T-Shirt Quilting! – How to make an heirloom quilt!


Hi I’m Natalie, from the Missouri Star Quilt Company. I’m not mom! She’s not here today, so, you don’t get to see her cute face. You got me, but that’s fine. We’re going to have a lot of fun together. We’re going to talk about t-shirt quilting. I understand that there’ve been quite a few questions on our forums and our blogs about t-shirt quilts and luckily I’m working on one for my sister. She happens to be a marathon runner so she gets a t-shirt every time she runs a race, which is great. And I have kids who are in t-ball, and soccer, and swim team, and they get shirts every time, every season. You know we have kids that go to concerts. We’ve made t-shirt quilts out of concert shirts. Really there’s a lot of things in life that we get a t-shirt for and what better way to preserve those memories, than by putting them into a quilt.
So, today we’re going to walk you through that step by step. And show you how it’s done from start to finish. It’ll be great! So, to prepare our t-shirts we’re going to want to cut out the part that we’re going to use. So, that means we’re going to cut along these seams right here. We’re going to cut off this part right here and we’re going to cut it down about here. We want to have enough space so that we can trim it up and square it, and so that is how we’re going to prepare these t-shirts. We want to separate the front from the back so that we just have the useable part of the shirt that we want to use in our t-shirt quilt. So I just cut right here along this side seam. It doesn’t have to be pretty you’re going to square it up later, and preferably wash your shirts so your not cutting through stinky armpits and you know, things like that. So, we just cut that off and then we cut it down here a-ways. So, that we can have enough space to square our t-shirt up.

Then I’m going to cut these little side seams, just on the fold. Remember it’s not perfect, this is not the finished product it’s just to prepare the shirt for the fusible stabilizer that we’re going to do in the next step. So then you just have pieces like this, you want to get all your shirts done at once so that just makes the process faster. Alright, so to stabilize our t-shirts we’re going to use this great product it’s a Pellon Fusible Featherweight and you can purchase it by the yard on our website. It comes with directions on this little piece of paper that’s wrapped around it, and you can generally get about two t-shirts per yard if you use small t-shirts you might be able to get three. What we’re going to do is we’re going to just cut off the amount that we need. It’s about a half a yard per shirt and I’m just going to cut it like this. You can rotary cut it if you want. It has, you want to take this away before you start ironing, it has a really soft smooth side and then on the iron on side it has little bumps that you can feel with your fingers. So, that’s how you know which side you want to iron on.

So what I do is I lay my smooth side down on the ironing board and then I put the t-shirt on top of it, and you don’t really want to worry to much about cutting it to an exact size because you don’t want to get this stuff on your iron. It gums it up really bad, and it’s quite a mess if you do that. So, the other thing that you want to worry about is, sometimes, because these shirts are screen printed when you heat them up the ink will smear. So I just use the back of another t-shirt and put it right over the top of it like that. So there’s no, it protects this picture from smearing. It helps out a lot and makes it so that it sticks. And then you just start ironing you want to hold your iron still and let it press for a few seconds in every spot, and you just do this until the whole thing is completely attached, and then you’re done! You move on to the next one! So, we’re just going to press this out and then I’ll show you what we do after that.

OK, so I tend to be kind of impatient and rush through the ironing part but we really want to take your time and make sure that it’s completely attached. You want to press it and hold it and leave it still, and then move it to the next section of the shirt, and you can check it from time to time and see. See, this one is sticking which is really good. That’s what we want. We want it really securely attached because then when you quilt it it’s not going to come apart and separate and cause puckers. Alright, so we get rid of that one and we pull this over to the cutting mat. We can double check, it’s completely attached up here you can see that it’s got a good adhesion. Alright, so I’m going to use my square ruler. This is a 12 1/2″ square and I just kind of eyeball it. I look at it, I see that we’ve got about the same distance on either side, I try to make sure the bottom is lined up straight, and once you feel like the pattern in the middle of the ruler is square and centered, then you just start trimming it. I just make a little cut here, trim up the side. I’m going to slide that over a little bit. Trim it on this side, and then I turn it, and then you have your square. And when you’re done trimming up all of your blocks, what you have here is a block that you can use just like any other quilting fabric. It’s square, it’s stable, it’s not going to stretch, and then you can do whatever you want with them.

You can border each one, you can sash all your blocks, you can do a nine patch next to it, an hour glass. You really can incorporate these into your quilts however you want to do it. It’s completely up to you. For my sisters quilt what I decided to do was border each shirt in a different color, or two opposite colors. I’m using blue and orange, because they tend to be kind of dominant in her shirts. I wanted to pick something that she would like to look at but also enhance the shirts. So, what I did is I took 2 1/2″ strips of fabric, and bordered each one. Half of them with blue and half of them with orange. So then when you’ve got these pieces they join together really easily just like any other quilt. When you add this fabric, the quilters cotton, it stabilizes the quilt a little bit more it makes it so that when you put it on the machine to quilt, it doesn’t have as much stretch. These pieces support the pieces in the middle and it just makes it so much easier.

So I’m going to show you what I’ve got so far. I’ve got, the quilt is coming together really nicely. Can you see that? This piece right here in the middle I want to talk about for a second. She had these little emblems on the front pockets of some of her shirts, and so what I did is I decided that I would put these in, in a four patch, and to make a 12 1/2″ block I cut four 6 1/2″ squares, and then seamed them together. She has a couple of other shirts with long emblems on them, and what I’m going to do for that is cut them into a 12 1/2″ by 6 1/2″ rectangle. Then she’ll have one seam down the center of those. By doing that then they match the rest of the 12 1/2″ blocks, and I think that’s kind of a neat way to incorporate the smaller pieces of the t-shirts. Then she gets to see everything, so, what we’re going to do now is finish, we’re going to finish bordering the t-shirt blocks. We’re going to put the last row on and then we’re going to border it and then you’ll get to see that.

OK, so we’ve got our block and it’s backed and it’s square. What I’m going to do is I’m going to add my 2 1/2″ strips of fabric. So, I’m just going to show you how I do this I’m going to put two strips on either side this way and then I’m going to put the long strips across the front. So, I’m just going to get that done and then we’ll join the blocks together, and we will add the row to the bottom of the quilt. I use a 1/4″ seam just like every other quilting project that I do. That’s always worked out just fine, and I’m kind of taking a little shortcut here rather than precutting my strips. Which you could do you could cut them to 12 1/2″ I’m just going to slice it off and put it on the other side. Cause we take some shortcuts around this place if you haven’t noticed. Alright I’m going to press these out. I’m not going to get the iron on the pattern at all. I’m just going to press these open so that I can sew the other pieces on the ends and it takes about two strips to do one t-shirt.

This one strip is going to fit on three sides so I’ll need that extra second strip to do this long piece right here. So two 2 1/2″ strips with the fabric for each 12 1/2″ t-shirt block, almost done. OK, so we’re just going to finish sewing this block, I’m going to trim it, and press it. Then we’re going to join our three blocks together. So we’re just going to slice this right here. Make sure it’s straight cause that matters. Going to press these edges open being careful not to hit the print, cause we don’t want that to smear. Alright, so I’ve got these three pieces and I’m alternating the colors, so I’m going to do an orange, a blue, and an orange. I’m going to sew these seams down the middle. I’ll do this one first and then this one, and then we’ll join this row to the bottom of the quilt. So meet me back in just a minute and I’ll show you how that’s going to look. OK, so we’ve got our quilt squares sewn together and what we’re going to do next is take these three squares and we’re going to join them to the bottom of this quilt. This is our last row, and it’s important when you alternate your squares that you match up your seams so I’d recommend pinning them right here at the seams and stitching those down so that you don’t have any gaps or any off set seams.

So, then when we’re done with that what we’re going to do is we’re going take it and have it machine quilted, and I just want to show you this one. I put this together for my son. He wanted it done in his school colors. OK, so you can see with this quilt that once your t-shirts are stabilized and they’re made into your quilt top with your other fabric, you can treat it just like any other quilting fabric. You can machine stitch right over it doesn’t generally take away from the pattern. It looks great, it stays together. These are wonderful quilts my kids have certainly enjoyed theirs. So yeah, go out and make a t-shirt quilt for your friends, your graduates, your fathers who have t-shirts from every vacation they’ve been on. You know, really, the possibilities are endless. So, go out and make a quilt and I hope you’ve enjoyed this tutorial from the Missouri Star Quilt Company.

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  • Helen

    you did a great job – everything was made very clear – thank you!

    • Sarah

      Thank you!

  • Cindybaldwin56

    Natalie – loved this tutorial!  I have a question.  When putting smaller pieces together – like the 4 patch one you did – do you iron the stabilizer on each small patch & then piece them together, or do you sew them together and stabilize them with one big piece?  I love Missouri Quilt Tutorials – they are the best around!  Thanks

    • Natalie

      Hi Cindy, Thanks for the compliments! To answer your question…I stabilized each piece individually, then sew them together. This way the squares all match up and you don’t have to worry about stretch around the seams. 

  • Kathy1969

    Love this idea I have been wanting to do this for some time.  What was the stabilizer that you used?

  • patricia

    Patricia,loved this tutorial!  thanks  from  Chile

    • Sarah

      So glad you liked it!!  Good luck in your quilting!

  • Bonnie

    enjoyed your video.  I have done quite a few t-shirt quilts and have a little hint.  When I cut the t-shirts i cut up the sides, around the arm holes, across the shoulder seam and then around the bottom of the neck.  Then I donate the back piece as a child’s art smock to local schools.  The kids just put them over their heads and put their arms in the sleeves and you have recycled the thrown away piece!

    • Diannetabor

      Bonnie, that is a great idea!  Wish I had seen that before I cut the t-shirts for the quilt I am working on right now.  Thanks!!

  • NannyAnn

    Natalie – I can’t be alone in having a grandson who has “favourite” clothes, and can’t be persuaded to give them up even when he’s ten years old and the shirts are for a five year old! This is a great idea,  he’ll love the quilt and his mum won’t have to worry that he looks as if she can’t be bothered to buy him new clothes!

    • Sarah

      Hahaha!!  So funny what kids get attached to, isn’t it!  I bet he would be thrilled to have them into a quilt!  What a wonderful gift from Grandma!

      • Diannetabor

        LOL!  It’s not  just little boys who get attached to clothes.  My little girl is the same way!

  • Mara

    HOla There!Ive done a quilt with my husband diving t-shirts, now is time to home machine quilting!!! and I am not to sure if I should go inside de tshirts quilting? any recomendations please?? Maybe only stich on the dish or some machine on the sashing and thats it?? please help!!! LOVE ALLL YOUR SHOP, ALL  YOUR TUTORIALS! AND ALL YOUR DAILY DEALS!!!

    • Natalie

      Hi Mara,
      We machine quilt right over all of our t-shirts, so I know that you can quilt this quilt in any way you want. All of your ideas are great! 

  • Mcei

    I always wanted to do this.  Wonderful instructions!!!!!!!
    Thank you.

  • Diannetabor

    Thanks, Natalie!  Here’s a tip that I did while ironing on the stabilizer.  Have your T-shirt face down on the board and Iron on the stabilizer that way.  It was quick, didn’t have to worry about melting the print or smearing it and I knew when the stabilizer was firmly attached.  Worked great for me!  Other than that, I loved your tutorial!  Thanks!!!

    • Natalie

      Hi Dianne,
      That is a great tip! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • Jlwhitesr

    I made a t-shirt quilt for my niece.  The t-shirts consisted of all her teams throughout high school.  She gave me the caps that went with the t-shirts and I cut the bands off the hats and sewed them under the t-shirt.  She really loved it.  I enjoyed the video.  I wish I would have seen the video before I made it on my own.  It would have been a lot simpler.

    • Natalie

      Your quilt sounds amazing! I bet your niece loved it so much! Thank you so much for your sweet compliments!  

  • Thanks Natalie! My daughter wants a t-shirt quilt and you gave me some great ideas. I will take a pic and send it when it gets done!

    • Jackie MSQC

      I know Natalie would love to see it!! Thank you!!

  • Fran

    Love this, thanks for making it so clear.

  • Kimberly

    I’ve never made a quilt before but I can sew. The video is great for the T-shirt part of the quilt but need help beyond that part. Recommendations on videos and or tutorials.

  • Peggy Anne

    Just watched the video again to refresh my mind about what I need to do. I just started the first of three T-Shirt quilts I am giving for graduation gifts. I also have one to make that some one wants to pay for. Thank you for all great tutorials and Natalie you did a great job.

    • JenM

      Glad you’re getting a lot of these done! They make such special gifts!

  • dianne marangio

    This is great, Natalie! I just cut up about a dozen or so U2 album & concert t-shirts in hopes that I could figure out how to piece them. Next stop – stabilizer!! Love all the CA marathon shirts & the quilt you made for your child is spectacular! MSQC is my go-to resource – thank you!

    • JenM

      She really did do a great job! Thanks for your kind words. Have fun with your concert shirts. What a great way to keep those fun memories. We hope you can share a photo with us when it’s done!