How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt

The summer after my freshman year of college, I made a t-shirt quilt for my boyfriend. (I would not necessarily recommend doing this for someone you’ve only been dating five months because it’s a huge time investment – and not cheap – but we’re married, so it worked out.) I don’t really know what possessed me to do this, because I’m an amateur seamstress at best, hate math, and have no patience. But I did, working on it every day after work for an entire summer. And here I am doing it again, for my sister this time. So as a throwback to the early days of this blog, here’s how I’m making this t-shirt quilt.

1: Math

Do a lot of math to figure out how big you want the quilt to be and how big your pieces need to be in order to get the final size. Remember that you absolutely loathe doing this, and doing math. Remember that last time you did this, you had to calculate the math about 100,000 times because you second-guess yourself and make mistakes (but never the same math mistake for some reason). Remember that this is why you procrastinated doing this for five years.

Next, you have to do your math wrong despite your many calculations and buy half as much fabric as you need. On your first trip to Joann’s, just assume you will be there at least four more times. Get to know your cashier. It will be easier this way.

Attempt to sketch out a pattern so you can cut your pieces accurately. Give up and let your husband make you a pattern in SketchUp. (Real talk: SketchUp is a quilting GAMECHANGER.) Wish you could have made him do this for his own quilt five years ago.

2: More Math

Measure and cut your fabric, and iron interfacing to the back of all the t-shirt pieces so they don’t stretch out and ruin the entire thing. Watch one and a half seasons of Big Mouth while you do this. (Big Mouth review: pretty funny and relatable. Do not watch if you are offended by, for example, songs featuring dancing animated penises.)

Lay out your design. Remember to take a picture, because your cats will see the nice squares on the floor and completely destroy your layout. Then it will be time to start sewing.

Layout, featuring no cats

3: Mechanics

At this point, remember that your sewing machine has been acting wonky every time you’ve tried it for the last three or so years. Complain to your husband that your sewing machine isn’t working, at which point he will find a YouTube video that tells you you’ve been threading your bobbin wrong since high school. Fix your machine in like, ten seconds. Bang your head against the wall for as long as it takes to forget this ever happened.

4: Sewing

Finally start sewing your pieces together; horizontal rows first, then vertical, then borders, and finally the backing. You must stop after each seam to trim it down and press it open so that the quilt will lay flat. This will take approximately five thousand years.

Make a wonky square from pocket designs if you’re one square short

It’s at this point you will think you are on the home stretch. Do not believe this lie. Begin laying out your fabric – backing, then batting, then top – so that you can baste it all together before quilting, the most exciting step. While you are doing this, watch some YouTube videos to make sure you’re doing this right, and realize you were supposed make the backing 4-5 inches bigger than the top. Make what you hope will be your final Joann’s run to get EVEN MORE fabric so that you can add a border around your backing to make it big enough. This will take about as long as you thought it would take to baste the dang thing.

Baste your quilt with allll the safety pins. Your cats will love these pins and will pounce on them repeatedly. They will show no interest in safety pins that aren’t attached to your quilt. Listen to the podcast Camp Monsters by REI while you baste. (Camp Monsters review: not bad. Tells stories about urban monster legends from around the US as if you were sitting around the campfire. No ads!)

5: Quilting

Finally! You’ve made it to the fun step. Quilt your layers in a grid, starting in the middle and alternating sides so as to reduce layer shifting. “Stitch in the ditch” is a simple technique that really means just stitch over all the seams you sewed when putting the quilt top together. This will go surprisingly quickly compared to the previous steps, probably because you aren’t having to stop and press your seams open. Watch your bobbin thread, though, because you will run out. Luckily, you will absolutely NAIL the timing on this. Go you! (Also, at this point you will calculate that when finished, the quilt will contain almost 1/4 mile of thread.)

This quilt got some use before it was even done
Rita loves Tuesday

6: Binding

At this point, you will have planned on binding your quilt with double fold bias tape but you won’t remember how to use it. Spend 45 minutes watching YouTube videos, during which time you will decide to abandon your bias tape altogether and bind the quilt using the backing, since you had to make it larger anyway. You’ll have to spend a lot of time on the floor trimming your batting and marking your backing. This is in addition to all the time you spent on the floor measuring, cutting, laying out, basting, and trimming. You are only 24 but you will feel twice that when you can finally sit on the couch like a human.

Once you’ve bound your quilt, the last step will be to hand stitch the corners closed. You will decide that you like bias tape better as a quilt finish, but it’s too late now and at least you’ve learned a new technique. Take pictures and send them to whoever is getting the quilt. Also share them with your blog readers. (This is a must-do step.)

7: Plan Next Project

At this point, the glow of a finished project will allow you to forget the pain and suffering you endured trying to put this quilt together. You will start wanting to make another quilt, a real quilt this time, since you’ve never made one without t-shirts. Start planning to turn your basement into a craft room, maybe. After that, you’re on your own.

6 months in the making (or 3 years if you count the time I had these shirts stuffed into a bag under my bed)
The back, featuring Tuesday and border I didn’t plan on and accidentally sewed very not square
My husband’s quilt on top of my sister’s for size comparison. The gray one is more of throw/coverlet size and doesn’t quite fit a full, where the green one was made to fit a queen.

6 comments

  1. Hmmm. Are you sure you like quilting? So, an unreasonable amount of effort, but the outcome is really cool. I don’t really have any logo t-shirts or I’d send mine to you for your next project :-)

  2. I love everything about this blog; humor, cats, t-shirts, and a book review snuck right into the middle of it. I also made a quilt for a college boyfriend (but didn’t marry him) and will probably never do it again. It really is a labor of love! I think you did a great job on both of your quilts. Planning to share your blog with a few friends that like quilting/cats/collecting t-shirts! Tracey

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