The Original T-shirt Quilt

I have been busy, really I have!  I just don’t have pictures of what I’ve been working on…yet.

I do, however, have a picture of my very first  t-shirt quilt.  Ta da!

I made this several years ago, perhaps 12 or so?  This picture was taken after a few years of use, though.  You can see wrinkles and evidence of stretching.  When I made this quilt, I didn’t know what I was doing!  I didn’t make the blocks uniform size.  I didn’t even make them all rectangles!  See those hot pink triangles?  Those were set in to make rectangles out of  irregular pentagons!  I didn’t use the right kind of needle to sew on knit fabric.  And I didn’t back the fabric with fusible interfacing.  (Hence, the stretching…and missing stitches…and not very straight lines!)

This poor quilt will need some TLC and a major overhaul someday.  But for now it holds memories of moments in time from two lives–mine and my husband’s.  All the shirts except one are from before we were married.  It was so much fun to combine them into one memory.  Our kids have grown up calling it “the park quilt.”  New memories from old ones.  Love it.


T-shirt Quilt, Part 4: the Sashing


Did you think I fell off the face of the earth?  It’s been a fun week and a half since my last post.  My mom and her sister flew into town for their other sister’s surprise 60th birthday party (organized by the birthday girl’s daughter).  Then my mom stayed in town for a week, so I was having fun with her instead of blogging!  I was sewing, by the way.  My mom has 2 adorable new black-and-white themed shopping bags to show for it!  (And, no, I didn’t remember to take pictures of them.)

Onward and upward…

Now that all the squares are completed, they need to be arranged in an aesthetically pleasing way.  And they need to be attached to each other.  Most (maybe all?) of the quilt tops I’ve pieced up to this point in my life have been very simple.  I’ve just stitched the blocks to each other, with no sashing–strips of fabric between the blocks.  Well, this quilt top screams for sashing, because there is just too much diversity among the t-shirt blocks.  Different colors, multiple fabrics, varied looks.  There’s nothing that ties them together as a whole.  Enter: sashing fabric.

I needed to find that PERFECT fabric that will unify this odd assortment of blocks into a cohesive quilt top.  At the beginning of my search, I didn’t know exactly what it should be, but I did know what it shouldn’t be.  It shouldn’t be a solid color.  There’s not a single color in the known universe that looks good next to every one of my blocks.  I toyed around with the idea of using denim or chambray for the sashing–like a “jeans and t-shirt” theme–but I didn’t like the overall look of it.  Denim might have been too heavy anyway.

I imagined a print of line-drawn t-shirts on a white background, each shirt a different color, appearing to have been filled in by a kid with chunky crayons.  I set out on my search with this image in mind.  If it really existed, I would be ecstatic!  Long story short: it doesn’t.  At least, I didn’t find it.  My daughter was with me on this hunting expedition.  She’s got a good eye for color and pattern and what-goes-with-what.  She pointed out several possibilities as we scanned the bolts, but nothing was clicking with me.  I was just about ready to call off the hunt for that day, and I turned down an aisle that didn’t look too promising.  My daughter probably thought I’d lost my ever-lovin’ mind when I grabbed a bolt of fabric and squealed, “THIS IS IT!”


It’s not t-shirts.  It doesn’t have a white background.  It doesn’t appear to have been colored in by a toddler.  But it’s PERFECT!  I would never have  invented this in my imagination, but I knew when I saw it that it was the right fabric to bring all my blocks together.  (By the way, the print is called Autism Awareness.  I found it at JoAnn’s.)


So here are the 4 rows, assembled with the vertical sashing, in order from the top of the quilt to the bottom.





And here are the rows assembled with the horizontal sashing.

I fully expected to have to “square up” the quilt top once I attached all the sashing.  Believe it or not, the entire top is still square!  I still intend to put borders on it, but I haven’t cut those strips yet.  Stay tuned!

T-shirt Quilt, Part 3: the last Squares

Have you picked out a favorite square yet?  Well, there are 6 more to see before you make up your mind!  (All photos by my lovely daughter.)

The first 3 squares in this post had fairly large image areas to work with, so my quilt piecing skills were not as extensive on these.  This first one is just another Snowball-like square.  I did use the handprints that were the same color as the image on my t-shirt, just ’cause.


I just made a frame for this one, and mitered the corners.  The shirt was from an incredible week my family spent with 2 other families.  The horse fabric is from my daughter’s I-love-everthing-about-horses stage.  I made her a skirt by attaching some of this fabric to the top of a pair of jeans that weren’t long enough any more.  She also had a pillow case made from it.  And I believe she cut a few individual horses from it when she was trying her hand at piecing together a doll’s quilt from little squares of fabric.  (We need to find that little quilt.)


I loved working on this one!  The photograph doesn’t look like much, because it was taken inside.  The simple little black outlines of butterflies actually fill with color when exposed to sunlight!  This quilt probably won’t see much sunlight when it’s finished, so this is probably how this square will look most of the time…but you never know.  I still love it!


These last 3 squares took a little more time and creativity.  The original t-shirt images were smaller and therefore needed much more fabric to fill out the 16 square inches.  This first one is the only square for which I had to purchase fabric.  I just had nothing in my stash that would work, color-wise or print-wise.  My daughter has a really good eye for fabric, and she found these two for me.  My husband designed the logo; it’s for our local parent group with the virtual school we belong to.  (You may well ask why I would turn this shirt into a quilt square if the group is still current and I am still involved.  Well…the image was inappropriately placed for a woman’s shirt.  ’Nough said?)  I LOVE how this square turned out!


This is actually the first square I worked on for this quilt.  The t-shirt had front and back images, and I wanted to use them both in the same square.  I figured a 4-patch would be a good treatment for this one.  But why stop there?  Why not make 2 of the four patches into 4-patch blocks themselves?  Here’s how the whole block turned out.


Of course, I saved the best for last.  It’s my favorite anyway.  Again, the logo was designed by my husband for a restoration project you can read all about here:  (And, again, the logo was not quite flattering in its placement on a woman’s shirt.)  I cut the original t-shirt image on point so that the final block would show the image right side up.


So there you have ‘em…all 16 squares.  I think I had a grin on my face for a full 24 hours after the last square was completed!  Stay tuned for sashing, borders, backing, and all that good stuff.

T-shirt Quilt, Part 2: More Squares

I spent part of  today working on another quilt, but I decided to show some more squares from the t-shirt quilt instead.  (You’ll get a tiny peek at that other quilt in the last photo today.)  The following squares are from my high school and college days.

This was the front of a raglan-sleeved, hooded sweatshirt with a kangaroo pocket.  There was not much fabric around the image area to work with, so I added the strips at the top and bottom.


And this was the back of that same shirt.  I wanted to coordinate the two squares without doing the exact same treatment to both, so here’s what I came up with.


This shirt had a full 16 square inches of usable image and space without adding to it, so it was the easiest.  (That gray strip at the top was part of the shirt.)  The little purple patch was cut from a pair of sweat pants.  It will be appliqued to the quilt…somewhere.


The writing at the bottom of this shirt faded with innumerable washings.  I may embroider the words back onto it; I haven’t decided for sure.  It said, “black hole experience.”  I think the deep space print added a nice touch to this square.


This looks more like a vacation shirt than a high school or college shirt, right?  Well, I spent February of my junior year of college in the Bahamas for a geology class!  Not bad, eh?  (And February was a terrific time NOT to be in Iowa!)  The fabrics are from various projects for and by my daughter.  These are ‘her’ colors.  That round patch in the lower left corner of the picture was from the front of the shirt, and it will be appliqued onto the quilt…somewhere.


This shows the dorm I lived in for 3 years, and 1989 was the last year this image was used for the shirts.  I love it!  The dorm was renamed after a sizable monetary donation was made, so the image with the old name was no longer usable.  The bottom half of this square is part of the quilt that was on my bed through all my college years.


Only 6 more squares to go!

(Again, these pictures were taken by my daughter, who’s checking in on me!)

T-shirt Quilt, Part 1: the Squares

This project will be covered in several installments.  It wasn’t completed all at once, so I won’t show it to you all at once!

Today, I’ll show you a group of completed squares, after I explain that I didn’t have the forethought to photograph the actual t-shirts before I started whacking them up!  The photos you will see here are already 5 steps into this project.

Step 1: Ruthlessly clean out your stash of t-shirts that you KNOW you will never wear again.  (Wash them if necessary.)

Step 2: Measure (and record!) the height and width of the image area of each shirt.  This will determine what size to cut all of your t-shirts, if you want them all the same size.  (More on that in another post about another t-shirt quilt.)

Step 3: Cut the t-shirts according to the measurements you took.  The tallest image area among my shirts was 12 1/2″, and the widest was 14 1/2″.  Allowing for seams and free space around the images, I decided a 16″ square would be about right.  (I use a rotary cutter on a cutting mat to do this.)

Step 4: Apply fusible interfacing to the backs of all your squares.  This prevents stretching and general misshapenness while you work on your quilt.  And for the years to come.

You may skip the following step, if all your squares are uniform and ready to join together into a quilt top.  Mine were not, so on to Step 5.

Step 5: Some of my shirts did not have 16 usable square inches, so I had to make them bigger.  In order to make them bigger, I had to add fabric–something that is in (too) ample supply around here.  In fact, I had to buy fabric for only ONE of my squares!  Anyway, I added fabric in the style of traditional quilt blocks, such as Log Cabin, Snowball, Foursquare, Brotherly Love, and others.

In no particular order, here are the first 4 of 16 completed blocks!


This is the image that ultimately determined my squares' dimensions.


This one resembles a Snowball quilt square.


I wanted this one to look not quite square, so I created a two-color assymetrical border.


See the kite and kite string? This is a very modified Snowball, and it was very fun to do!


Keep watching this blog for more about my t-shirt quilt!