Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to Make a T-shirt Quilt

 
 
 
For years, I've had a pile of old sorority t-shirts sitting in the corner of my closet that I just swore I was going to make a quilt out of one day.

Well, y'all know the story…life happened. I got pregnant, had a baby, and proceeded to take care of that baby through her newborn stage. Finally, a few months ago, I got a little bit of "breathing room" and was able to start doing fun, hobby-like things again!

One of the first things on my list was this quilt. I knew it was probably a big undertaking to learn how to quilt, but I was committed to it. I think I've mentioned before that my grandmother taught me how to use a sewing machine…I regard this skill as the best gift she ever gave me. But quilting is a whole new ballgame.

So I sat down a few weeks ago to actually learn the basics…and was shocked to find out it's not hard at all! You just need a little bit of patience and a couple more supplies.

Here's how I did it!

1. Gather your supplies.

Yes, there are a few things I regard as "essentials" when you're making a quilt. Here's a list of things I think you absolutely have to have to make it successful.

Rotary Cutter*
Self-Healing Cutting Mat*
Large Acrylic Quilting Ruler*
(*I was able to find all three of these in a set…by far the cheapest way to buy them that I could find.)
Sewing Machine
Good, sharp pair of scissors
New sewing machine needle (so it's nice and sharp)
Fabric (see below for measurements on my quilt)
Quilt Batting
Quilt Back (I used a twin-sized flat sheet I found at a local discount store for $3!)
T-Shirts (9 would be minimum…I used 12 and it made almost a perfect twin-sized quilt)
Big Safety Pins
Bias Tape Maker

Here are a few things that would probably make it easier, but aren't essential.

Walking foot (This is a foot for your sewing machine that helps feed the fabric through easier…I did fine without it, but a lot of sites I read swear by it.)
Nylon Thread (I loved using this - it's very thin, so kind of hard to work with, but it can be used on any fabric when quilting because it's so thin and see-through.)


2. Gather measurements.

First, I sat down and drew out a "blueprint" for my quilt.
 


Don't you love how professional this looks? :)  Kidding.

The gray pieces represent my t-shirt squares…they were cut to 15"x15" (more on that later).

The dark purple were each cut to 15"x3.5"…and you need 17 of them for this pattern. (You'll need a half yard of fabric for this color.)

The light purple pieces, my end pieces, had 2 different sizes…2 of them were cut to 69"x7.5", and 2 were cut to 71"x7.5". (You'll need 2 yards of fabric for this color.)

The light blue pieces were actually a pretty pattern I found at the fabric store…you'll need 6 3.5"x3.5" squares. I also used this fabric for my bias tape that sealed off the edges (more on that below), which requires a half yard of fabric…so go on and get 3/4 yard of this fabric, and you might have leftovers.

3. Cut your fabric.

Now to the scary part! I say scary - it's really not that bad.

First, the shirts. Here's the best way I found to do this.

1. Start at the bottom of the shirt, right below the armpit, and cut straight up to the armpit of one side of the shirt. Then, follow the seam of the shirt all the way around the back of the shoulder, neck, and other shoulder…don't actually cut the seams out, just use it as a guide. Get as close as you can to them so you have more fabric to work with! Once you get to the other armpit, cut straight down to the bottom of the shirt.

2. Lay your piece out on your cutting mat….try to get it straight with the grid on the mat. Take your ruler and cut a straight line across the top of the shirt with your rotary cutter as high as you can above the design.

3. Go to the bottom of the design, measuring 15" from the top cut, and cut another straight edge using the ruler and the rotary cutter.    If that bottom cut is looking a little close to the design, and you have a little bit too much room up top, you can go back and make another cut at the top.

4. On the cutting mat, see what number on the grid is in the middle of your shirt's design (it was usually around 12 or 13 for me). Take that number and subtract 7.5 from it…make a straight cut at that number. Now, add 7.5 to it…make a straight cut. This makes sure your design is centered in your square.

And voila! You have a centered, pretty t-shirt square.  Really rely on your cutting mat's grid and your rotary cutter for this.
 
You need to also cut your fabric strips for the rest of the quilt...not that hard, just make sure they're nice and square.  It makes sewing so much easier!
 
4.  Start putting together!
 
 This is the fun part!  Start pinning your pieces together.
 
 
 
Take one of the 15"x3.5" strips and pin two of the small squares on the ends, lining up the edges and putting the right sides together (ignore the picture, they are right sides apart...learned that was wrong the hard way. :/).  Sew these outside edges with a 1/4" seam (you're going to use a 1/4" seam for everything in this project, unless otherwise noted).  The easiest thing to do is to measure 1/4" on your machine and mark it with masking tape.  I lucked up - the end of my sewing foot was exactly 1/4", so it was pretty easy for me!

Once you get those sewn, unfold and pin a 15"x3.5" strip to the on the top of each square, right sides facing each other, left side lined up...sew the edges, so you have one big straight line of pieces sewn together.  You just finished your first section!

You'll need 3 of the sections listed above.

Now, start on the t-shirt squares.  Lay them out in the floor to make sure you're order is correct and there's no funky colors together.

Take the t-shirt square on the far left of each row and pin a 15x3.5" piece on the right-hand side of it, right sides facing each other.  
 
 
Sew down the edge of this with your 1/4" seam and unfold.  Now, take the second t-shirt square in the row and put it, right side down, on top of the 15x3.5 piece...pin the right-hand sides together and sew.  Keep repeating, alternating t-shirt squares and 15x3.5" pieces, until each row is done!

All of your rows should be finished, and now it's time to put them together!  First, iron all of the seams open on the back of the quilt...this makes sure your seams lay nice and flat in the finished product.


 
Now, take a skinny row and pin the bottom edges with your top t-shirt row, right sides facing each other.  The important thing here is that you line up the ends of each individual piece in the row so that there won't be any funky lines.
 
Sew this, unfold, and lay the second t-shirt row, right side facing down, on top of the sewn-on skinny row.  Align the edges and pin.
 
Keep on repeating this until your squares are sewn together with your skinny rows!
 
Now, the end pieces needs to go on.  Take the 71.5x7.5" pieces and pin them onto each side (left and right) of your big piece, right sides together.  Sew and open up...iron your new seams open.  Now, attach the 69x7.5" pieces to the top and bottom, right sides together, sew, and that's it!
 
 
You have a finished quilt front.  Not so bad, right?

5.  Make your "quilt sandwich."

This is apparently a pretty common term in quilting - "quilt sandwich." It just means you layer your quilt backing, batting, and quilt front to prepare for the actual quilting part!

Like I mentioned, I just used a sheet I found at a discount store for the quilt back...I'd recommend this.  Not only is fabric more expensive per yard, but it's hard to find it big enough to fit in one big piece.

I used cotton quilt batting I found here.  Several places recommended cotton over polyester batting because it is more stable and longer-lasting.  If I'm going to put this much effort in, I'm going to get something that's going to last!  It was only a few dollars more - I used the twin size for this project.

Layer your pieces, make sure everything is nice and flat and lined up, and start pinning!  The sheet and quilt batting will probably be bigger than the quilt front - that's ok - don't trim it yet.  You'll need to safety pin every few inches, all over the whole quilt, so it will stay together while quilting.
 
6.  Get to quilting!
 
Start in the middle of your quilt, with it facing up, and use your nylon thread (or thread to match the quilt) to start quilting!  This is where the walking foot would come in great if you have one.

I did what's called "stitch the ditch"...just stitching along each seam line, all the way through the quilt sandwich, row by row.  It made this nice pretty pattern on the back of the quilt!
 
 
 
 

It is a little difficult to squeeze all of the quilt in the sewing machine when you're doing the middle.  I found it easiest to roll up the end, like this, so all of it would fit.
 
7.  Trim the edges.

Once you have stitched all of the ditches, horizontal and vertical, bind the end of your quilt.  You'll need to sew a seam all the way around the quilt about 1/4" from the end of your quilt topper.  This makes the ends stay together.
 

After you've binded, trim the edges of the backing and batting.  Personally, I would trim all the way down to the end of the quilt topper, leaving just a little bit of an edge (even less than shown - maybe 1/8").

8.  Prepare your bias tape.

I'm not even going to try to explain bias tape...it's what you use to make the edge of your quilt pretty.  Just go here and thank me later...this easy method is what I used, and it worked perfectly!
 
9.   Attach bias tape.

Again, the site mentioned above has a fabulous tutorial for attaching bias tape to the end of a quilt...click here to see!



My bias tape attaching wasn't perfect...but none of the quilting process was for that matter.  That's ok with me - it's supposed to look handmade.  It adds character, right? :)



I absolutely love the way it turned out!  And it wasn't a very time consuming project at all - I just worked on it for an hour or so here and there for about a week.  

So get to quilting!  I promise you'll love it as much as I did. :)