May 28, 2014

Making your own T-shirt Quilt

Recently, our family moved from the Northeast to the Northwest - and it has been an adventure!  In a whirlwind decision we packed up and moved our family in three short weeks - and we're still settling in.  
Part of the deal with moving of course, is clearing out (I know lots of people who consider moving the perfect time to do a household purge, and we were no different).  
Some of the things that have stuck with us though, are the sentimental items my husband and I have had since childhood.  Including a whole bunch of t-shirts.

T-shirts are one of those things that seem to accumulate quickly, and often rotate in the wardrobe.  When I started pulling out a bunch of shirts from my childhood I decided I didn't want them sitting, unworn and forgotten in a tub any longer.  I took the plunge and cut them all up to make myself something useful - a sweet t-shirt quilt!

The process was a bit difficult, but I'm going to attempt to document how I made it, in case you'd like to make your own!

I started out by cutting the logo/picture/patch/whateveryou'vegot from each t-shirt, leaving as much plain t-shirt border to work with as I could.  You can see below how much white space I left around the picture.

If there was something small on the arm or on the back, I cut that out too...

Before trimming anything, I ironed interfacing onto the back of each piece.  This does make the whole quilt a little bit more stiff, but it is SO much easier to work with!  After I had the interfacing on, I didn't have to worry about the t-shirt material stretching while I cut it or sewed it.  I'm glad I used it!

I had the hardest time picking out the interfacing.  If you've ever tried to purchase it at the fabric store, you'll know what I'm talking about.  They had about 30 bolts and I sat staring at them for about 30 minutes. Ultimately, I chose something that felt like medium weight and hoped for the best.
It was Pellon, 950F, Apparel Interfacing.  It worked great :)

Update: I'm working on another and this time I picked 906F Fusible Sheerweight, also by Pellon.  It is not quite as thick, but still keeps the fabric from stretching while I sew it.  I think I like it better!

Now comes the interesting part.

Since I didn't make all my squares uniform size, I had to do a lot of math.   A LOT.  My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Below, you can see some of the papers I used to keep everything organized.  The large paper on the bottom listed every single piece of t-shirt individually, and information about it.

The paper on top was a pattern I made in power-point.  I zoomed out to 10% and made square shapes on the computer that were the actual size of the piece of t-shirt I was working with.

Here's the process, from the very beginning:

1) For each t-shirt piece:
  1. Use a numbered list
  2. Next to each number, write some identifying information about the t-shirt piece so you'll know which is which, then
  3. Measure the t-shirt piece and write down the minimum and maximum dimensions it could be cut to.  Make sure, when writing the maximum or minimum size it could be, that you consider the seam allowance (so leave at least a 1/2" border when measuring the maximum size).  
Now, take that piece of paper over to the computer.

2) Using powerpoint if you have it (could be done in Word too), use the shape tool to make rectangles.  I numbered each rectangle on the computer to correspond to a number on the list.

3) Starting in a corner, arrange the rectangles.  Check your numbered list to size the rectangles based on the t-shirts you have.  Adjust the size of the rectangles on the computer to make them fit together, and fit the size t-shirt pieces you have.

(Warning, this took me a LONG time).  It requires checking your numbered list for a t-shirt the size you need.  Then, making them fit - moving things around when you run out of pieces small enough to fit.  You could supplement with small blank t-shirt squares if you absolutely have to fill a hole.  But I found that the small logos I took off of the arms worked really well to fill in the tiny gaps.  Make a check mark next to the number on the list once you have used that t-shirt in your pattern.

Below, you can see a screen shot of my powerpoint pattern.  To help, I even made rectangles the same color as the t-shirts, so I could make sure I was arranging the colors in a way I liked.

4) Once I had my pattern finished, as seen below, I re-wrote my numbered list and wrote down the final dimensions of each piece based on the size of the rectangle in powerpoint.  Remember, I made each rectangle to scale, so when I clicked on one, I could see the exact size (for example: #5 was 11" x 13").

I also checked my work multiple times!  I made sure that if I added up the width across the top, it matched each "row" of squares all the way down the quilt.  Same with the "columns."  I put those words in quotes because there are no exact rows and columns.  So I went across or down in the best way I could to make sure the width always added up the same and the length always added up the same.  It is easy to be off by 1/2" when trying to align the squares in powerpoint.  (See where the math can start to hurt your head?  You just wait...)

Here's another picture of a t-shirt quilt pattern I made later.  I typed in the dimensions as well, which helped!

Here is the really important math step!!

5) Take your numbered list (which should show the size of each t-shirt square) and make a new column to add in seam allowance!!!  The powerpoint pattern does not take seam allowance into account.  EVERY SQUARE needs to have seam allowance added to the length and width.  I decided to use exactly 1/2" seam allowance, so I added 1" to the length and 1" to the width of every square. 
Here's an example of my list:

Then, you start trimming your t-shirt pieces.  Find piece #1, and cut it to the correct size (the size with the seam allowance factored in), and do this for all the pieces.  

6) Once all the pieces were trimmed with the correct seam allowance, it was time to sew them all together.  Carefully using my pattern (which I printed out using a screen shot) I started sewing small sections together.

Take a look at my powerpoint pattern again:

See the yellow outlined square?  That is the first section I sewed together.  In the upper left I sewed #20 & #19 together.  Then, I sewed those to #13.  Then, I sewed that to #5.  (see pic below)

Then I sewed #26 and #26b together, and added it to the #5 piece, which was sewn to the other 3 pieces.  (you can see what I mean below)
If you look carefully, do you see the process?
Next came #4 with #24.  Then added those to #6.
Next #40 with #45.  Then added to #43.  Then added to #42.  Etc. etc.

Small section after small section I sewed together, careful to use the exact 1/2" seam allowance I had allotted myself.  Then, I sewed those smaller sections together to make bigger sections.  Almost the entire quilt I was able to find exact sections to sew together (meaning I could match up two entire edges perfectly).  Only once did I have to sew an intersecting piece half way through another square. It required me to think it through, but if I was careful I could almost always sew full pieces together.

Here is the first half of the quilt sewn together...

And the other half...

And finally, here is the completed quilt!

We used a simple, swirly pattern to quilt it, so as not to detract from the t-shirt designs.  I used a flannel for the backing, which makes it soft and warm.  I did use the thin, natural cotton batting in between the tshirt top layer and the flannel backing layer.  The quilting machine could handle all those thick layers - but just barely :)

I am completely in love with the way it turned out!  It represents many wonderful memories, and there is even a t-shirt all the way back to my elementary school days!

I have seen quite a few t-shirt quilts, and I have always admired them.  It was a huge challenge to have all different size squares, but I love having everything packed together, cropped tightly, and I love that this quilt is so unique!  No one will ever have another one like it, which makes it that much more special.  My husband has already started gathering his t-shirts so that I can make another - and I have to admit, despite the hard work (and the endless math), the idea of making another one sounds fun ;)

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  1. love this layout for the quilt. I would love to know the actual size of each block that you cut out. kmttjudy at hotmail dot com

  2. I love your quilt! Two questions: 1. did you use a batting between your flannel back and your tshirt(s) front? 2. when sewing the "swirly pattern", did you sew through the tshirts and flannel backing? I am confused on the quilting part of the quilt. Thanks!

    1. Hi Crafty ;)
      Yes, I did use batting between the tshirt top layer and the flannel backing. When I load it onto the quilting machine it stretches the tshirts, batting and backing/flannel very tight, and then the stitching IS done through all the layers. It is quite thick, but I use the natural 100% cotton batting which isn't as thick as some you can buy. Hope this answers your questions. Let me know if you have any others. Good luck!

  3. Thanks so much for this great tutorial! I have wanted to make one of these for each of my Grandkids for a while now. Well, now I can , thanks to you! Yay! They will be so to let their Moms in on my secret......I need those t shirts?...:)
    Thanks again. Have a fantastic day.
    Hugs Marg

  4. How did you make the powerpoint squares to scale?

    1. Hi Lacyjane,
      First, set the zoom in your Powerpoint to about 10 percent.
      Click Insert>shape and select a square shape.
      After you've inserted the shape, click the Format tab across the top, and you should see the Height and Width section, where you can adjust those dimensions to whatever you'd like.
      I set mine to how ever many inches my actual pieces are.

      Hope this helps! Good luck,

  5. You have answered my prayers! I am making my son a quilt. I have already made 3 other t-shirt quilts but they were pretty straightforward with their design. This one I want to make more random with the size of squares and placement and it has been stressing me out. I've tried doing it with graph paper but it is not easy to move things because then you have to completely erase everything else. I've been looking online for a program to help set it up for me but the only ones I've found are for regular pieced quilts with the same shapes and sizes. After reading your blog I decided to use photoshop. I've got all the pieces made and am now making the pattern. This is a lifesaver! Thank you so much!!

    1. Niki, I am so glad! What a nice comment. This sure makes me happy. Good luck with your quilt!

  6. WOW, can I say it again? WOW. Your math skills -patience- insight- skill of execution- all of it are amazing. I am making a quilt for a friend that lost her 7 year old son. The shirts are all from the annual 5k run they do in his memory. The money raised goes to a student for a college scholarship.
    I hope my quilt comes out even half as good as yours.

    1. Kristi,
      What a very nice compliment, thank you! Good luck on your quilt. What a wonderful service you are doing - I'm sure it will turn out great!! Let me know if I can answer any questions for you :) Best, Lindsay

  7. I'm not familiar with Power Point. How do you enter the rectangle sizes in Word? When I tried to make a pattern in Word and created shapes equivalent to the actually fabric sizes, the rectangles were huge and took up the entire document. When I zoomed out to 10%, the document was so small that I could not work with it. I must be missing something...???

    1. Ok, so if you can use Power Point, you should do that. If you are familiar with Word, you should be able to navigate and do the few things you need to for this project.
      What I did not realize, is that if you use Word, you can not go outside the page width to arrange your squares. And the widest that you can make the page is 22", which is not big enough. If you must use word, you will have to make your squares some fraction of their actual size - which makes the math sound even more mind boggling to me! But, you could do a combination of Word and drawing it out on paper to check your work.
      In Powerpoint, you can go well outside the page width, and have plenty of space to arrange things, making your squares actual size.
      Good luck!

  8. I found your t-shirt quilt tutorial today. I really like your completed quilt you show here and would like to mimic it. I'm not great with sewing or math but want to attempt to make my son one. Do you have the measurements on a chart or list still? It's a little rude to ask since you went through so much work, but in my mind I could prepare and cut my t-shirts to fit those measurements that you did exactly and it would turn out similar in layout and size. It would spare me re-doing what you've done. Does that make sense? To be honest I'm sure I could do what you did. So I'm hoping to just copy. Is that fair to ask? I can see that information for one of the other quilts you've made, but I like the size of the first one a little more. I'm totally looking for a free ride here if you happen to have that info and are willing.:) Thanks so much.

    1. :) Thanks for your honesty. I'm happy to share what I've got. Why don't you email me at craftyladylindsay at gmail dot com and I'll email you a few files that might help.

  9. I love your quilt. I have always made mine with blocks that matched up, but now I'm trying a random-size quilt. My question is: how do you make the seams when the blocks meet in an inside L-shaped corner?

  10. This is so cool. It makes fitting the pieces easier with a plan. Working on creating a couple.

    1. hey Lindsay! loved this post; however, when trying to use power point, it would change the size when I tried to change the shape to 10%??? Can you help me understand?

  11. I found this blog after a long time which is really helpful to let understand different approaches. I am going to adopt these new point to my career and thankful for this help.

  12. This is great! When I did the power point and adjusted the scaling to 10% it changed the height/width. How did you overcome that? I'm still a beginner, and also, how would you draw it out to scale?

  13. Hi Lindsay, I'm relatively novice at quilt making, although I'm more than a basic seamstress. I'm considering making a quilt using varying sized squares too, and I must say, I agree with Rachel, from Mar 17, 2017, who asked for your list of sizes. Are you still willing to share those measurments? I will pay you if need be. I lack the skills to use power point efficiently and would most likely end up doing the configurations by hand. Thank you for your assistance! Sincerely, Deb Krysa

  14. Lindsay - I thoroughly enjoyed reading through this blog - you are amazing! I, too, have been creating t-shirt quilts but have shied away from creating a quilt that was not consistent in the sizes of rows and columns. I have PowerPoint but I do not know how you can tell the size of the square or rectangle you create when you place it within the slide. Can you help? I would very much appreciate it!

    Sharon Costedio

  15. Lindsay - I read through your above replies and do not understand what you mean by set the zoom at 10%. Could you clarify? I believe once I am able to get through that step I will be good to go! Thanking you in advance.

    Sharon Costedio

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