Thursday, June 1, 2017

The marathon quilt: how to sew with polyester athletic shirts in a t-shirt quilt

What I've been doing for the past couple of weeks. . . .

sewing with polyester athletic shirts in a t-shirt quilt, diy, via refabulous

My uncle is an all-around amazing human being who also happens to be an amazing marathon runner.  A couple of months ago, he entrusted me with making a t-shirt quilt from his running shirts.  I was humbled, and really excited to make this for him! 

But... these shirts weren't regular t-shirts.
They're polyester athletic shirts (think DriFit or Under Armor,) and I found this fabric to be a whole 'nother animal compared to regular cotton t-shirts.

Tips for sewing athletic jerseys and polyester running shirts into t-shirt quilts, DIY by refabulous
(please ignore the unfinished rag-quilt-in-a-bag on the right.... someday. someday.)

These quilts don't usually take me long to make, but I was a little puzzled about how to sew with polyester athletic fabrics and 1) not scorch it during the fusing process, and 2) not leave large holes or snags, as this fabric doesn't always "heal" well.  So I thought I'd share my experience with sewing this type of fabric with you.


As always, FIRST test on an inconspicuous area of the fabric to see how it tolerates the heat and fusing process.  I wasn't sure I could fuse my preferred interfacing (Pellon Shape-Flex SF101) to this type of fabric, fearing it would scorch or even melt the shirts. Good news!  It did neither.  I was able to use Shape-Flex with no issues.  But a plain cotton press cloth is ESSENTIAL to protecting the fabric.

tips for sewing polyester running shirts/athletic jerseys into t-shirt quilts, via refabulous

Using the press cloth, I fused the interfacing to the fabric using steam and the iron set to polyester (or the highest setting the fabric could tolerate. . . check the item's care tag just in case there's info there, too!) 

Sewing with athletic jerseys and runner's shirts (polyester), tutorial by refabulous


I also tested pins on inconspicuous areas of the fabrics to see how they'd respond to pinning.  Some of the shirts were OK with them. . .

Tips and tricks for sewing with runner's shirts / athletic jerseys (polyester) for t-shirt quilts, DIY via refabulous

Using pins on polyester athletic shirts; tips and tricks for sewing with polyester running shirts for t-shirt quilts, via refabulous
constructing a block

and some were not. . . . 

Tips and tricks when working with polyester athletic shirts, for t-shirt quilts, tutorial by refabulous

Clips would've been the perfect solution, really, and things would've progressed much faster if I had used them.  (Maybe next time!)

sewing with polyester athletic shirts for t-shirt quilts, tutorial by refabulous, use quilting clips!

And constructing

Once the shirts were fused to the interfacing, pinning the fused blocks into rows and columns became even trickier due to the thickness of the fabrics.  To prevent visible snags and holes in the quilt blocks, I only pinned within the 1/4" seam allowance -- very, very carefully, a little at a time. . .

sewing with running shirts, athletic jerseys (polyester) for t-shirt quilts, tutorial by refabulous

When it came time for the quilting (which I only do along the vertical seams on these quilts,) I pinned one tiny section/row at a time to the backing, along the seams / in the ditch, or within the seam allowance. 

sewing with athletic shirts (running, polyester, jerseys) for t-shirt quilts, via refabulous

Granted, basting spray would have been PERFECT in this situation!  But alas, the brand-new can of 505 spray I had on hand was completely empty.  (My daughter mistook it for regular spray adhesive in a recent DIY project.)  :(

using basting spray when working with polyester athletic running shirts, via refabulous
Get ya some.


But so worth all the effort. . . .

tips for sewing with athletic shirts/polyester for t-shirt quilts, via refabulous

sewing tips for constructing a t-shirt quilt from running athletic shirts (polyester), via refabulous

The best part?  My uncle loves it.  :)

So my tips for working with polyester athletic wear when making a t-shirt quilt. . .

-- ALWAYS test the fabric in an inconspicuous spot before fusing OR pinning.
-- ALWAYS use a press cloth, and follow the shirts' care instructions for the iron's heat setting.
-- Use clips if possible.  SO MUCH EASIER.
-- If using pins, work slowly and only pin a very small section at a time.
-- Only pin within the seam allowance, or on the seams / in-the-ditch.
-- Handle carefully when moving the quilt (so the pins don't flop over onto the rest of the fabric, snagging it.)
-- Use basting spray during the backing / quilting process to avoid using pins.

sewing tips for adding athletic / polyester shirts to your t-shirt quilt, via refabulous

If you have any questions, leave a comment below!  I love hearing from you.

sewing tips for working with athletic / polyester running shirts for t-shirt quilts, by refabulous


  1. Oh that is stunning, I'm not a quilter so now am green with envy!

  2. I've made t-shirt quilts before with no problems. However, my nephew gave me All 100% polyester shirts for his quilt. Have you used polyester shirts along with cotton fabrics for sashing, etc?? I'm glad to hear that I can at least use his shirts but would love to add to the quilt with cotton fabrics. Help??

    1. Hi! Well, I have mixed the polyester shirts with cotton t-shirts, and the quilt was then bound and backed with flannel. It worked great! I haven't added sashing to any of mine, so I can't say *exactly* what that would do. I imagine that it would work just fine, since the woven stabilizer would make the polyester behave like a woven fabric. You could always make a small sample one of a couple of squares with the shirt backs and your cotton sashing. Good luck.... I'd love to hear how this turns out!


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