Making a T-Shirt Quilt: Prepping Materials

I think it’s safe to say that every American home has at least one box, drawer, or closet shelf stuffed with screen-printed t-shirts too outdated to wear and too sentimentally charged to throw out.

If you are like me then you have also not reached the point in your life where Goodwill or homemade rags seem like an appropriate fate for your beloved t-shirts. Instead, a few dedicated hours and a trip to the fabric store hold the ultimate solution—

The T-Shirt Quilt.

Before I attempt to change your life and linen closet with the most useful DIY project there ever was, here’s the full disclosure: I am not a professional seamstress or quilter. Whew, glad we got that out of the way! If you found another way that works best for you please share! This explanation is meant to help those of you that haven’t made a t-shirt quilt before (á la – beginner) and do not want to shell out $600 to have it professionally done.

So if you’re in, let’s get busy!

Phase 1 – Organization/Prep

1.  Lay out the shirts you’d like to include in the quilt. Don’t worry about arrangement just yet.

 

2.  Find the shirt with the most embellishment or largest design. For this project we are going to use the same size template for every shirt because it makes measuring and assembling so much easier.

3.  With your ruler measure how wide and how tall the design is on this shirt. Whichever side is largest, add 1 inch for seam allowances. Remember, we’re going to make squares, so if the design on your championship baseball shirt measures 10” wide by 14” high we’ll want to make a square that is 14” (longest side) +1” (seam allowance) for a t-shirt square that is 15” x 15”.

I find that this size (15” x 15”) is pretty typical for most shirts, but it’s okay if you’re using shirts with prints that don’t fill up this block. You can use smaller squares, larger squares, or rectangles, just be sure to adjust your own measurements as the ones provided in this guide are for 15” x 15” squares.

4.  Decide whether or not you’d like to include sashing (a band of fabric that will separate each row and column) in between each shirt.

Pros:

  • Adds a more finished look.
  • Makes the quilt larger if you’re low on shirts or just want a bigger quilt.

Cons:

  • Requires more fabric.
  • A few extra steps and more measuring.

For me, the pros of sashing outweigh any cons, especially since our quilt is going to be laid out in rows and columns and will have a geometric look to it. If you do skip the sashing I’ll let you know which steps to omit. 🙂

5.  By this point you should have an idea as to how you’d like your quilt to look. Your t-shirts should already be lying on a flat surface or, in my case, your living room floor. Play around with the size until you find something you like. We’re just focusing on overall length and width right now; don’t worry if the colors or designs aren’t perfectly laid out yet!

6.  Below you’ll see 2 size charts for a quilt composed of 15” x 15” squares. The first chart is with sashing; the second chart is without sashing. Like I said, you can play around with whatever arrangement you’d like, but the white boxes are the most aesthetically appealing quilt sizes.

Quilt dimensions that fit a typical bedding size are also indicated. For example, if your quilt needs to cover a queen size bed you’ll want to make a 5 x 6 (30 shirts) or 6 x 7 (42 shirts) quilt with sashing, or a 7 x 8 (56 shirts) quilt without sashing.

Note: These dimensions reflect the final size of a quilt with ½” seam allowances, 3” of sashing, and 1 ½” binding.

Note: These dimensions reflect the final size of a quilt with ½” seam allowances, no sashing (i.e. the shirts are sewn directly to each other), and 1 ½” binding.

 

7.  Now that you know the final dimensions of your quilt we can make the shopping list for our materials and supplies!

 

Materials

  • Iron-On Interfacing
    • For a 20” wide bolt, multiply 15” x # of shirts
    • Divide this number by 36” (one yard)
    • I’m using 20 shirts and bought 8 ½ yards of interfacing
  • Quilt Batting
    • You’ll need one solid piece for the entire quilt. I suggest buying a precut and prepackaged bag such as Quilters Dream Poly. These bags come in bedding size so find your quilt dimensions and move up to the next closest size.
    • For my 5 x 4 quilt I used Twin.
  • Spool of Thread
    • One spool will be plenty! Be sure to buy thread the color of your sashing and binding, or at least something close.
  • Embroidery Thread
    • We’re going to hand tack the quilt when we are done, so choose a color that either matches your sashing or matches the backing fabric. I chose black to match my sashing. One small skein (we won’t use more than a yard or 2) will be more than enough!
  • Patterned or Solid Backing for the Backside of Your Quilt
    • You can use any plain cotton fabric for this, but I like to stick to calico fabric as it makes a prettier quilt.
    • Most bolts of fabric come in 45” or 60” widths. The largest (and usually for quilting) comes in 108”. If the smallest side is of your quilt is larger than 108” you will have to piece the back together and you will have a seam.
    • Determine what size bolt (width) you will need based on your smallest side.
      • For my 5 x 4 quilt I needed a 54” bolt (the fabric is folded in half to really be 108” wide).
    • The yardage you purchase will be based on your largest/longest side. Final quilt length ÷ 36” = yardage needed (round up).
      • My quilt will be 84” long ÷ 36” = 2.33 or roughly 2 ½ yards.
  • Solid Fabric for Sashing and Binding
    • The sashing and binding should be the same fabric. Solid cotton works, and looks, best. I chose black as it is cohesive and looks really sharp. A typical 45″ bolt of fabric will be plenty.
      • No sashing?
        • One yard of a solid fabric for binding will be enough for even the largest quilt. You may have some left over.
        • If you’re not using sashing you can skip to the supplies list!
    • For any quilt OTHER than a 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 7×6, 7×7, 7×8, 8×6, 8×7, or 8×8:  Take the longest side of your quilt and add 8” for extra allowance. That is how much solid fabric you’ll need.
      • My quilt is 5 x 4 so I would need (84” + 8”) ÷ 36 = 2.56 or roughly 2 ¾ yards of solid black fabric.
    • For quilt sizes 6×6, 6×7, 6×8, 7×6, 7×7, 7×8, 8×6, 8×7, or 8×8: Take the longest side of your quilt, add 8” for extra allowance, and then multiply by 2.
      • If your quilt is a 7 x 6 that would mean you’d need (118” + 8”) × 2 = 252” ÷ 36 = 7 yards
  • Why this much fabric?
    • For Sashing
      • Three inches look best between 15” squares. With ½” seam allowance on each side we’ll need 4” sashing strips.
      • Whichever side of the quilt is longest (width or length) is how much yardage you will need for just the sashing.
    • For Binding
      • I want a finished edge on my quilt, and binding will do that. One and ½ inch of binding on either side will be enough to make my quilt look complete.
      • In total, we’ll need 4” strips to allow for ½” seam allowances and enough length to cover the perimeter of the quilt.
    • Total Binding and Sashing
      • Because we are going to use the same fabric for our binding and sashing we only need to purchase one length of fabric.
      •  A 45” bolt of fabric allows for up to eleven 4” strips of fabric.

Supplies

  • Rotary Blade or Good Scissors
  • A rotary blade will make cutting your shirts much easier, but good scissors are a fine alternative.
  • Pinking Shears
  • The zigzag blades help eliminate the shredding of fabric as you move it around. If you don’t already have a pair, you can live without them.
  • Sewing Machine
  • Cutting Mat
  • If you’re using a rotary blade you need to have something to cut on. I made a template out of cardboard as an alternative because I didn’t have one on hand, but it’s definitely worth having.
  • Ruler
  • Tape measures tend to wiggle. I much prefer the straight edge a rule or level provides.
  • Water Soluble Pen/Marker
  • Chalk or eyeliner works too!
  • Straight Pins
  • Iron & Ironing Board
  • Straight Needle
  • For hand stitching the binding.
  • Embroidery Needle
  • For tacking the final project together.

Personally, I think organization is the most complicated part! Now that we have planning out of the way give yourself a pat on the back, take a leisurely trip to the fabric store, and meet me for Phase 2 – Putting the Pieces Together!