 20 shirts
Full: $250, need 16 shirts
Twin: $200, need 16 shirts

That price includes cost of sashing, backing, and the cost to have my aunt quilt it for me.  The more time I spend on it or the more expensive the fabric the client wants, price varies. I make quilts using only the large back or front pieces. Some other quilters can vary the blocks using pocket pieces and what not, but I’ve yet to attempt one of that nature.

To see the quilts I’ve completed in the past, click here! (including baby clothes quilts!)

AND ONWARD HO!

October 2016 Update: 
I first created this tutorial before I learned through experience that ironing the interfacing onto the t-shirts FIRST before cutting saves you time in re-measuring and cutting later. I highly recommend that you iron the interfacing to the back of the t-shirt panel before you cut your squares. Kinda is common sense, right?!

Best of luck!

 

 

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Setting up the table with my t-shirts, cutting board, and cutting mat. Don’t forget the water!

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Here is my first shirt. To prepare it, I slit up the sides of the tee shirt and cut off the sleeves. Really, you can do this all with a rotary cutter or scissors. It doesn’t have to look pretty as you will be cleaning up this mess in the next few steps, but make SURE you cut it big enough. Discard the back of the shirt or keep it for rags (unless you are using both the front and back of the shirt for the quilt).

Do not stretch the shirt. Lay it flat and smooth out gently any wrinkles or folds. You could iron the tee shirt if you desire which would take a bit more effort but would produce a nicer result.

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These three tools are the most important thing that you’ll need for creating a T-Shirt quilt or any quilt in general, really.

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This quilt needed squares that would be cut 12 inches tall and 14 inches wide. I centered the cutting board over the image, trying to get as much as I could above the image but avoiding the collar. I marked the cut line with a pen. Usually I would use tailor’s chalk but I did not have any on hand. Beware of using pens and markers on fabric. You wouldn’t want to destroy someone elses shirt with your gung-ho-ness in wanting to mark it up.

I will note that the measuring and cutting of the t-shirts/interfacing consumes the most amount of time.

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Here I am marking the 14 inch width on the shirt. Just a small dot should work.

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You can see the small pen marks to the L/R and top bottom of the image. You don’t need to go overboard with these.

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I set the clear cutting board on the design and lined up the pen marks evenly on the edges so I would get a straight cut. You want to be very cautious here.  Spend time on this step. You would not want to make a cut and then look at the finished piece to see that it’s crooked and looks more like a diamond than a rectangle.

You also want to do your BEST to center the design/image within the constraints of your cut. If you are cutting a logo or something small, sometimes you have to make do and off center…but beware that this is a crucial step in the success of your quilt. Measure evenly and cut straight. This will save you a lot of headaches later in the process.

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It was hard to shoot a picture and cut at the same time. When you cut, put hard pressure with one hand on the top of the clear cutting mat (Keep your fingers away from the edge! Heaven forbid you lose a finger). With your other hand, firmly grasp the rotary cutter and put hard but even pressure while following the edge of the cutting mat. Don’t worry about cutting JUST what you need, rather, cut the whole length as much as you can so you can just zip through the cutting process. This will save you time in thinking and actual work.

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Cut the top portion as well. Cut all sides.

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Here is a cut side and top. I pull gently on the scraps to make sure I cut all the way through the fabric to the cutting mat.

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Here is the end of finishing cutting the sides and top/bottom of the piece.

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The finished cut tee shirt square. Don’t just grab it and throw it to the side. I highly recommend handling these gently. You know how tee shirts tend to stretch and move! What you don’t want is for the t-shirt square you just spent a lot of time and energy cutting to be stretched out of proportion to where you’d need to re-cut. Really. Treat this thing like it’s a precious egg that you are holding while trying to walk across hot coals. This brings me to the next point!

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Because my client had a set order for the shirts she wanted in the quilt, I had her lay out the shirts in order of how she desired. She had a total of 42 shirts and so I had her lay out the shirts in 7 rows, 6 columns. I then took a sharpie and on the collar (or any part you can find easily and KNOW FOR A FACT that you’ll discard later) I wrote the placement order.

To make sure I kept the same order throughout the whole process, I took care to mark each cut t-shirt square along with the number in small numbers on the back of the t-shirt square. This is nice if you happen to knock over your pile or heaven forbid if anything were to happen to it to get mixed up…like a freak tornado ravaging your living room.

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Here you can see my ironing board set up with all the tee shirt blocks face down in a nice even pile. As I said, place them gently and evenly in a pile so that you don’t stretch or distort the squares in any way. You want all your pieces to be even and straight–just like you cut them.

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Interfacing! You’ll want to purchase fusible interfacing (iron on). I purchased this at JoAnns (You can find it at Hancock Fabrics, Hobby Lobby, Michaels or Walmart maybe). Forgive me, I don’t have the yardage amount for how much I purchased—I picked up the entire bolt as I knew I would use it in the future.

Interfacing is not optional. Interfacing stiffens up the flimsy t-shirt fabric.

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Don’t stress about figuring out the difference between the iron on side and the other side. You’ll get there when you take your cut pieces to the ironing board. For now, just start unraveling the interfacing.

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Here is the fun part. I knew that my t-shirt squares were cut 12 x 14.  You’ll want to cut your interfacing to be bigger than the square you’ll be placing it on. A good rule of thumb is a solid inch more than the square you’ll be cutting, but you can go more if you want to work with a little extra. I cut my interfacing to be 14 x 15 inch squares. I had 42 t-shirt blocks so I cut 42 interfacing squares. You will have excess. Save it for other projects! Don’t just throw it!

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Lay your t-shirt block on the ironing board face down.
Be careful when ironing t-shirts in general. Don’t just plop the iron on the design–it will most likely melt and cause irreversible damage. I prefer to use a piece of fabric as a buffer but didn’t have any handy.

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Place your piece of interfacing on top of the t-shirt block. Feel the piece of interfacing and you will notice one side is smooth and the other side is a bit rough like sandpaper. Put the sandpaper side down (this is the glue side that will adhere to the tee shirt) so that the smooth side is up.

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Iron the interfacing to the back of the t-shirt. Be gentle and iron with even gentle pressure as to not cause wrinkles or to burn through the interfacing and cause a gooey mess. Make sure you pay close attention to the edges making sure all of the interfacing adheres to all of the t-shirt block.

The point of interfacing is to stiffen up the t-shirt so that it won’t tug and stretch. Interfacing is not an optional step.

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Here is a square right side up with the interfacing peeking out behind it. I trimmed up the interfacing by quickly running the rotary blade around the edges close to the fabric so there wouldn’t be so much excess for later steps.

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I forgot to document the cutting process of how I got here. These are pieces of sashing, which basically is the separators between the t-shirt blocks. Sashing the quilt is optional however the finished effect of the quilt will vary GREATLY between a quilt with sashing and one without. I tend to see quilts with sashing to look a bit more professional, but if you are going for a more homemade look, no sashing is needed. If you choose not to sash your quilt (you’ll need at max about 4 yards of extra fabric for sashing), you would skip these next few steps of putting the sashing on the block and you would go straight to assembling the t-shirt blocks together.

Here is my stack of sashing blocks that will be sewn to the tops of every t-shirt block. My sashing blocks are 15 inches wide by 2.5 inches tall. You would end up with a 2 inch sashing block if you sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.

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My machine is ready to go and the quilt blocks are ready to the left. At this point, you’ll want a good system. I have my quilt blocks to the left and all the sashing pieces on my right leg ready for me to grab for assembly. Don’t make it hard on yourself—plan ahead. I use white thread in my machine.

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Take your t-shirt block and your sashing block and line up the edges on all sides. If you are unable to maintain the sashing and block being lined up while at the machine freehand, feel free to pin it.  If your sashing happens to have a pattern, make sure the RIGHT SIDES are placed together (t-shirt block right side up and the pattern of sashing is facing down, right side laying directly on top of the right side of the t-shirt block).

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Sewing the pieces together. if you can adjust your settings on the machine, use a 2.5 or 3.0 stitch length. You want a moderately small stitch to make sure it stays together well. Notice that the edges are lined up on the right side.

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AVOID THIS. Notice how the white block below doesn’t match with the sashing fabric? Don’t do this. If you do, the sewing gods will smite thee.

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Fix it by holding the fabrics together while you sew. It does take a little bit of extra thought and attention, but you want to be as careful as you can when sewing things together to make sure everything is even and lines up straight. If you avoid this step, of making sure everything is even and lined up, you will end up with a t-shirt quilt that has non-matching seams and looks crooked.

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Here is my pile of sashings attached to quilt blocks. By this point, a few things have occurred that I did not picture.

1. I had previously separated the t-shirt blocks into the 6 columns, keeping them in order. Remember I wrote the numbers on the back of the t-shirt squares? I simply put them in order on the back of my couch by laying them face up gently in 6 piles, 1-6, 7-13, and so on.  By the end of it, I had six piles of 7 blocks, making up the 42 t-shirt blocks. They are in a specific order because in the next few steps you will be sewing the blocks together and must maintain the order designated by the client. In this first pile, I had quilt blocks number 1,7, 13,19,25,31,37 with number 1 being face up on the bottom and 37 face up on the top. As anal as this might sound, it just makes for quick assembly and keeping things in order.

2. I did not show you that I ironed the pieces yet again after sewing the sashing to the quilt blocks. You want to iron down the sashing/block seam. Notice how the seam looks nice and straight with no wrinkles?  Iron the assembled block by turning the block upside down on top of the ironing board with the sashing seam at the top. Make sure the sashing block is visible so the seam is puckering up. Gently push the iron away from you while gently tugging at the sashing to reveal your straight sewing line, ironing down the seam.  You don’t want to just plop the iron on the seam. Take care here to make sure the seam is fully tugged away from the block so that you do not cheat the sashing fabric.

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I start by taking the block on the top of the pile and putting it in my lap. I then take the next block and physically hold it up where it needs to be sewn. I then flip it over so right sides are together. I do this to make sure that I am getting the right pieces together and so that I don’t sew a block upside down or wonky. I want to be careful so I do not have to go back and correct mistakes!

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Here you see my two pieces, they are right sides together.

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These are the quilt blocks sewn together. It is important to make sure that the quilt blocks line up, not just the edge of the sashing to the edge of the quilt block. If you are not careful to line up the edges of the t-shirt block, you will have a zig-zaggy end result that will make your quilt uneven and look unprofessional. Notice in the above picture how even the left side is compared to the right side? It is okay to have extra sashing. It can be trimmed later on if you so desire.

I will also note that at this point that I find myself having to get up every now and again to go to the cutting board to re-measure and trim off little bits of fabric from the t-shirt square that I missed before. This happens because I didn’t measure accurately and I notice that the shirts don’t line up and to avoid making a crooked mess for myself later, I would rather take the time now and re-measure and trim where need be.

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Here is where I stopped for the afternoon. This is the first column in the quilt. I repeated this process for all of the 5 remaining piles of 6 that I had (6 columns of the quilt).

My next tutorial will be the cutting of the long vertical sashing that will be sewn to the right side of the columns and the assembly of all the columns to form the actual quilt top.

PART TWO of the tutorial

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35 thoughts on “How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 1

  1. lynnell777 says:

    I’m so excited about these entries! Thank you for sharing; I’ve been considering making a t-shirt quilt eventually, but I’ve been scared to take the leap. With your tutorial I might actually work up the nerve 🙂

    1. laecen says:

      In the next tutorial I’ll include sizes and yardage amounts. One without the spacers between (Sashing) might be a good start! I’m glad you’ll be able to use the tutorial.

  2. Kathy says:

    I have a question about this section:
    2. I did not show you that I ironed the pieces yet again after sewing the sashing to the quilt blocks. You want to iron down the sashing/block seam. Notice how the seam looks nice and straight with no wrinkles? Iron the assembled block by turning the block upside down on top of the ironing board with the sashing seam at the top. Make sure the sashing block is visible so the seam is puckering up. Gently push the iron away from you while gently tugging at the sashing to reveal your straight sewing line, ironing down the seam. You don’t want to just plop the iron on the seam. Take care here to make sure the seam is fully tugged away from the block so that you do not cheat the sashing fabric.
    Does this mean that you press the seam toward the sashing?

    1. laecen says:

      As of late, I’ve been opening the seam to flatten it down. When I first started, I would press the seam either way. Keeping the top ironed and flat really does help!

  3. Dava Thomas says:

    Hi, do you still take consignment t-shirt quilts? I would love to have a queen sized memory quilt. I don’t have a working sewing machine, and arthritis makes it difficult for me to sew.

    1. laecen says:

      Good morning Dava.

      I do. You would just need to send me the t-shirts and an idea of what color you want the sashing and backing, and we can work it out!

      1. Dava Thomas says:

        Good Morning, I’m so pleased to hear this. I have many t-shirts from travel, and concerts. I have wanted to make a quit from them for years. For a queen size, how many t-shirts would you need? My current worn out comforter is an eggplant purple color, and I like that. My bedroom is a dusty green. Which color do you think would work best for sashing? What type of batting do you typically use? Thank you so much for responding!

      2. laecen says:

        Queen size, I’d need about 20 t-shirts. An eggplant color or a dark green would fit nicely for your sashing. I send the quilt top to my aunt who then quilts it. I’m not sure what batting she uses.

      3. Dava Thomas says:

        Hi again, I think I would prefer tthe eggplant color. I will dig out my t-shirts, and make some choices. What kind of timing does a quilt generally take? How do you prefer to handle the financial aspects?

      4. laecen says:

        The turnaround is usually close to a month due to shipping and quilting schedules. What is your email, Dava? I can chat with you about it further there!

  4. Happy quilter says:

    It is so much easier to put the interfacing on the t shirt then cut the block. Make the interfacing 1 in larger all around then cut square to size. Shirt won’ t distort then.

  5. Miss Suzie says:

    hello, my name is Miss Suzie and I just finished reading part I. I am making this quilt for my granddaughter as a highschool graduation gift. She is a busy basketball player with lots of tee shirts from her young basketball career. She will be playing BB in college so there will be lots more tee shirts. If I run into trouble I will send you an email. thanks,

  6. Karen says:

    I have a quick question. I am going to try making this for my daughter who is a senior. Can I use jerseys also on this quilt? If so, do I put interfacing on them like the tshirt? Thank you so much. Your instructions have been the best I have come across.

    1. laece says:

      Hi Karen! Sorry for the late reply!

      I have made quilt tops with jerseys before. I use interfacing on the back, if it isn’t sturdy enough, I specially purchase the thicker more rigid interfacing to keep it stable! Hope that helps! Best of luck creating this for your daughter! I wish her success and joy in the future!

  7. Kathy says:

    What blend of material do you use for the sashing? I am making a quilt for my son for his graduation present and I am at the sewing stage but not sure the type of material to get. Thanks

  8. Marge says:

    Just wanted to say thanks for the great tutorial. I’m a thirst quilt novice. I’ve made another before following a tutorial which was not clear. So frustrating! Then I found your posting with CLEAR instructions and photos. Thanks for taking the time and effort to help others!!! 💕

    1. laece says:

      I’m so glad you found it to be helpful! I know how frustrating it can be to not find helpful instructions when you need it! Best wishes Marge!

  9. Marilyn says:

    I’ve been making these quilts for about 10 years now, and always iron on my interfacing before I cut out my block. It really helps to keep the shirt from stretching if you do the interfacing first. I’ve purchased interfacing online by the roll, and it’s 50″ wide. This makes it much more cost effective, since I can cut 3 blocks across the width.

    1. laece says:

      And I absolutely agree– It is the best method to get consistent results and the excess you cut off is worth having all even pieces! Thanks Marilyn!

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