Monday, April 16, 2012

How to make a T-shirt Quilt, the Cotton Cellar Way!

After posting the pictures of the T-Shirt quilt I just finished, I received an interesting question in the comments section:

Jean asked:

Stupid question. Did u use interfacing on the underside? If so, what kind? Fusible? Sew in?

First of all, your question is not at all stupid, Jean - it's a very good question! In fact, I thought it deserved more than just a quick one line reply, so I've decided to answer it here in a blog post devoted just to answer your question.

Yes - I definitely use interfacing on the back of the T-shirts. I use Pellon 906F Sheerweight Fusible. It's the lightest weight I can find, which is perfect because while you want to stabilize the stretchy t-shirts, you don't want to add any more bulk than is absolutely necessary, and this one fits the bill perfectly.

Everyone has their own way of making T-Shirt quilts, and there's no right or wrong way - but here's how I make one. Feel free to use or share the information any way you'd like, and I'd love to see how your quilts turn out!

So here's how to make a T-Shirt Quilt the Cotton Cellar way...

Once you've gathered together all your t-shirts (freshly washed, of course!), start by cutting off the neck bands, sleeves and hems, so you're left with a flat piece of fabric. Don't cut away any more than necessary at this point, until you decide what size your blocks are going to be.

Study the graphics on all the shirts, and measure them all to determine which one is the largest design you'll use. You'll probably find that a block size of somewhere around 15"/16" is about right for large adult shirts - maybe 12"/13" if the shirts are kids size.

Now cut squares of interfacing slightly larger than your largest graphic. An inch or two bigger is fine. Fuse the interfacing to the back of the rough-cut shirts, centering the interfacing under the design as closely as possible. You don't have to be real accurate because you'll be trimming them to size after fusing. This way you have a good solid fused edge and you can cut the blocks more accurately.

Using a square ruler and a rotary cutter, cut out each of your shirt blocks, keeping the graphic centered. When a block is smaller than your maximum block size, simply add strips of quilting fabric to the four sides to bring it up to match the size of your maximum block. I usually try to keep all my measurements to an even 1" increment, just to make the math easier to calculate, but you could do it all freehand and make them all larger, then trim to size after adding the fabric to the sides. In fact, it might even look cool if you cut them "wonky"! Now there's an idea!

Once your blocks are all made, just add sashing, cornerstones, and a border - if desired.

One important thing to note - if you stretch your t-shirt fabric, you'll find that it's very stretchy from side to side, but not so stretchy from top to bottom. The interfacing also stretches more across the grain, than it does along the lengthwise grain. It's very important to rotate the interfacing 90 degrees before fusing it to the shirt, so the stretch on both pieces does NOT line up. If the stretch of the shirt is side to side, then you want to place the stretchy dimension of the interfacing top to bottom. This stabilizes the shirt, and minimizes the stretch when sewing. Make sense?

You can quilt a t-shirt quilt like any other traditional quilt. This one was done on a long-arm, and you'll see that she meandered all over the quilt, even through the graphics. This is fine, but remember - if you have to rip out, the needle holes will show in the painted graphics. I was a little nervous about this in this previous t-shirt quilt that I quilted on my domestic sewing machine, so I purposely avoided the graphics and only stitched around them - not through them.But this is all personal preference - you can quilt it any way you'd like. Just like the patterns say - "Quilt as Desired".

I hope this takes some of the mystery out of T-Shirt quilts. They're really not difficult, and if you have any questions, I'd be glad to help if I can - just ask!


  1. Ok. I need to rotate the interfacing! I did one with the 906f and the blocks stretched too much. That's what I missed. Thank you SO very much for answering my question!

  2. Thanks for the tutorial, very informative. Had no idea that interfacing stretches more across the grain, than it does along the lengthwise grain. First time on your blog, I was visiting another blog "I have a Notion" and saw your blog listed on her side bar with the T-Shirt caption, so I clicked and came over. Glad I did. Thanks again.


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