I am going to teach you how to sew, quite possibly, the coolest thing you’ll ever sew: a t shirt quilt.
I already know that you have tons of old t shirts. Whether from high school or college or that 5 K you ran or that presidential election (Sarah Palin’s face plastered over at least 3 white shirts? Check! Hey, she may not have won, but I stand by the fact that she started the glasses-are-cute phase.)
What better way to preserve those T’s than by making a t shirt quilt?
This post covers everything you need to know to sew your own t shirt quilt, but if you are worried about cutting into your t shirts without guidance, visit my calendar page and see if you can make it to my next t-shirt quilt class. I teach one every month or so at the two Hobby Lobby locations in Lexington and Nicholasville, Kentucky.
Note that there are 4 different options for the finishing of your quilt, which I will detail in this post. Read everything thoroughly before purchasing any supplies.
Now, without further ado:
The T- Shirt Quilt
Skill Level: Beginner. Must know how to sew a straight stitch on a sewing machine.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Pellon Fusible Webbing: you’ll need around 1 yard per 3 t-shirts
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What kind of pellon do I need?
There is no one best interfacing for t-shirt quilts. It depends on the type of quilt you want and how much you are willing to spend:
I have recently tried Pellon SF101. This Pellon brand is “Shape Flex”, and it’s made for knits.
Rotary Mat: 24” x 36” is ideal, although expensive. Don’t get a mat smaller than 18″ x 24″ or it will be of no help to you.
Pssst! You can get the above set for cheaper if purchased together. Fiskar’s has a product here for less than $30 which is a steal!
Large pieces of cardboard or poster board
Finishing the T Shirt Quilt:
Before you purchase the other supplies necessary to complete the quilt (batting, backing, and binding fabric) you have to decide on these finishing options, as the supplies are different for each one.
Note: click the links for details on the supplies and tutorials for the different finishes:
3. Add binding to a quilted or non-quilted t shirt quilt:
1. Organize the shirts: Not all shirts are created equal! You’ll be dividing and making piles for:
- T shirts with only graphics in the front
- T shirts with graphics in the front and back
- T shirts with extra large graphics
- T shirts with extra small graphics (or small pockets)
- T shirts that are not really t shirts (tanks/jerseys/sweatshirts/etc.)
2. Find the average square size of your t shirts:
- If you haven’t already, measure across the width of the shirts, below the neck and in the center of most of the shirt’s graphics. However many inches MOST of your t-shirts are here, will determine the square size of your shirts.
- I have found that most girls cut their t-shirts 15″ x 15″, and guy’s t-shirts are cut 16″ x 16″.
3. Make templates out of the cardboard by cutting:
- 1 cardboard piece into your average square size pattern
- 1 piece into your average square size x half of your average square size
- Finally cut another piece into your average square size x ¼ your average square size.
5. Cut out your t shirts according to their piles:
- Using the rotary mat to protect your table, place a t shirt on top on the mat and then lay the average square sized cardboard piece over your t-shirt, centering the motif, keeping at least 1” of just t-shirt all around the t-shirt’s motif.
2. When everything is perfect, either use scissors to cut around the marked square, or keep the cardboard pattern over it as a guide for your rotary cutter and slice all around the cardboard. If you find the cardboard bending or weakening, use the edge of the clear rotary ruler and cut along it’s edge instead.
4. Iron the fusible webbing onto the back of the cut t shirt following manufacturer’s instruction. Be sure to iron from the webbing side and not the t shirt side. Most graphics on a t shirt can not be ironed directly.
You’ll be cutting these shirts in the same way as your pile 1’s, however you need to separate the shirt first. Here’s how:
- Cut the shoulder seams, inside the shirt.
- Cut along the inside of the t shirt’s (naturally creased) side edges.
- Cut each shirt separately using directions 1-4 from pile 1 (above). If one side of the shirt has an extra small/large graphic, place in appropriate pile.
- Place your average square sized cardboard piece on top of the XL shirt graphic and see how much of the graphic it covers.
For really large shirts, you may have to use two average square sized patterns, as well as rectangles to fit everything!
3. Cut as before detailed under “Pile 1”, steps 1-4.
- Use your two rectangle cardboard patterns, lay them on the motif to decide which works best.
- I have so many shirts, that I cut this one using the smaller pattern.
Ideally, smaller rectangles need to be sewn on to the shirts they will be under or next to on the finished quilt before ironing the fusible webbing to the back of them. (Since the shirt stretches, this will eliminate the need to add in seam allowance (just too much math, ya know?).)
- “imi” blue shirt is in the small pile
- I decide to cut it into a 4″x16″ strip.
- I decide I want to sew it below an extra large 20″ x 16″ “Happy Happy Happy” square.
- Those two together equal 24″ x 16″, which lines up perfectly with an 8″ x16″ and 16″ x 16″ square.
Note: This is pictured first using a rotary ruler and mat alone to measure and cut, but below it I demonstrate how to cut a tank using a cardboard pattern piece.
- This ‘Merica tank was too narrow at the upper part of the width to be cut into a perfect 16″ x 16″ square.
- However, I could still cut it 16″ long, and 16″ wide for *most* of the tank.
- I cut the length as shown; allowing a little of the shoulder seams to be cut off… (Which is why they are dangling off the edge of the bottom ruler line of the mat).
- Cut a clean line.
- Lay the freshly cut edge on the bottom ruler line, measure up to 16″ and cut the leftover shoulder seams.
- Your tank will look something like this.
- Remember those blank back t shirt squares you saved? Find one in a color you like, iron fusible webbing to the back of it , and pin the tank evenly on top.
- Top stitch around the neck and shoulder seams. Baste stitch the sides in place. #merica.
1. Lay a cardboard pattern on top of your tank top, cut off the excess.
- Button downs:
1. Lay your cardboard piece(s) on your button down shirt . Cut excess fabric all around it.
4. To neaten up the armholes, I recommend stitch witchery. If placed under the raw edge of the fabric, hemming it up (especially on curves), is a breeze! Otherwise, just press up around 1/4″ of fabric to the wrong side.
1. Cut off the sleeve right at the armhole seam of the t shirt.
Laying out the T shirt Quilt:
For this tutorial, I color coded the different size squares I had, and drew a grid to visualize what the finished piece would look like. I recommend this method 110%! It helped me a ton, however, you can totally just lay out your squares without having a plan and just go with it. It does help to at least count how many shirt squares you are working with so you can figure out how many squares will be across the width and length.
X= regular squares (I put that I had 17, but I ended up taking one away because it was an ugly square!)
Yellow= 1/2 squares (8″x16″)
Pink= 1 and 1/2 squares (16″ x16″ sewn to an 8″x16″)
Blue= a large “jersey” square (32″ x 24″. I cut out each jersey as big as I could, and sewed on some extra t shirt strips to the sides, allowing it to fit correctly in the quilt.):
Sew the Squares in Rows
I ended up sewing my squares in rows down the length of the t shirt quilt. Usually, “normal” quilt rows are sewn across the width but I couldn’t do that with this t shirt quilt, because the larger squares that were next to the smaller squares would have made the raw edges of the rows uneven. This will depend on your individual t shirt quilt though.
I labeled my rows for ya’ll:
Sew up your squares right sides together using a 1/4″ seam allowance. This involves: pinning, sewing, opening the finished seam and pressing it with lots of steam. (Yes. This feels like an extremely long process, but turn on some music and have patience. It’s worth it.)
Sew the Rows Together
- Start with Row 1. Pin it, right sides together on Row 2.
- Not all seams will match, unless your entire quilt is made out of pure squares. But the seams that do match need to be pinned matching together as best you can! Sew, using a 1/4″ seam.
- Repeat with Row 3 and 4.
- Pin and sew Square 5 on (now sewn) Rows 3 and 4.
Press the seams open. Finally, pin Row 1 & 2 on Row 3, 4 & Square 5. Match seams, sew. Iron seams open.
Scroll to the beginning of this post, and decide which finish is the right finish for you!
Oh my word, you’re finished. It took long, but worth it right? I want to see your quilt! Use the hashtag #tshirtquilt, and tag me.