How To Make A T-Shirt Quilt: For Dummies

Good morning everyone!  As many of you know from my posts on Facebook, I finished my t-shirt quilt!  It took a lot of time and patience, but it was so worth it!  Several of you have been asking how I did it, so I wanted to write a blog post, with step-by-step instructions.  When I was making mine, I used other people’s blog instructions for clarification, but many of them were confusing or only geared towards experienced sewers!  So that made them difficult to follow sometimes, and I ended up having to ask the employees at Joann Fabrics for help.  But they, along with the blogs and tips from my mom who used to sew a lot, I managed to put mine together with few mishaps! Image Let’s get started!  I’m going to tell you exactly what I did for mine, although there are a few variations that you could do.  I just found this way to be the simplest and easiest.  In this tutorial, I’m going to assume that you know the very basics of sewing.  Like, how to thread the machine and how to line things up evenly. Supplies: -30 shirts -2.5 yards fleece (you only use about 2 yards, but I would buy extra just in case you mess up) -8 yards extra wide single fold bias tape (they come in 3 yd. packs at Joann’s, so buy 3 packs) -10 yards apparel interface material (it’s really thin, the thinnest interfacing you can get at Joann’s) -iron and ironing board -thread that matches the fleece -thread that can be used to sew the shirts together like black, grey, or white (it won’t really be seen unless you mess up!) -thread that matches the bias tape -good scissors for cutting (I recommend the brand Fiskar’s) -PINS!  Tons and tons of pins.  Your entire quilt depends on your use of these pins. Instructions: 1. Pick out 30 t-shirts.  I only used 26 I think, because I used both the back and front of a few shirts.  But basically, you need 30 different pieces of shirt for the quilt squares. 2. Lay out the shirts in a 5 x 6 fashion that is appealing to the eye and take a picture of it. Image 3. Cut out your shirts in the correct sized quilt square you want.  Use a piece of cardboard as your guide, and trace the cardboard onto every shirt and cut them out.  I actually used two different sized squares – the shirts in the 2nd and 5th row are shorter than the other rows but they are the same horizontal width.  I did this because of the design on the shirt was small, although having two different sizes did make it a big more tricky and in retrospect I shouldn’t have done it.  So, use one piece of cardboard in a size that you like, and stick with it! *Edit on 1/21/15: I now use a piece of clear fiberglass from Home Depot that I cut with box cutters to be the size I wanted.  It’s much easier to use than the cardboard because the shirt sizes are more consistent and I can see through the glass to make sure I’m centering the logo!  In addition, during this step, I don’t cut the shirts out exactly.  I usually leave a little extra, put the interfacing on (see next step), and then trim them both for a clean edge.  This also saves a ton of time!* 4. Iron on the interfacing to the back of each shirt. Image a.) Lay out a shirt facedown on your ironing board.  I did 2 at a time to speed things up, but 1 at a time is fine. b.) Put the interfacing on top of the t-shirt.  Interfacing has 1 smooth side and 1 bumpy side.  The bumpy side should be facing down, against the t-shirt.  The textured side is actually hundreds of little glue dots that stick to the material once heat is added. c.) With the iron at the highest setting but without any steam (i.e. don’t add water just turn it on), iron the back of the interfacing to the shirt.  Be sure to get the shirt corners really well or else the interfacing will fall off and that’s just annoying. The picture above is what it looked like after I ironed the interfacing on, but before I trimmed out each quilt square. 5. Trim the extra interfacing off each shirt. Image This step is fun because it’s not frustrating or time-consuming – the shirts are now stiff because of the interfacing and it’s so easy to trim them.  Enjoy doing this, because it’s going to get difficult pretty soon! Now you have 30 beautiful fabric squares and it’s time to sew! 6. Sew the horizontal rows of the squares together. Here is where your pins come in handy. a.) Take your first two squares in the top row and lay them side by side. b.) Flip the square on the right on top of the square on the left, so that the “right” sides of both shirts are touching each other. c.) Pin along the right side of the square, going through both layers of fabric.  Open up the fabric to double check that each shirt is where it should be (i.e. not upside down and pinned together on the correct side). d.) Sew along these pins.  I used the presser foot of the machine as my guide, so it was about an 1/8″ seam.  Make sure to take out each pin before you sew over it or else the needle in the machine will bend or break and that’s not good. e.) repeat this process, adding onto your two connected squares until you have completed the top row of your quilt. f.) repeat for each of the six rows. 7. Iron the seams in every row open.  Use your pins to hold the seams down and make them nice and flat.  Be careful not to burn the interfacing off and don’t melt your pin heads.  Basically, I used the tip of the iron and carefully flattened each seam.  Yes, it’s very tedious, but necessary. Image 8. Sew the 6 rows together. a.) Take the top two rows. b.) Flip the second row on top of the first row so you’re looking at the back of the second row squares. c.) Pin along the long bottom edge, doing your best to line up both layers of squares.  If you look at my completed picture, I’m sure you can see that mine aren’t perfect but it’s hardly noticeable. Image d.) Repeat for the middle 2 rows, and the bottom 2 rows.  So now you should have 3 bigger pieces, 2 x 5 each.  In the picture above, only the top two rows are connected. e.) Put together the three large pieces using the same process as before (i.e. flipping the second piece onto the top, pinning and then sewing.) Congratulations!  You now have your quilt squares all sewn together! Image 9. Iron the rest of the seams open.  It’s like Step #7, except do the long horizontal seams. Image This is what the back of my quilt looked like before I ironed down the horizontal rows. 10. Put fleece flat on ground.  Place your quilt on top, making sure both layers are as smooth as possible. 11. Find the middle two vertical columns.  Pin down both these two seams.  So in mine, it was the left and right sides of the shirt starting with the blue Africa shirt, then going down to the yellow pickle shirt, then the black and red orchestra shirt, and so on.   When attaching the fleece, you always want to start in the longest middle part and work your way out so it remains as flat as possible, but since there are an even number of vertical lines, pin the two middle at the same time. 12. Sew along these vertical lines. Image This is where your job gets super frustrating and time-consuming, because you have to adjust the material about every five seconds.  You don’t want it to get too heavy or stretched in one direction or else the quilt won’t lay flat on the fleece and it’ll be all distorted.  Fleece is stretchy, so be careful! Repeat the pinning and sewing process for each vertical row.  There’s 4 total. 13. Pin and sew along the horizontal rows in the same fashion as in Step #12.  Start with the centermost row and do that first, then work your way to the outside. Now the back of your quilt should have a very nice grid on it!  And your quilt for the most part should be connected to the fleece, except for the edges. Image In this picture you can see the pretty grid!  Doing all this also adds nice thickness to the quilt overall. 14. Cut off the excess fleece around the outside so that all the edges are flush.  Again, pin everything beforehand so both layers stay nice and flat. Image 15. Keeping the pins around the entire outside edges, sew a 1/8″ seam around the entire quilt. Image As you can see from the picture, I did each edge separately, then turned the quilt around and did the next edge.  Don’t forget to pull the pins out before you sew over them. 16. Now it’s time for the last part – the bias tape!  Take your bias tape and fold it equally around the outside edges, with half of it on the bottom and half on the top so it covers up all the ragged t-shirt and fleece edges.  It’s tricky to make it even the entire way, but just be patient and you can do it! 17. Sew the bias tape onto the quilt.  As much as you can, sew along the inside edge of the bias tape to create a nice rounded edge on all sides of the quilt. Image Congratulations!!  You finished! Image Now go show off your creation to your friends and family, and be warm!