It’s here! I’ve finished my first-ever quilt, and I am so proud of this project! It is by no means perfect, but it worked for me and my amateur sewing skills and I think it looks wonderful in its imperfections. (My cats love it, too! They were glued to it during every step in the process…)
I didn’t follow any particular pattern as I made this – I did some research on Pinterest and didn’t find anything or any particular approach that I loved. I knew I had 12 KU Band t-shirts (my husband and I met and fell in love thanks to marching band, and this quilt is here as evidence!), I wanted to include sashing (the red polka-dot stripes in between each t-shirt panel), and I didn’t want anything that took me too far beyond straight-stitching. (I saw patterns where they used t-shirts offset on top of black squares to create a shadow effect – while this was a neat effect, it was a little above-and-beyond for my first go.) I gathered some info from quilting friends and diagrams, and off I went!
To preface these instructions, please know that this is not likely to be the most perfect pattern – I picked the steps I did because they made sense to me, not because I have a PhD in quilting. My measurements were not perfect – I ripped out plenty of stitches and tried to hide my cutting mistakes as much as I could – but it’s good enough for my cats and my home.
If this (and the thoughts of photos taken in the evening with poor light) doesn’t deter you, then read on below for my pattern!
DIY T-Shirt Quilt Instructions
You will need:
T-shirts (I picked 12)
Fabric for sashing (stripes between shirts)
Fabric for backing of quilt
Interfacing for t-shirts (I used iron-on) to keep the t-shirts from stretching while sewing
Quilt batting or fleece of some sort (I used iron-on fleece) to line inside of quilt
Thread to match your fabric
Iron (if you chose iron-on interfacing/fleece) & tea towel or light material to guard t-shirt ink while you iron (mine started to smudge!)
Scissors (or better yet, a rotary cutter! This was a life-saver – it’s like a pizza cutter that cuts fabric.)
Highly recommended by technically not necessary is a quilting square – I purchased a 12×12 (measures 12 1/2 on the outer edges for seam allowances) transparent quilting square to help cut my t-shirts into perfect squares. Again, another life-saver!
Decide on numbers. Choose how many t-shirts you will use – my 12 t-shirts made a throw blanket that would not completely cover a twin bed – the more shirts you use, the bigger your blanket. Also, pick how large you want to cut your t-shirts – I purchased a 12×12 inch quilting square to help me cut my shirts and decided (randomly) to go with 3″ of sashing in between each shirt and along the border of the outside.
Using your measurements, draw a diagram to help you figure out how much square footage of fabric you’ll need and divide down to find out how many yards of fabric you’ll need.I purchased 2 yards of fabric for sashing, 4 yards of fleece iron-on interfacing*, 4 yards of blue fabric for the back of the quilt.
*In retrospect, this should have been 2 yards of normal interfacing rather than fleece to line the shirts and 2 yards of the fleece interfacing. My quilt ended up being twice as thick and it made my machine a little unhappy at the end, but it worked.
Pre-wash all t-shirts and fabric to eliminate extra shrinkage/stretching.
Cut your t-shirts & interfacing to your desired size. Using my quilting square, I cut each of my t-shirts to 12 1/2 x 12 1/2 (my quilting square has an extra blue edge that adds 1/4 inch to each side) and cut an equal amount of interfacing pieces to match. I should have been using normal interfacing rather than iron-on fusible fleece interfacing for this, so my shirts were a little thicker going into the sewing stages. Iron your interfacing to your shirts, keeping a tea towel or other cloth between your hot iron and your t-shirt ink – you don’t want it to run or smudge.
Cut strips of sashing to run along one side of each of your t-shirt panels. My pieces were 3 x 12 1/2 to match the length of my shirts.
Sew your sashing strip to one side of your panels. For each t-shirt, choose one side to sew your sashing to – make sure you pick the same side for all shirts or you’ll be piecing things together. I chose the right side of each panel. Face the right sides together and sew using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Repeat for all t-shirts.
Right sides facing on other.
After sewing, sashing piece is pictured open.
Take a break and lay out your panels to adore your work so far! You can also start to decide what order you want your panels to lay in – I had a bunch of colors of shirt to work with and wanted it to look balanced.
Sew your t-shirt panels into rows. Face the right sides together of your panels, pin as needed, and sew together with 1/4 inch seam allowance – continue and repeat until you finish a row. Repeat with the rest of your panels to form rows.
Cut long strips of sashing to run in between your rows. Measure the length of each row and allow for some wiggle room – at least a couple of inches. For me, this meant cutting 53 x 3 inch strips to line the bottom of each row.
Sew your sashing to the bottom of each row. As you did before, face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Sew each combination of sashing/row to one another to create your almost-finished front of your quilt. Now it will start to take shape! Starting at the top, take the top two rows and face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew, using a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Cut longer strips of sashing to complete the outside edges of your front panel. Measure the outside edges of the top and left of your quilt sides and add several inches to your total – also, make sure that you allowed for 3″ around the edge of the quilt to match the other outer edges.
Sew your sashing trim to the outside of your front panel and trim edges. As before, face right sides together, pin as needed, and sew with 1/4 inch seam allowance. After all sashing has been sewn to your quilt, spread it out flat and trim any extra pieces that are hanging out or that look rough. One side of my quilt ended up off-kilter with itself – I decided just to trim this to gradually taper to the correct width.
After trimming – rough edge!
Measure and cut your back panel(s). My quilt was too wide to accommodate 45″ fabric widths (the typical width of fabric you purchase), so I needed to piece two panels together to create one big piece. Unfortunately, I didn’t write these measurements down to share with you – they should reflect the total measurements of your quilt front. I knew I was going to have a rough edge with the off-kilter right side of my quilt that I trimmed earlier – I went ahead and ignored that as I cut my back panel and I’m fine with the back panel showing a bit around the edge after finishing.
Sew your back panels together. Allowing a 1/4 inch seam, I sewed my two back panels together to create one giant full panel for the back of my quilt.
Cut your quilt batting/fleece interfacing to the size of your back panel(s).As I reflect on this, you could have done this step one of two ways – the way I have described it here, or having cut and attached the fleece to the two back panels and then stitched them all into one big panel. That might’ve been easier to maneuver and manage, but this way worked, too. Using the same measurements as before, cut your iron on fleece interfacing to match your back panels.
Iron on your fleece interfacing to your back panel(s). I’m not sure how you would use regular quilt batting in terms of sewing this to your back panel – I used iron-on, so I pressed the interfacing to the back panels and didn’t have to worry about stitching.
Sew your front panel to your back panel. Start by facing your front panel to your back panel, right sides facing each other. Carefully pin around all the edges and pick a corner to keep un-sewn – you’ll sew almost all the way around and leave around 8-10 inches open so you can reach in and pull the quilt inside out. (Or, technically, right-side in, since it’s being sewn inside out.) Sew with a 1/4 inch seam allowance.
Turn quilt inside-out. When you’re done sewing, snip the corners so the corners won’t bunch when you turn it inside out. Reach in and pull the quilt inside out, and admire! You’re so close!
Hand-stitch corner of the quilt closed. I know you can machine-sew this somehow, but I’m not confident in my ability to stitch in a way that hides the stitches, so I hand-stitched the open corner closed.
Anchor front and back of quilt to each other. Let me start with what I tried, which may or not work for you (and didn’t work for me initially).I decided to “stitch in the ditch” to anchor the front of my quilt to the back – I didn’t want repeated washes to overly-separate the two pieces and create gaps. However, having used two layers of fleece (hopefully you’ll use one layer of fleece and a layer of thin interfacing, so you won’t have this problem) made my quilt pretty thick and it tried to fight with my machine a bit as I was stitching. I used some red thread (to match the sashing) to attempt to sew a straight line through the center of my sashing, and the thickness and some slight variance in measurement of my back panel and front panel (they didn’t exactly line up) meant that I had some bunching issues – some really obvious, but most I can overlook. I’m going to go back and tear out one of my lines of stitching to try to remedy this.
If you’re pretty comfortable that your front and back are exactly the same size and won’t pull as you stitch, then go ahead and try this method – with my thickness of quilt and mismatch front and back (just by half an inch or so), I probably should have just put in a couple of small darts by hand in the corners of my t-shirts and not sewn across the whole quilt. But hey, it’s a small problem to have, and stitches can always be torn out (albeit with much effort).
Crack a bottle of wine, curl up with your new quilt, and enjoy!