Monday, January 3, 2011

No Need for Plain White T's

Kicking off the new year with a major DIY project!  I made my t-shirt quilt two summers ago (before I had this blog!) so there are no photos of that time, but I'll try to document the best I can.

I have tons and tons of t-shirts, and I hate throwing them away.  In my first quilting foray ever, I ambitiously decided to make this.  The hardest part was cutting up my t-shirts... some of which I've had since elementary school!  I took 20 shirts that I'd had from high school and even further back - from homecoming, powderpuff, and lots of track shirts.  It was a pretty lengthy project, but definitely doable.

My t-shirt quilt is a bit unique since I also wanted to incorporate the backs of shirts.  I had some really great ones like our senior class shirt which had a great "You know you're in the class of '07 when..." which almost doubled the time my quilt took.  A lot of t-shirt quilts I've seen just has a plain solid back.  Also, I border-ed my shirts, which also took a while, and instead of using a straight border (butted border in quilterspeak), I used a diagonal border (mitered border in quilterspeak), which I had to figure out how to do.

Before you start your quilt, you should decide:

  1. how many shirts you want to use
  2. the type of borders and how thick they will be
  3. whether you want to use the back of shirts also
This is a pretty lengthy project, but as long as you are patient and can sew in a straight line, you can do it.

To create your own t-shirt quilt:
Items needed:
- t-shirts (I used 20 in mine)

- a rotary mat
- a rotary cutter (I used Olfa rotart mats/cutters and they worked well for me!)
- quilter's square* that's a size 12.5in x 12.5in - you can get these (and most of the quilting supplies) on for pretty cheap
- lots of thread (I just used white thread for mine)
- a sewing machine
- fusible interfacing - for each square in your quilt you'll need 12.5 square inches - you'll need this for each t-shirt square, so if you use the back of shirts also, you'll need interfacing for this
- fabric for the borders
- batting
- iron
- calculator (to determine how much fabric and interfacing you need to purchase)
- pen and paper
*I did NOT use a quilter's square for my quilt and it definitely would have saved me a ton of time if I had one of these!

To calculate the fabric and interfacing needed:
This is tricky.  Fabric and interfacing come in different widths depending on the manufacturer.  Most fabric comes in 44" width, but some comes in 60", 45", 36", etc.  It also, obviously, depends on the type of borders you want (if any!) and the number of shirts you're using.  You will probably need to draw this out.
Interfacing: will be of different weights - you don't need the heavy weight, just the medium or even light weight will be fine.
Mitered borders: click to zoom, but this will give you an idea of how much fabric you need.  NOTE: some people make mitered borders without cutting their borders into a trapezoid; instead they use extra long rectangles and iron the corners down, then sew.  This may be easier, but it also involves a bit of fabric waste. The angles will be 45-degree IF the borders are the same width all around.
Butted borders: this is pretty straight forward, but you'll need to cut out rectangles and sew them to create your borders.  Butted borders can also become more complicated depending on your plan.
Regardless of the type of borders you're using, you'll need to draw them out on a sheet of paper to determine how many yards of fabric you'll need to buy.

Time: it took me the entire summer to make, but I also had a full-time job.

Cost: I had never done any quilting before so I didn't have any of the rotary equipment needed.  My costs were about $100 with all the quilting equipment, fabric, interfacing, and batting.


  1. Lay out your t-shirts and decide what order you want them to be in.
  2. Take a picture.  (Trust me, this will be helpful!)
  3. Lay out your rotary mat and place your t-shirt on top of it.  Be sure to only cut through one layer - you can place the rotary mat between the front and back of the t-shirt if you want.
  4. Position your quilter's block where you want the square to be.  Remember that .25 inches on each side will not be visible due to the seams.
  5. Press the quilter's block down (you'll need to apply a lot of pressure!) and use your rotary cutter.  Always cut away from your body!
  6. Cut out interfacing squares - enough to match up with all the t-shirt squares you cut.
  7. Iron the interfacing to the back of the t-shirt squares.
  8. Cut out all your border pieces.
  9. Sew them accordingly.
  10. Sew all the squares together as shown in step 2.
  11. Sew the final border onto the rectangle full of your t-shirts.  (If you decided to have a border.)
  12. Cut out your batting to be a little smaller than your final blanket - you want it to be maybe half an inch smaller on every side.
  13. Sew the front and back together (same sides together) and put your batting in the blanket.
  14. Finish up the seams.  I sewed a border around the t-shirt part of my blanket.
This project definitely took a lot longer than I had expected but I'm really happy with how it turned out.  If you have questions and want to ask, feel free to leave them in the comments and I'll try to explain it the best I can!


  1. Hey, thanks for the tutorial! I've seen these before but never considered making it myself. I sure have enough old t-shirts lying around that I can't part with but don't wear :)

  2. I've always wanted to make one of these! I have so many old t-shirts lying around that I hardly ever wear but can't bear to part with. Thank you for the tutorial; hopefully I'll get around to taking on this task sometime in 2011!

  3. Thanks for posting this. I would love to do this one day. Most of my t-shirts are gray or navy, so it won't be as colorful unfortunately.

  4. no problem all! i definitely want to see your pictures if you try your hand at this!

    @sunnygurl, you can add color with the borders - i'm thinking of making another one with my shirts from university. our colors are navy and grey so all of my shirts will be this color too :)

  5. i've been wanting to do this because i have a kajillion tee shirts. thanks for the tutorial k-dawg!