T-Shirt Quilting BASICS! {Tutorial}

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS

I have been t-shirt quilting for a few years now. I love {LOVE} making quilts that preserve the memories that I have made through my t-shirts. Although I DO make t-shirt quilts as a means of income for my family… I wish somebody had broken down the basics for me when I was first starting out.

There are a lot of things involved with making t-shirt quilts. So – this post is just the first few tips & tricks that you need to know when doing your first t-shirt quilt. Also – not everyone’s method is exactly like mine. So – find what works for you! The content in this post is simply the method that works best for me!

BEFORE I BEGIN: I suggest to pre-wash EVERYTHING (except the batting and thread) prior to using it in your quilt. Even pre-wash those t-shirts that you have probably already washed 3000 times in your life. It is always better to be safe than sorry! 

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

This is one of the [emotionally] hardest parts of making your very first t-shirt quilt. Because although you are SO excited about making a memory quilt… letting go of those t-shirts can be tough! A couple of things that I suggest that you think about when you’re choosing which t-shirts to put into your quilt are:

  • Colors. Although multi-color t-shirt quilts are super adorable… you may want something more uniform in color. Either way – this is the time you decide!
  • Quilt Layout. Look at each logo and the size of your t-shirts. Here’s a quick tip: the smaller the shirt, the smaller you will have to cut the logo. The larger the shirt, the bigger variety of size options you will have when creating your layout. So — although ALL t-shirts are welcome in memory quilts – if you have 5 Large t-shirts and 3 extra small t-shirts… it might cause difficulties in getting a symmetrical pattern. Just something to think about.
  • Sashing  & Border Color. The colors of the t-shirts you choose in your quilt make a HUGE difference in what sashing and border you use. {See Pictures Below}

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

In this t-shirt quilt that I made, I wanted to have a completely red and black theme. It just so happened that I did not have ANY red t-shirts — which worked out to my advantage BIG time! I was able to put red sashing between the t-shirts and tie the red and white striped binding in perfectly.

In this t-shirt quilt that I made for my cousin, she had a whole rainbow of t-shirt colors. HOWEVER — it worked out PERFECTLY because she wanted gray sashing in between the t-shirts.

I have been asked {many many times}, “How many t-shirts would it take to make a _____ size quilt?” (Whatever size they were interested in would have been put in that blank.)

My answer is that it just depends. You can make it work with however many t-shirts you want to use for whatever size quilt you are trying to make. There is not a magic number! You can always tweak your layout, sashing size, border size, and quilt size to accommodate however many t-shirts you want to use!

However — let me say this.

Although you can make it work with however many t-shirts you want, I prefer working with MORE t-shirts instead of LESS. I think memory quilts are supposed to be super busy and involved. So, {in my opinion}… more is better!

So, it is important to think through what YOU want from your quilt when picking out t-shirts to use. There is a solution for ALL t-shirt combinations! You just have to think about what is important to you in your quilt!

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

After you choose your t-shirts, sit down and measure each logo. Here is a list of supplies that I use when I do this:

  • Paper
  • Pencil/pen
  • Highlighter
  • Ruler
Check out my template for t-shirt quilt measurements HERE.
Start on the left hand side of the template. 

1. Simply write down the name of the t-shirt. Just write something that will help you remember which t-shirt the measurements are for. When you’re taking all of this time to measure the logos on your t-shirts, the last thing you want to do is get confused about which measurement is for which logo. So — make sure you name it!

2. Make a note about whether that particular logo is from the front or back of that t-shirt. This is almost just as important in the recording process as step #1 is. Many t-shirts that I have worked with have had MULTIPLE logos throughout the t-shirt. So, writing down where the logo that you are measuring is located will help stay organized! You can even write “pocket”, “right sleeve” or “left sleeve”, etc. if there are logos in those spots! 

3. Use your ruler to measure & record the MAXIMUM width and height that you could cut your t-shirt logos. For this step, you’re going to want to keep your logo in the center of your measurement. That means, if you’re measuring the height of the logo and it is four inches from the collar… then make sure you use only four inches from the bottom of the logo as well. If you just simply measure how big the t-shirt is on all sides… you will end up with a very lopsided and off-centered logo. Measure what you think is possible all while keeping the logo in the center.  Remember to make sure that you keep in mind a seam allowance for later! 

4. Use your ruler to measure & record the MINIMUM width and height that you could cut your t-shirt logos. When you measure the minimum, give each logo AT LEAST 1 INCH on all sides! It is very important that you do not just simply measure the logo without any t-shirt included. Think about it – if you do not add any t-shirt to your logo measurements, you will be sewing ON TOP of your logo! 

5. As you are doing this, highlight the logos that are most important to you and must be included in your memory quilt. I use the highlighter to mark logos that MUST be in the quilt. I leave the ones that are optional colorless. That way, I can add in logos if needed and I make SURE the most important logos are included.

6. Write down what you want each t-shirt logo to end up measuring in the quilt. This step is after you have decided on your layout, etc. Be sure to write it down! Without the final t-shirt measurement, you will get very confused in later steps! 

After you measure all of your logos, examine the t-shirts and come up with a common measurement for the shirts. Which measurements you use COMPLETELY depends on how you want your quilt to look. I have made 100% symmetrical quilts, rectangle t-shirt quilts, and crazy mismatched sized t-shirt quilts. [Here are some photo examples below]

[Symmetrical]
All of the t-shirts are the same width and height and everything is even on all sides.

[Rectangle T-Shirts]
All of the t-shirts are the same width but every single t-shirt has a unique height.

[Crazy mismatched sized t-shirt quilt]
This quilt has all SORTS of sized t-shirts included in it. This was mainly to accommodate that HUGE yellow t-shirt in the top right hand corner and the small logos on the right hand side.

These days — I couldn’t survive t-shirt quilting without my EQ7 software to lay out my quilt design and tweak all of my projects. HOWEVER — there was a time that I DID NOT have EQ7. If this is you, you can simply sketch with pencil and paper! I absolutely LOVE my EQ7 — but sometimes I enjoy the creative simplicity of just sketching the pattern out by hand!

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

 

Take scissors and cut up each side of your t-shirt, cut the sleeves, and the neckline. Basically, take apart the t-shirt. Just cut the bare minimum that you need in order to take the shirt apart. I say the bare minimum because you do not want to cut off too much and not have enough for your quilt!

This next step is not the most tedious of all t-shirt quilting steps. Use your rotary cutter to cut your t-shirts. However, I make sure that no matter what size you decided you wanted each t-shirt to be for your quilt… add ONE INCH EXTRA to all measurements in this step. Why do I do this?! Because it gives me room for accidental mistakes. Sometimes when I am in the cutting mode… I get on “autopilot” and start making mistakes. Simply adding an inch to each measurement allows me to make a mistake without worrying about ruining the entire quilt.

Other than when I am disassembling my t-shirts, I use a cutting mat, rotary cutter, and ruler for this step! It makes it precise and perfect! I have linked all of the products that I use below.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

After cutting my shirts with ONE INCH ADDED TO ALL MEASUREMENTS, I lay the t-shirt pieces on the ground as I want them to be in my quilt.


{As pictured above}, I laid out all of my t-shirts RIGHT next to each other. Don’t worry about the sashing at this point. As long as you make the sashing the same size throughout the quilt — it will only make the quilt BIGGER in the end. I came up with a t-shirt logo combination that made for each column to be perfectly equal.

It is SO important for you to have your t-shirt measurements at this point so that you can refer back to it if you need to trim any of the t-shirts to make the columns equal.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

To me, backing the t-shirts is one of the very most important parts of making a clean and beautiful t-shirt quilt. Take the time (and money) to purchase high quality backing. It will make YOUR life easier when you’re piecing the quilt together. Here is what I use:

Personally, I buy mine by the bolt. However, you can always buy it by the yard! One thing that I LOVE about using fusible interfacing is that when you’re down to the last couple of pieces of interfacing and you still have more t-shirts to back… you can easily piece the scraps together (like a puzzle), iron them down and voila!

One thing I want to be sure to tell you is to be VERY careful during this step. You want to be 100% sure that you are ironing the interfacing to the BACK of the t-shirts. If you accidentally iron it to the front of the t-shirt… it is irreversible (at least, in my experience)

The first time I backed my t-shirts, I got really concerned. The interfacing does makes the soft cozy t-shirts VERY stiff. However — I’m here to tell you (from experience) NOT to worry about that. After a few washes (once your quilt is finished), your t-shirts are back to cozy and soft!

 

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

After you’ve backed all of the t-shirts, refer back to your measurement sheet. Whatever size you decided each t-shirt needed to end up being, add 1/2 A INCH TO THE WIDTH AND HEIGHT. This is your seam allowance.

Be VERY CAUTIOUS and tedious while doing this step. You DO NOT want to cut too much off of your t-shirt! Think it all the way through before you start cutting!

I also highly recommend that you use a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler to do this step. It will make you want to pull out less hair and get a cleaner cut in the end. 

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

I’m not going to elaborate much on this step. The sashing all depends on the design you wanted for your quilt in the beginning. Make sure to choose a color that compliments your t-shirts and overall design. You want your sashing to enhance the t-shirts that are showcased in your memory quilt… not DISTRACT you from them! 
T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!
Okay – so, after my t-shirts are trimmed and ready & my sashing has been cut… I lay EVERYTHING out on the floor. Then, I piece them together {either} one row or column at a time. For some quilts… this is a relatively quick process. However… it can also quickly become daunting! Just be patient and work slowly and steady — you WILL finish!

As you can see in the photo above, this is two rows from the quilt that I made for my cousin. The first t-shirt “cluster” in the top left hand corner had to be pieced before I could move on to the larger pieces.

 

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

THIS step is where many quilters may disagree with my method. I do not even ATTEMPT to pick out a border color until after my quilt top is pretty much completely pieced. There are a few reasons for this.

For one, what I had envisioned in my head prior to piecing the quilt together may not actually look right once the top has been put together.

Another reason why I wait is to MAKE SURE that the color {if I’m doing a solid color} matches the quilt.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

Borders make a HUGE difference — EVERY TIME. So, make sure you are SURE about the border you choose prior to putting it on the quilt!

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

I typically ALWAYS choose to match my border on the front of my quilt with the backing. I make it easy — I just use the same color/pattern of fabric! I think it really ties it in nicely.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

Purchasing enough backing fabric is typically a really hard task for me. But — NEVER FEAR! I have a hubby who can calculate exactly how many yards I need. He is usually always right! One tip: the more fabric the better! You’d rather have TOO MUCH backing fabric than NOT ENOUGH! 

Also — be sure to IRON YOUR BACKING after you make it! This will prevent “bubbles” when you are making the quilt sandwich (and ALOT of headaches).

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

There are many different methods of making quilt sandwiches. For me, I find a huge space in my house and do it on the floor. However — if a basting wall is something you’ve used in the past — go for it!

I suggest that you purchase HIGH QUALITY cotton batting (like Warm & Natural) and Quilt Basting Spray. Both of these products are going to make life SO much easier for you!

I always start with spreading my batting out on the floor. Then, I lay my backing on top of the batting. After that, I fold back 1/2 of the backing and spray the batting with the quilt basting spray. Always spray the basting spray on the batting! Lay the backing back over the batting and smooth it out from the middle to the outside. It really is easier with more than one person — my husband almost always assists me in making quilt sandwiches (yes.. he is a wonderful hubby).

Repeat this process for the other half of the backing AND the quilt top.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

I am not going to elaborate much on this step only because there are ALOT of things I could say about quilting your quilt together. I always free-motion my t-shirt quilts. However, you can just as easily straight line quilt it, too! Whatever you are the most comfortable with!

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

On this step you want to make sure that your quilt is SQUARE (or rectangle – depending on the size). Basically — You don’t want it to be lopsided or uneven. My tip for trimming is to figure out how wide you want your border to be. Take your ruler and measure the right length from the seam all around the quilt. You can make little markings to know where to set your rotary cutting ruler. Then just trim it!

This can be one of the most frustrating parts about finishing up the quilt. If you’re a perfectionist (like me)… you will want it to be PERFECT. Just breathe — if you keep working with the quilt then it will eventually be exactly how you want it to be.

T-Shirt Quilting BASICS!

Although I do have plans to write a binding tutorial… THIS is not that tutorial. Binding is frustrating and time consuming. Currently, there are a lot of wonderful tutorials on Pinterest and YouTube for binding quilts. However — stay tuned in to Wee Share for a tutorial in the upcoming months!

Since I am not going to get into the details of HOW to bind a quilt, I want to spend this section of the tutorial talking about the type of binding used on t-shirt quilts. I LOVE STRIPES. I feel as though they add dimension to the quilt and an overall design. However, you can use just about any kind of fabric/pattern for your binding. I prefer to use BOLD and fun designs. WHY? Because t-shirt quilts primarily revolve around the t-shirt logos. Typically the t-shirts are the focal point of the quilt and the sashing is a solid or very faint pattern. With the binding — you can really add some design to a quilt with a bold fabric! Don’t shy away from it – GO FOR THE BOLD!

After your quilt has gone through the previous 14 steps… trim off any “fly away” threads. I ALWAYS have these. After you do that — throw it in the wash! I highly suggest using Shout Color Catchers and Oxy Clean when you’re washing your quilts for the first few times. This will prevent most bleeding that the multicolor materials will cause! 

Phew — that was a super long tutorial. I hope this helped y’all and cleared up some questions you may have about t-shirt quilting! If not — please feel free to comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer any questions that y’all have!!!