Monday, August 22, 2016

The t-shirt quilt I didn't want to make: tutorial for t-shirt quilt squares

Somehow, my children have gotten the bizarre idea that when they move out of our home and on their own, that I'll make them a t-shirt quilt from their childhood and favorite t-shirts.  Now, I don't know how this legend began, or how I became a part of this legend, but I honestly wanted no part of it.  The thought of wrangling a bunch of smelly old t-shirts into a stretchy monster blanket sounded like a nightmare to me.

Last year, when my eldest was preparing to move out, I was already wrangling my own nightmare -- a custom order, Monster Minky Blanket, the size of a queen sized duvet (for real) and I had no time nor energy for a t-shirt quilt.  My daughter, being the impatient, yet creative type, decided to whip up her own t-shirt quilt, and so she did.  WHEW.  Dodged that bullet.

But then fast-forward a year, and another daughter was preparing to move out.  She stacked her pile of t-shirts on my sewing table (who am I kidding? correction: dining room table) and reminded me of our "pact."  Now this child is stubborn.  She won't forget.  She won't go away.  And she won't let me off the hook.  She is, after all, studying to be an attorney, so I'm stuck.

I decided to attack the t-shirt quilt like I do my little memory keepsake pillows that I make with baby onesies.  First, I needed a product to "freeze" the t-shirt, to keep it from stretching and wiggling around.  I love, love, love, using Shape-Flex by Pellon.  Yes, it's a little on the pricey side.  But friends, it works.  And it's worth every penny.  It freezes the knit fabric in place, without being stiff and weird.  The finished item will still be soft to the touch, without being flimsy.  It won't get that odd, crinkly look to it that some fusible interfacings can, and it's so easy to work with.  ahhhhh.... looooove.....

Let me demonstrate just how easy this stuff is to work with, and then we'll get back to me crying into her quilt.  (Did I even mention the crying part yet?  no?)  I'll lead you through backing your t-shirts, preparing them for your t-shirt quilt.

There are many, many, many simple piecing and quilting tutorials online that can guide you through making the actual quilt.  Honestly friends, I threw mine together all crazy-like and I wouldn't dare try to tutorialize anyone on how to make one.  But this part... this I can show you.

You'll need:

* How much Shape Flex to buy?  Well, you have to do a little bit of thinking, planning, and even math before I can answer that.  What size do want your squares to be?  It might depend on the size of the majority of your shirt designs, or it might depend on how large or small you want your quilt to be.  It's your quilt, your rules.  In my quilt, I wanted my squares to be 12" squared, so I cut my squares 12.5" x 12".5", planning for a 1/4" seam allowance around each edge.

Once you've decided on how big you want your squares to be, you need to decide on how many squares you want in your quilt. For mine, I had 20 t-shirts -- 4 columns and 5 rows.  

Now, how much to buy. . . .  Keep in mind that the Shape Flex is only 20" wide.  In my case, I could get just under three 12" squares per linear yard.  So for twenty 12" squares, I ended up buying 7 yards of the stuff and having some left over.

I hope that helps you with planning how much to buy by the yard.  (Or, alternatively, you can always buy a whole bolt and split it with a friend or two. . . or keep it for your next t-shirt quilt.  ;) )

Squares. . . .

First, cut out all of your squares from the Shape-Flex.
Take your time, and cut out the most accurate squares that you can, as this will make the entire process easier in the long run.  Go ahead and cut as many as you're going to need for the entire quilt.

Placement. . . .

Place a Shape-Flex (SF) square right on top of your t-shirt design.  Since you're doing this for placement purposes, so it doesn't matter which side of the SF faces up or down.  Center your design in the SF square, eyeballing it if you want to. . . .

. . . or get out your trusty ruler and measure it all to make sure it's perfectly centered.  Whatever floats your boat.

Next, place a pin on all four sides of the SF, only slipping the pin through the front of the shirt.  You aren't pinning anything to the shirt.  You're simply marking where the SF was on the front of the shirt.  Be careful NOT to pin the front of the shirt to the back of the shirt.

(sorry about the crummy pics... 
but remember you can always click on them to enlarge them.)

Cut. . . .

Now, carefully cut along the side seam of the t-shirt, from the bottom, all the way up through the sleeve.  Use extra caution if you're planning to use any designs on the back of your shirt for your quilt!

Remove the SF, and you can see where your pin markings are.  :)

Iron and set. . . .

Head over to the ironing board, open up the t-shirt, and carefully flip the shirt over, design side down.  (I say "carefully" so the pins don't accidentally fall out.)  You can see the pins through the back of the shirt. . . .

Place the SF glue (bumpy/shiny) side down exactly inside the pins where you marked your design.

Press with a hot, steamy iron, until the SF is well fused to your t-shirt.  It doesn't take long at all.

Flip it over and remove your pins... and admire your handiwork!  See how it's a little bit firmer, but still soft?  Just not all stretchy?  I love it.

Square it up. . . .

OK.  Back to work.  Flip it back over again, to the wrong side, and trim around the SF, leaving a little extra fabric, maybe 1/4" - 1/2".  It doesn't really matter how much exactly, because you're going to trim it all off in a minute, but it's just going to make your life easier right now by getting that bulky t-shirt out of the way so you can accurately trim the square in the next step.  Stay with me here.

Now, trim the excess t-shirt fabric and make sure, one last time, that your SF squares are really the exact measurements that you need them to be.  This is where I trimmed mine to be exactly 12.5" x 12.5" squares, right at the edge of the SF.  It will make your quilt come together soooo much easier when all of your measurements are precise. . . .

See?  All fused and ready to be sewn!  The next part -- the sewing -- goes by sooo fast!  The fusing and cutting takes the longest, in my opinion.  The rest is easy, and the most fun!

Now, for the actual quilt assembly, just do a quick search on the interwebs to find any number of helpful, quality tutorials (like this one) that can help you put together an amazing quilt of your own. :)

A few details about this t-shirt quilt that I sewed. . . .

trying to plan the layout. . . .

  • I used my handy walking foot to assemble my quilt, and it made the whole process so stinking easy.  
  • I didn't use any batting at all, and the quilt still had a pretty good weight to it, simply backed with quilting cotton.
  • I stitched in the ditch to attach the quilt top to the backing.
  • I used a self-binding method just like this to finish the quilt.

My daughter loved it!  She packed it up, right away. . . .

. . . and the quilt now resides with her, in her dorm.
As it should.

But damn.
It's hard.  Letting her go.

ANYway, if and when she takes some lovely pictures of the quilt for me, I'll update this post and share them here with better pictures of the quilt.  We were in a rush to pack and leave, and decent pics just didn't happen.

before the backing was added

And, if and when the next t-shirt quilt is made, perhaps I'll make a proper tutorial of my own crazy method of making the quilt. . . 
but I doubt it.  ;)

Have a lovely day, friends.
I'd be happy to answer any questions!
Talk to you soon!


  1. Loved your tutorial! Wish I had seen it long before you made this. I had attempted one for Loren. LOL I think my attempt is still here somewhere. Maybe I will try this method and finish it! You are great!

    1. So glad you liked it, and I hope you'll give it a try! Keep me posted... :)


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