Monday, July 22, 2013

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial - Part 1: Quilt Top

You've seen the T-shirt quilts, right? Popular gifts for high school graduates, constructed with cut out squares from T-shirts showcasing their various, band, boning Suzy in the dugouts. 

Wait, they don't issue shirts for the last one.

I was approached to make a T-shirt quilt for Eric who wanted to give his sister a Dave Matthews Band T-shirt quilt for her birthday.  They are groupies and he knew she would love it.  So thoughtful. Seriously, what a nice brother.

He purchased extra shirts off of Ebay, we struck a deal and soon I had an extra pile of laundry in my house.

Here's the process I used to assemble the quilt face:

1. Create a Mock-Up

I took pictures of all the shirts and did a quick mock-up in Photoshop for Eric to check out.  We chose the size (73" x 90") and picked the final T-shirt designs and arrangement.  My grandma used to do this on sheet paper with colored pencils, still awesome and effective.

2. Choose Fabric

I wanted to use sashing (the fabric in between the squares) because I feel it ties everything together and gives a more professional look.  Eric requested a fleece fabric for the back of the quilt. To ensure all these fabrics worked together, I took a few of the shirts with me fabric shopping. 

For the 73" x 90" size:
5.5 yards of fleece for the back (It isn't wide enough as is, so you will need to sew 2 sections together)
2.5 yards of the main sashing fabric
1/4 yard of the accent fabric for the little squares in the middle (I bought 1 fat quarter instead) 

See the beautiful diamond pattern fleece? They didn't have enough in Phoenix. Or any online. Or any other fleece options that would look half as good.  After a wicked hunt on the phone and online, I tracked some down in Tucson (the last 6 yards this side of the Mississippi) and drove down to get it.  Because I have trouble compromising when I've found my perfection.

3. Cut up the T-Shirts

Nothing too precise. Up the side seams. Across the shoulder seams. Cut off the arms. There was an instance where the design wrapped around the side of the shirt, so I ct up the front and back instead.

4. Stabilize T-shirts

I used Pellon P44F from JoAnns, but any basic to lightweight fusible interfacing will work.  I smoothed the T-shirt segment face down on the ironing board and pulled a layer of interfacing over it. After giving it a light spritz of water I started ironing in segments, not sliding. I chose not to use a press cloth just so I could see the edges and make sure I wasn't going over.  The interfacing comes with instructions, but here is a good fusible interfacing link to learn more and see instruction on using a press cloth. If this stresses you out, try it on a couple of scrap T-shirt segments - I did.

5. Cut Out the T-shirt Squares

I was planning on making a cardboard template to help size out the 15.5" squares needed, but wanted to be able to see the designs perfectly to center them. I purchased this 15.5" square quilting ruler from AZ Awesomeshop: 3 Dudes Quilting. It made the process much faster.

And the perfectly cut and ironed pile of shirts was so gratifying.

6. Cut the Sashing

After pressing out the wrinkles, cut out the quilt pieces in their required sizes. *For the border pieces, I just cut 4 - 4" sections down the entire 2.5 yards (90") of sashing fabric and left them that size. I'll explain more in Step 10.

7. Sew Quilt Panels

Using your mock-up to make sure you get the designs in the correct order, sew together the horizontal panels for your quilt using a 1/2 inch seam allowance. *(I've since learned that it is easier to quilt with smaller seams so if you don't mind throwing off the measurements then switch to 1/4".)

Shirt - Sashing - Shirt - Sashing - Shirts Sashing - Shirt

Sashing - Square - Sashing - Square - Sashing - Square - Sashing

8. Trim Threads & Iron Seams Open

9. Sew Horizontal Panels Together

Follow your mock-up to make sure you get the correct order and direction.  I start by pinning the pieces together at the sashing squares because it is the section that needs to be lined up most precisely. Match up your tiny square with the sashing and pin down the pressed seams so that they stay open during sewing. Pin all the way across. Sew.

10. Sew Your Border Pieces

To make it easier, I left all the border pieces at 90" in length when cutting.  Start by sewing on the side pieces. Line them up with the bottom edge and pin the sashing all the way to the top. Sew it together. Then, cut off the excess border so it lines up with the edge of the T-shirt. Sew on the top sections by lining up one end with the edge of the side sashing and cutting off the excess after it is sewn to line up with the opposite edge. You're just making a big box around your T-shirt section.

11. Admire

You have a quilt face.
Well done.

And if quilting ended there, then we would have whipped up hundreds of these by now.

But it doesn't. There's sandwiching and pinning and quilting and binding. Oh Lord, the binding!

But that's tomorrow, so just enjoy your fruits for now.

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