How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 2

Part ONE of how to make a t-shirt quilt!

Common questions and how to get started on a t-shirt quilt

My T-Shirt Quilt Gallery  (Added 5 Feb 14)

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Here we are again. Working on the back end of a t-shirt quilt.  I was bored this afternoon while the hubby and a friend created a makeshift burn barrel and burned a truckload of trash. I looked over at my t-shirt quilt parts longingly eyeing me. I figured I’d spend a little quality time with the fabric.

To start, I whipped out my sashing fabric and measured out the length/height of the long finished quilt columns I left off on a few days ago. I knew I would need at least 90 inch strips by 2.5 inches wide to fit the look. Remember I cut my other sashing pieces to be 2.5 inches? Consistency is key here.  In the above picture you can see that the strip is folded over many times and is 2.5 inches wide.

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I folded over the fabric many times on itself so that I would be cutting less and accomplishing more.

As I’ve said before with using a rotary cutter, be careful and press hard to go all the way through the layers of fabric. It is a frustrating thing to have to go back over what you’ve spent so much time working on to make it right.

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Here is my basic setup at the machine.I have the quilt column right side up and the long strip ready to put up against the edge. There’s no real need here to pin unless you really feel the need. It’ll save you time and make you a better seamstress to take the time and effort at the machine to do it.

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Lined up and ready to go!

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Note my hand position. Since I was taking the picture, I couldn’t show you what my left hand is doing. I keep the two fabrics together and taut with my right hand, fabric between my index and middle finger, feeding it up into the machine. With my left hand I steady the fabric, resting it on the sewing machine ledge. If I need to, I tug gently at the left side of the whole bit of fabric to A.Straighten it up B. Unwrinkle it or C. So I don’t sew a drunken line.

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You won’t always have fabric pieces that match up perfectly. Remember the big picture here: Line up the quilt squares, not necessarily just the next piece of fabric you see.

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I have a little extra of the beige sashing yet I am lined up on both of the t-shirt blocks. This is what you want.

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My method of organization is pretty tricky, no? I have my 6 columns in order so I don’t confuse or mix them up!

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The iron is your friend. The IRON IS YOUR FRIEND. I know in the past you might have had rough patches with the high heat or having it accidentally falling down on you. Forgive it and move on. You are a better person for returning to the site of the accident and pushing through the pain.  Pressing down seams makes it easier on the quilter and offers a clean work space for her (or him) to quilt on. I’m setting up to press down the seam in the picture above.

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Yay for pressing down seams!

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The seam is straight and flat. It looks so much cleaner than skipping this step. It would be here that you would notice if you sewed like a drunken school marm. Sew straight lines. Take your time.

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More straight and pressed lines!

ImageHere is a larger picture of the sashing. It is about ready to be assembled with all the other columns.

“Jenna. You silly woman. You forgot sashing on the right side of this column.”

Oh no my friend, silly YOU!

I sewed sashing on the left side of all the columns so that when I later went to put the columns together, there would only be one sashing between the columns. I do believe the world would cave into itself, molten lava and spewing magma from the core, if I sewed sashing on both sides of the quilt columns. After all, I would end up with two sashings next to each other and we just won’t stand for that, now will we?!

And so, dear friend, we continue. Consistency is key here, remember? Feel free to sew the sashing on the left or the right side of the columns. Remember that on the far left or far right column (depending on which side of the columns you sewed your sashing on) you will need to sew sashing to both sides.

“But Jenna! The MOLTEN LAVA AND SPEWING MAGMA! You just said not to sew sashing to both sides!”

Trust me friend. This once, I’ll allow you to sew sashing to both sides.
I sewed all my sashings on the left, which means my farthest right column would have a naked right edge unless I sewed another sashing to the other side. Get the drift? Okay…I’m dragging this issue through the mud. ONWARD AND UPWARD! Sally ho!

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Oooh…a flat seam. Mom would be proud.

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Again with my tricky and clever organizational method. I have my columns with sashing all ready to be assembled together! EEEE! I really enjoy these final stages.

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Remember back in grade school when you had a best friend who was attached at your hip? Remember how you two swore you’d be in each other’s weddings and nothing could ever separate you?
I hate to break it to you…but your new best friend is featured in the photo above.

Yes. Pins.

These bad boys will help you maintain your sanity while you trek across the vast plains of StraightLineAndMatchingEdgesOfQuiltBlock-land.

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Find a large flat surface. Lay out your first column and smooth it flat. Don’t be tuggin’ and stretching at it (yet).

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As I mentioned before, I am a bit of an organizational freak and need to see how the end result should look before I work on the 3 steps before reaching that point. For example– I set the second column on top of the first just so I know that both are facing the same way and that I can physically turn over the second column onto the first one (right sides together) and that it will all work out.

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The first and second columns being lined up. Pay attention to your blocks so that you don’t skip a block and sew it all sorts of lopsided. I count squares and place the middle one directly in front of me. I start to pin from the middle and work my way out.

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Note the purple and white edge. Sometimes the sashing won’t line up perfectly. You want it to. You want to make it line up. You WILL make it line up. If you do not make it line up, you will feel like an utter failure at sewing and have to rip apart all your hard work to line things up again. The reason you want these lines to match up is to make the squares even and level.

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While you are lining up the block lines, you must also make sure to line up the edge of both columns together. Don’t worry if you have excess sashing (as you see on the bottom of the above picture).

Try not to get too worked up at this point. It will take a while to get it right and even and straight. You must take the time to do this though.

Here’s some more free and blatantly worded advice.

When you start pinning, as I said, start from the middle and work your way out. I usually pin the middle and then take it one intersection at a time. I pin 2 pins at each intersection and then move to the next intersection where I line up the blocks and pin. I then go back and pin in between intersections just once to keep it in place.

If you notice that when you lay both of the columns flat and straight and even yet the intersections don’t line up, you will need to do a little stretching and tugging at the fabric to make it work. Don’t just slap the two pieces together and pin. Take the time to work each seam together and pin it nice and secure so that you will have even seams and a straight quilt. Really…I’m not a stickler on a lot of things, but it is at this point that you need to pay attention and take the time to do it right!

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Here is one way to pin. I lined up the edges (YAY!) and everything is fine and dandy in hunky-dory land. However…It’s usually a better idea to pin horizontally to the edge so that you can sew over the pin without fear and it generally holds better in my limited experience.

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Here you can see that I’ve got my seam ready to sew.As I pictured earlier, my right hand will go on the fabric towards the bottom of the picture so I can keep the columns lined up and even as I am sewing.

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As I sew and pass over the intersections of the blocks, I usually unpin it and check it just to make sure that they are still even and line up. See? They line up in this picture. YAY!

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Woo hoo for the blocks lining up! YAY AGAIN!

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Here is the middle seam of the two columns I just sewed together.

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See what I mean? This intersection is pretty well lined up. The next picture, you’ll notice it’s not lined up as closely as it could/should be.

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Check out that yellow block in the right corner. See how it isn’t horizontally even with the white block in the left corner? The bottom blocks seem to line up evenly though. Sometimes this happens. Yes…sometimes you just can’t line things up perfectly because of errors (no matter how small) made in earlier processes. Perhaps why that yellow and white block don’t line up is because I cut the sashing on the right too wide (wider than 2.5 inches if only by a smidgeon) and you notice how it doesn’t line up.

Note the importance of lining them up! If the block on the bottom would have been shifted up along with the yellow block so that it was uneven, that would have been an error on my pinning part. I would have had to go back and fix that. Errors like that are VERY apparent when you have horizontal and vertical columns.

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Notice the intersection at the top and middle of this picture. Do you see how the blocks don’t line up? You want to try to avoid this at all costs. It is more forgivable for the blocks on the outside edges to not line up PERFECTLY but you could be skiing down a slippery slope if you are a sloppy seamstress with the rest of the project.

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As simple as this is, here is how I prepare my fabric for sewing. I don’t like just grabbing the fabric and bunching it up next to me when I sew. I gently zigzag lay my fabric together so that I can….

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…lay the fabric in my lap and just gently pull up on the fabric as I need to sew it. It makes for less stress, fewer wrinkles, and me knowing exactly where the pins are so I don’t stick myself and scream out in utter agony.

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I’ve dwindled down my piles to 3 now instead of 36. There are the first two, middle two, and last two columns sewn together. Next, I sew those three together! All in all (as you can imagine) I have to pin and sew 5 edges together. It takes a while, but these are the final stages! You can do it.

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Here I’ve got my first and second pile ready to pin, right sides together, and on my ironing board.

Repeat the pinning and sewing process, making sure all intersections are even and straight.

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Woo hoo! Almost done! All 3 of my piles are sewn together but I’m not quite done yet!

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Note on the bottom how there is no sashing. You will need to cut a piece of sashing to fit the bottom length.

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Lining up the sashing on the bottom and getting ready to sew! Because sometimes the bottom edge can be mismatched and uneven, I generally like to pin before I head to the machine. It isn’t a necessary step if you trust your skills at straightening the fabrics at the machine. I like to see the big picture so I pin it and then head to the machine.

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Whew! Here’s the finished quilt top!

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It’s so big!

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This is a squeen sized quilt.

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Happy straight intersections! Notice how they are all glowing with delight.

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Happy Happy intersections!

Alright. Here’s where the magic happens.

Make sure it’s pressed…and send it away on the magical UPS or FedEx bus to your friend or relative who will quilt this beast for you. I have a quilting fairy. I have my aunt. She will quilt it for me and then send it back, where I will need to finish the edges and create a lovely border for the quilt. After I do that, the quilt will be completed and I will ship it back to the client.

I think it’s best to have a quilt like this professionally quilted. There are so many memories in each t-shirt. I wouldn’t want to destroy a memory by haphazardly tying the quilt together at the intersections or making it flimsy.

There you have it! How to assemble the T-Shirt Quilt Top.

Get to sewing!

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28 thoughts on “How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt: Part 2

  1. Sharon Simson says:

    Wow, what a tremendous amount of work. Love your detailed step by step and admission of your own imperfections. I have to think long and hard about taking this project on, my son has a bunch of t-shirts from different sports activities he did growing up and I thought I wanted to make a quilt out of them. The biggest question I have is how to work with different size shirts…….

    1. laecen says:

      It can seem daunting! You can do it though. There are a lot of people who make different sized quilt blocks for the differing sizes of t-shirts, but I like the uniform look! You could always fit each into a specific block size!

      Best of luck Sharon!

    1. laecen says:

      I do not have a finished photo, as I send the top to her and she quilts it to be returned directly to the customer. In general, she does an all cover design swirling around randomly.

  2. Emily says:

    I am taking on the task of doing a blanket of college and high school I am THINKING one side high school and one side college but I am still VERY in the planning and preparation stages. I have a few questions I have a few shirts that won’t fit the 12×14 measurements do you think it would be a good idea to cut it as big as possible and then do double shassing to keep everything the same size and maybe just center the 2-3 that I have that would hit that category. Also I have a few sweatshirts that I am planning on using do I need to use a different iron on material stronger in the startch?

    1. laecen says:

      Hey Emily! Sorry it took so long to reply.

      I’ve always used the same interfacing for heavyweight fabrics as regular t-shirt fabric. I don’t like buying three different types of interfacing!

      As for the shirts that don’t fit, You could frame those shirts with a white or different color fabric than the sashing. That would be exactly how I handle that situation!

      Best of luck!

      1. Jenn Soper says:

        Or, you could cut sashimi from the back of that particular shirt to make it the same size as the other blocks!

  3. Amy Smith says:

    First of all, thanks so much for the well explained steps! I have a question though, as this is my first quilt. I am making one side from my son’s t-shirts (he’s in boot camp right now for the Marine Corp). The other side I am making from his old jeans. They are 12×12 squares. What is the best way to attach the front to the back? I’m also putting a sheet (batting) in the middle. I can’t actually ‘quilt’ the blanket b/c some of my jeans will have frayed ends and pockets. Thanks!

    1. laecen says:

      Would the quilt fit under your regular machine? You could tack down a bit every 3-5 inches under the machine with a heavy duty needle, avoiding those tough spots. If not, you may want to consider tacking by hand–at each corner of the 12 inch blocks and at least once or twice between. You’d need a heavy needle and some strong thread, lots of safety pins to pin all the layers together, and a big area to pin the top, batting, and bottom together. Best of luck!

  4. Margie Huff Yongue says:

    Very good instructions. I think that I would iron some interfacing on the back of the design first before I cut it tho . However, the one project our quilt grp. has coming up, the guy raggedly cut up his t-shirts thinking he was saving us time…..grrr. This isn’t going to be fun on some of the designs.

    1. laecen says:

      After one or two quilts, I started ironing interfacing first before cutting. Makes for a smoother transition! It’s the only way I do it now. I always tell my customers that I’d rather cut the shirts. Saves me heartache!

    1. laece says:

      I use either 911ff or p44f, depending on what’s in stock! I prefer a medium weight interfacing. The lighter ones are too light and the heavy ones are too thick.

  5. Amelia Marroccoli says:

    Love the instructions! I’ve been meaning to do all my husbands old basketball tshirts! What do you do for the back of the quilt?

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