Creating T-shirt Quilts and Beyond Part 1: Getting Started

Creating t-shirt Quilts and Beyond by

Need a great gift for a graduate, newlywed, service member? I’ll break down the process, give you several options, and show you how to get started making a t-shirt quilt.

Originally, I wasn’t sure of the best way to do a t-shirt quilt segment because there's just so much to cover. Because so many of you wrote in wanting information on the technique, I thought I needed to cover it. 

When I worked for a dealer, t-shirt quilts were quite popular--and they've never lost their popularity! The shirts generally reflect hobbies and interests, even places that were visited, making them the ideal pieces for a memory quilt. These are not heirloom quilts, so you don't have to stress over them too much but, for some reason, I know a lot of us are afraid to make t-shirt quilts.

I have a confession. I was afraid to create a t-shirt quilt the first time. Each one I've made presents its own set of challenges as no two t-shirt quilts are the same. I think the fear is that there really isn’t a pattern, so we don't know exactly how they will look in the end.

We are used to following a pattern, following a set of rules. It can be a bit intimidating without them. The nice side of that is that you have complete artistic license. Whatever you want, you can make it work. If you cut something too small, we have a way to fix it. If it's too big, you can always cut it down. You can add sashing or make them without. 

I've seen t-shirt quilts made with as few as four t-shirts. You might be thinking, “How on earth can you make a quilt with only four shirts?” Nancy Zieman did a segment on creating t-shirt clothes and she had a quilt hanging behind her, made from only four shirts. To make the quilt bigger, they filled in with traditional quilt blocks. Mix and match media and mix and match fabrics. The sky's the limit.

1. Wash Shirts

Make sure that the t-shirts are clean and have been washed. When you stack them up, see if they kind of talk to you and tell you what they want you to do with them. Would you believe I've even cut up cheerleading uniforms using this process? You can make quilts out of baby clothes, too.

Determining Block Size for Quilts by

 2. Determine Block Size

Now I like to break down my t-shirts into blocks so that I'm not dealing with the whole quilt all at once. Think in terms of one block at a time. See which has the biggest design because you want all the blocks to be the same size. Sometimes a t-shirt will stand out as the center of attention.

Using a square ruler, this one is 12.5 inches, helps when auditioning the shirt designs. With clothing from children and babies, the squares will be proportionately smaller.

3. Making Necklines Work

 Necklines in t-shirt Quilts by

With this one, when if I try to center it under the ruler, I will end up cutting into the neckline. There are three ways to approach that.

Use the neckline
I've seen t-shirt quilts where they use the neckline. I had to on a few of those cheerleading uniforms because they had such a deep V neck. Just put another piece of fabric behind it. That's why we always, always save all our little pieces of cut t-shirts until we've completed our quilt.

Build up the block

You can also center-trim the design and then add strips of t-shirt or quilt fabric to bring the block up to size.

Just wing it

The third option is where you don't worry about the design being centered in the block and cut it as close to the bottom edge of the neckline as possible. It's okay to not have everything perfectly squared. Anything goes!

The same cutting guidelines apply to any printing on the back of the shirts. You may find that many of the shirt designs will work better with a larger sized block. If logos are too large for the size you choose, you can always make it a double sized block. 

4. Logos and Sleeves

 Using Sleeves in t-shirt Quilts by

Smaller logos found on pockets or left chest can be combined with other shirt pieces to create blocks. Sleeves often contain enough fabric for a block on their own, and interesting accents, like stripes, can be useful.

Avoid using any part of the armpit for obvious reasons. :)

5. Cutting Shirts

When it comes to cutting up your shirts, you can use standard scissors or a rotary cutter. Don’t worry if your cut lines are not straight, you will straighten them up when you cut out the actual blocks.

Making t-shirt Quilts by

Start by cutting off the sleeves.

Making t-shirt Quilts by

Then, right along the shoulder seam.

Making t-shirt Quilts by 

Open up your t-shirt and fold it in half the opposite direction. Smooth it out. Cut down the middle here (centered with the cutout arm holes). Keep the back and the sleeves together until you have your blocks figured out.

6. Adding Interfacing

 Interfacing t-shirt Quilts by

Because t-shirt fabric is stretchy, it needs stabilized. Now that the shirt is flat, it’s easier to handle and iron on Pellon P44F fusible interfacing. It is very fine and doesn’t affect the hand of the fabric. (Note: This is a great place to use your steam press if you have one!)

Do not touch the logos or anything that's been silk-screened on the t-shirt with a hot iron because it will melt. Use a pressing cloth if you're ironing the top of your t-shirt. Don’t bother fusing extra sleeve or back pieces until you know that you need them.

 Making t-shirt Quilts by

I cut a section of fusible the width of the bolt and centered it over the back of my t-shirt fabric. Put the bumpy side next to the wrong side of the t-shirt, use a pressing cloth with a lot of steam, and press for about ten seconds in each section. I generally steam sections in place and then iron the entire surface.

I don’t trim interfacing until I cut the blocks to size. That way, if I need to add fabric to an area that was too short on interfacing, I can overlap interfacing for the length I need.

Gather up your shirts and get them ready. You can watch the video here. Check back next time for part two!

May your day be blessed with perfect stitches and GlitterFlex!!

Creating t-shirt Quilts and Beyond by


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  • Bonnie Welsh - May 13, 2019

    Juanita—I’m so glad you’re finding my blog post helpful! Once you’ve created your first t-shirt quilt, you’ll want to make more. I find it so much fun to create as I go—let those creative juices run wild! =)

  • Juanita Larson - May 12, 2019

    Making my first Tshirt quilt. Your directions are fantastic and really clear. Thanks.

  • Bonnie Welsh - May 02, 2019

    Bonnie—For whatever reason, cutting into the first t-shirt seems to be the hardest. But once you get started it’s SOOOOO much fun!!! I love making old stuff into something new—don’t you? =)

  • Bonnie Addison - May 01, 2019

    Great, with your information I should be able to create a t-shirt quilt. Look forward to next step. Thank you Bonnie

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