Sunday, July 19, 2015

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial Part 1

I seem to keep getting sucked into making t-shirt quilts.  For my family, for friends who have kids graduating from high school, from random strangers who saw a Facebook post.  Each time I post a picture of a t-shirt quilt, the same questions seem to come up.  So I thought that I would put together a quick tutorial for easy reference.  
First, go to the closet and dig up a pile of t-shirts with sentimental value.  The ones you can't bear to throw out because they remind you of all the special times.  Grab a nice sharp pair of scissors and start cutting.  Trim off the sleeves and necks, and cut straight down the sides to isolate the part of the shirt you want to keep.  Usually this is the front, but it can be the backs or sleeves or pockets.  Set aside the parts you don't want, but don't toss them out quite yet, because you just never know.  
Next, go to the fabric store or hop onto Amazon and find some lightweight fusible interfacing.  This is my favorite kind, it is sheerweight fusible by pellon.  The exact kind isn't important, but it should have adhesive on one side and not be paper backed.  Wonder Under is the kind with fusible on two side and it would NOT work for this project.
Your interfacing should come with directions.  Read these and follow them.  In general though, you heat set using an iron and a damp cloth.
Take one of the shirts you want to use and place it face down on the ironing board with the part you would like in your quilt centered.
Next take a piece of the interfacing bigger than your finished block and place it so that the adhesive side of the interfacing is down on the back side of the shirt.  For this quilt I was making 13 by 13 blocks, so I cut my interfacing about 16 inches or so.  It will be trimmed up later, so bigger is better than smaller.
Take one of the extra backs that you didn't throw away quite yet and get it wet, you can use a spray bottle or take it to the sink and dampen it there.  Move the iron slowly over the surface of the shirt following the time suggested on the directions for your specific interfacing.  Check to be sure the interfacing is well adhered to the shirt.  If you need to, you can turn the shirt right side up and iron some more to make sure it sticks.  Be sure to use the extra shirt back as a pressing cloth though, because a lot of the inks they use on the shirts will melt right off on the iron.  Trust me, cleaning ink off of your iron is no fun at all.
Now that your shirt is stabilized, you are ready to trim it to your desired size.  For the most part, t-shirt blocks will be larger than your standard 12 by 12 quilt block.  I find that a large square up ruler comes in handy.  It certainly isn't necessary though, you can use the lines on your cutting mat as a guide as well.
A word on desired size.  Take a look at all of your shirts, and determine which one has the largest image you want to include in your quilt.  In theory, all of your shirts should be at least as big as that.  A quilt with small children's shirts might only need 12 by 12 blocks.  Most designs though, are larger, so a 14 by 14 or even 16 by 16 block size might work best.  Your shirts do not have to be trimmed to a square.  I have found that 14 by 16 or even 18 is a nice size for capturing larger images on adult sized shirts.  It is easiest if you decide to trim all of your shirts to the same size, but it isn't mandatory.  You can keep a consistent width, but vary the height of the block for each row.
In Part 2 of the tutorial I will talk about design options and layout. 


Deb A said...

Great tutorial. T-shirts are one quilt I have yet to make.

Pat at Bell Creek Quilts said...

I was wondering if you ever sew your tshirt-to-tshirt? and if you do…what seam allowance do you use? Thanks :)

Jeanne said...

Very nice tutorial! I have T-shirt blocks prepared waiting to be sewn together one of these days.

The Joyful Quilter said...

Nice tutorial. You hit all the important parts. Stabilize BEFORE trimming to the desired size is something I learned with my first T-quilt... had to re-size everything. Ugh!

Sheila said...

Hi Angela. I have a question. Do you ever use T-shirts that have thin plastic like iron on images for your T-shirt quilts? As opposed to inked images on T-shirts? Many of the T-shirts my brother has are that kind and I'm not sure they will work for a T-shirt quilt. Thank you in advance. Sheila