Wardrobe Refashion: T Shirt Quilt

Everybody knows somebody with an overwhelming amount of t-shirts. They just collect more and more and can't seem to part with any of them. My ex was one of those people. Even if a shirt had a hole and/or stains, there was no way we were cleaning out the closet using a garbage bag. I came up with a solution for our problem, bargaining that we would make his shirts into a quilt. It came from an earlier idea I had of making a "home-sick" quilt, using my father's old t-shirts and sweaters.

While researching quilt making, I found that this is not an original idea. Many people have turned their t-shirt collections into a warm and toasty quilt, and there are many different quilting patterns that you can use to construct you own special security blanket.

I am absolutely not a quilting expert. I made my own very simple pattern of a square "block," large enough to fit most the images on the front of the shirts. I just cut up all those tees, sewed up all the squares, and then sewed on a back with some stuffing inside. I know that is totally not enough instruction for you. So here are the simplest instructions possible that I found on wikiHow.com:
  1. Choose a pattern and fabric. You can look online for free quilt block patterns by using a search engine. You can also look in books or talk to people who you know that have made quilts. Selecting your pattern may affect what fabric you would like to use, or vice versa. A whimsical pattern of animals or flowers might look better in bright solid colors, or a quilt of your old baby clothing might look better in a more traditional pattern.
  2. Some quilters like to pre-wash fabrics and say that this prevents color runs and takes care of any shrinking. Others prefer not washing fabric, since it can be easier to cut and lets you get started more quickly. Either way, treat all your fabric the same -- wash it all or don't wash it all. If you opt not to wash, you may want to test a small amount for color fastness by putting a snip in warm water and seeing if it runs. If it does, you'll need to wash it to get the extra dye out.
  3. Cut out your pattern. This is a very important step. You need to be very precise. If you don't cut the pieces right, the quilt block won't line up correctly. The best way to get an accurate cut is with a rotary cutter, a self-healing mat, and a quilter's ruler. These make all the difference in the world.
  4. Sew each block together using a 1/4" seam allowance. You can mark your sewing matching throat plate with a piece of masking tape to ensure that your 1/4" seam allowance is accurate. Some machines have a quarter inch foot that makes this easy. Most patterns will come with directions, telling you how to assemble the pieces together. Usually you want to put the pieces together so that you are always sewing a straight line. It is difficult to sew around corners. More advanced techniques such as appliqué, where you fold the edges under to sew a curvy piece on top of the block, should wait until at least your second quilt.
  5. Once you have all the blocks made (how many you make will depend on how big they are and how big of a quilt you want to make) you should decide if you would like to put borders on the quilt. Many quilts have strips of fabric around all of the blocks as well as a border or two or three around the outside edge. This is a great way to make up square footage on the quilt if you didn't feel like making up enough blocks for the entire size that you want. Cut long strips of fabric and sew them to the blocks, once again trying to always sew only straight lines. Use these strips to sew all of the blocks together until you have one large piece. Then sew the outside border pieces on.
  6. Select your batting. Batting comes in several different shapes and types. High loft batting is thicker and will make a "poofier" quilt. Low loft batting is thinner and may be easier to quilt, but it won't be as warm. There is also fusible batting, which can be ironed to the top and bottom pieces, sticking to both, so you won't have to baste.
  7. Select your backing material. This is usually a large piece of solid fabric. If you are making a large quilt, you may need to piece together full widths of fabric, since fabric usually comes in 45" or 60" widths and a queen size quilt may be 66" square. If you would like to use the backing material to edge the quilt, make sure the fabric is a couple of inches too big in every direction.
  8. Baste the three layers (top, batting, backing) together. If you bought fusible batting, you will just need to iron the three layers. But, if you bought regular batting, you should lay out the three layers on top of each other, select a contrasting thread (so you can remove it easily later) and sew the three layers together. Start in the middle and work your way out in each direction, smoothing out any wrinkles as you go. A great substitute to basting is using safety pins. Put them every 3-4", starting at the center.
  9. Once all the layers are together, you need to use a matching thread, or contrasting if you like the look, and sew the layers together. Start from the middle and work your way out, trying to use small, even stitches. You will get better as you practice, and no one will ever notice if you are a little messy. The quilt block pattern may have included quilting directions. If it didn't, you usually just "stitch in the ditch." This means you follow all of the seams in the quilt block and borders, keeping your stitching about a quarter of an inch away from the seam. You might also ask at your local quilt shop for someone who does machine quilting. You give them the top, batting and back and they'll quilt it for you on a long-arm machine. You'll still need to put the binding on (see below).
  10. Remove the basting (if necessary) and finish the edges of the quilt. You should trim all of the layers so that they are the same on the edges (if you want to use the backing fabric, just trim it so that it is an even inch and a half longer than the other layers all the way around). You can buy bias tape to sew along the edges. This you will sew lengthwise on one side all along the edges, then wrap it around to the other side and sew again. Or you can use the backing fabric, just fold in the raw edge, fold it over to the top of the quilt, and sew it down all the way around. With either method, take your time on the corners, as they are a little tricky. Just keep messing with them, folding in the extra fabric, until they look good.
  11. If you would like, you can sign the corner of the backside of the quilt with the date and your name. You can also include the name of the pattern or who the quilt is intended for if you would like. Write lightly with an ink that won't wash out.

-Karin of Better Than Jam