Tuesday, July 23, 2013

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial - Part 2: Finishing Your Quilt

You completed the steps to making a quilt top. Congrats!

Now let's get it finished.

Your quilt top
Batting (optional) - slightly larger than your quilt top
Backing fabric - 5 1/2 yards if making the 73" x 90"
Quilting thread - About 1000 yards (I bought 4 - 250 yard spools)
Binding fabric - You can use leftover sashing or backing fabric

First, I hope no one told you that quilting is easy. It's not. I now consider quilters to be athletes. But, just like digging, anyone can do it. Give yourself time.

1. Prepare the Quilt Back

Because the quilt width was larger than the width of my backing fabric, I had to sew two panels together. Cut the length of your fabric in half so you have 2 panels that are 95+ inches long. Put the right sides of the fabric together, pin them down on a long side and sew them together. Again, I used a 1/2" seam, but I recommend using a 1/4". Press the seam open when you are finished.

2. Make a Quilt Sandwich

Lay your quilt back face down on the floor. It is a good idea to tape down the edges so it is taut and secure.

Position your batting over the quilt back. I didn't want the quilt back seam right down the middle so I made sure it was over to one side. I used a lightweight batting because the fleece already added some thickness. Because the fleece seam didn't iron down, I rolled the batting over and ran my hand down the seam to keep it open before laying the batting back on top.

Ensure that the seams in your quilt top are pressed open. Position your quilt top on top of the batting to complete the sandwich.  This step is easier if you have a batting that is larger than the quilt top. Smooth it all down by hand, making sure nothing is bunched up.

Here are a few helpful videos to show you the sandwich process:
Quilting For Everyone
PollyAnna Patchwork - hard to hear, but she also covers spray adhesive and a fold layout technique
Gourmet Quilter - shows pin basting

3. Pin 

Pin your layers together with safety pins. The Gourmet Quilter video above shows a great technique. With a big quilt like this, pinning takes a while. To the point where I sort of wanted to poke my eyes out with pins.

4. Trim

I had a lot of excess fleece for the quilt back. I trimmed the edge so that I has about 5" of fleece left around the border.

5. Prep Yourself for Quilting

'Quilting' the actual process of sewing your sandwich together is no joke. There are choices and surprises and practice sessions required. Here are a few links to help you prep yourself.

Deciding the thread color for your quilt - a good visual example
Leah Day - Free Motion Quilting Tutorial Video - great tips, tools and troubleshooting info
Leah Day - Quilting in Rows - this is the technique that I followed

Piece together some small squares and practice. Practice more. Feel comfortable.

I chose to use a teal thread that matched the sashing for my quilting thread.

6. Prep Your Machine to Quilt

I use a basic Brother model sewing machine.  Since my feed dogs don't lower, the machine came with a plate to cover them for free motion quilting. Attach your quilting foot. I purchased this Brother quilting foot even though it didn't list as being compatible with my model. The reviews gave me a lot of good feedback and it worked great.

You'll want a full bobbin loaded and extra thread on hand. It took me 4 spools of 250 yard thread to do the quilting. Some people recommend filling a couple of bobbins so you can easily switch out and keep going. Honestly, by the time I finished one bobbin I needed a break and a cold one before moving on.

7. Quilt

Start in the middle and work your way down and out. I found it way easier to work down by pushing the quilt away from me so I tried to keep that motion going as much as possible. They make quilting gloves, but I was too cheap to try them so I used plastic gloves I stole paid for via insurance from the doctor. Since the quilt was thick and pressed snuggly under the foot, there were several times where I forgot to lower the foot before quilting. Don't do that. It causes a thread nightmare underneath that you get to pick out piece by piece. Time killer.

I quilted over a couple of days.  Freemotion, easy flow quilting and it still took me several hours to finish the entire piece.  Its a legit process so give yourself time.

It also made me hot with increased muscle tension. Don't be alarmed if you are young, but suddenly feel frighteningly premenopausal. My symptoms went away with the quilt.

8. Trim Excess

Trim the excess batting and quilt back to meet your quilt top.  In hindsight I would have left a section of the fleece back and wrapped it around the edge for the binding.

Remember when I mentioned leaving the side seam in a shirt to keep the design?  That quilt square is below. It blends in really well.

9. Attach Binding

I used the extra fleece to make binding strips 2 1/2" wide and followed the tutorial video here:

Heirloom Creations - from Sioux Falls, SD

I stitched the binding down and struggled, because the fleece is thicker and doesn't press for a clean crease like a cotton fabric. I look forward to binding something with a cotton strip so I hopefully feel like less of a tool. The fleece still looked great, I just won't do it again until I have a better feel and more experience.

10. Trim Your Threads

From the quilting, I had thread ends all over. I started on the back with trimming and then went over it with a sticky roller to make sure I didn't leave stragglers.

And the same for the front.

11. Raise a Glass

Congrats! Quilt complete. Champagne for everyone!

Can anyone sew a quilt? Yes.
Can you sew a quilt on a basic sewing machine? Yes.
Do you feel like you just finished a marathon after completing a quilt? Yes, but you could likely run a marathon in less time.  Seriously.


  1. Your quilt came out great! I am getting ready to quilt a tshirt quilt for someone. It is very nerve wracking to get started! I hope mine comes out as well as yours did!

  2. Thanks so much Lynn! Best of luck on your project, you'll do great!

  3. Do you always quilt over the logos? Just wondering if you've ever encountered any problems with that?

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