Ever wanted to do something with all those t-shirts your kids get from school, sporting events, or dance recitals? How about all the ones your brother, husband, or sister have that they just can’t get rid of. Here’s the perfect solution to save those memories and make something that they will cherish for a long time.
T-shirts are tricky to work with. They are very stretchy and not conducive to behaving when trying to sew them like quilter’s cotton. Consequently you have to back them with a permanent iron on interfacing to make them stable. My procedure is to cut the design from the front or back of the t-shirt as large as you can get it. For adult t-shirts you will probably need to cut as much as possible or more, so as not to lose any of the design. Eventually you will cut the finished block to 12.5″ You can cut children’s sizes accordingly. Next, I recommend using Pellon lightweight or medium weight interfacing that is ironed on the back of the block/design. Another great product to work with is Pellon Wisper Weft. It works the same way as shirt weight interfacing and is just as stable to tame the t-shirt stretch. The light weight interfacing is a softer hand and will show more old fashioned quilting puffiness. Medium weight interfacing gives a flatter look. Whisper Weft is between the two.
Once you have all of your squares prepared and backed, trim them to the size you will be using, and lay out your design. (I lay mine out on the floor so I can get a good view of how it will look). I then start putting the rows together with sashing in between the t-shirt blocks. The sashing, preferably in a complimentary color, will help to frame each “work of art”.
Once each row is finished, start putting rows together with a row of sashing in between the rows to match the sashing between the blocks. Keep this up until the whole quilt top of blocks is done. Put a row of the same sashing around the perimeter of the blocks to frame the whole thing. Depending on the size, you might want to put a wide border any where between 3.5″ to 5.5″, to make sure the quilt stays stable. It will also give it a nice finish. From there you sandwich your quilt top with Warm n Natural batting and whatever woven cotton backing you want to use to match the front. Treat it just like any other quilt from here on in.
This is where you decide what type of quilting to do. I disagree with those who say “they don’t want to stitch over the t-shirt design”. It’s a quilt now, not a t-shirt any more. I do use monofilament clear thread on top so color doesn’t detract from the shirt designs. 12.5 inches is too wide to only “stitch in the ditch”. Most designs are too big to stitch around the design. Remember I said, it’s now a quilt, so treat it like a quilt and stitch it like a quilt. “Cross Hatching” is a nice clean look for a T-shirt quilt and will keep all your layers together wash after wash. I chose to cross hatch only one way on each block then alternate the direction on the next. It gave it a slight chevron look. The border was just free motioned in a meandering pattern.
Reminder; When working with monofiliment thread, you may need to lower or raise your thread tension to as low as 2.8 or as high as 5.8. Do a test with the back of a shirt, a piece of batting and a piece of cotton backing fabric. My personal preference is polyester mono thread rather than rayon. I use 30wt. quilting thread in the bobbin for the back side but you can also use 40wt embroidery thread or 50wt piecing thread. All work well. When done, you will have a one of a kind, work of art. Oh, don’t forget to put your label on the back with your name, date, and maybe who it was made for. Be creative.
If you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. If any of you out there have any other tips to working with t-shirts, we’d love to hear them.
Until next time …. happy sewing.
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