How to Design a Better-Looking T-Shirt Quilt

I love t-shirts, but I’ve never been a big fan of t-shirt quilts. That’s because the typical t-shirt quilt pattern looks like this–worthy, but dull.

It’s easy to see why so many t-shirt quilters go with a basic grid design. It helps unify a group of images that don’t necessarily have a lot in common. In the square grid pattern, all the t-shirts are cut into identical squares that typically measure 12” to 14” ( 30cm to 36 cm).The squares are usually joined together with sashing strips. Sometimes people add cornerstones to the sashing, which looks a bit more sophisticated. But it’s still the same old grid.

Here’s a somewhat more complex grid layout. This one makes it easier to combine small images and photos with larger t-shirts. The subdivided grid has a bit more style than the basic grid, but it’s still pretty plain. 

Taking Your T-Shirt Quilt Beyond the Grid  

How can you take the next step and make your quilt more interesting to work on, and more interesting to look at once it’s done? Here are a number of approaches to try.

    • Alternate t-shirt blocks with quilt blocks. This option works especially well if the theme of the quilt block relates to the theme of the t-shirts in the quilt. For instance, a quilt made with shirts from the Chicago Bears could include bear claw quilt blocks in the Bears’ team colors of orange and brown. Even if the alternating quilt block is something as simple as a quarter-square triangle block or even a solid square of a coordinating fabric, it helps bring the quilt design to life. Here’s a quilt in progress that alternates t-shirt blocks with quarter-square triangle blocks.

      Photo by Flickr.com user Marion J. Patterson

    • Frame the t-shirts in squares of quilt fabric. The t-shirt frame block is a variation on the traditional Courthouse Steps log cabin quilt block. The quilt below uses a variety of frame colors to give the quilt much more pizzazz than the usual one-colored sashing grid.

      Photo by Hank Hession, Upstate Options Magazine

    • Make more interesting sashing strips. This quilt’s sashing is made of pieced strips that give the quilt a cheerful look and add some zest to some pretty plain-looking t-shirts.
      T-shirt quilt with strip sashing

 

  • Here’s one with wavy sashing. I like the way the sashing sometimes extends across two blocks.

    Photo by Penny Fabric Arts, Flickr.com

    Here’s a more ambitious t-shirt quilt that uses the  Attic Windows pattern to give the quilt a dramatic 3-D quality.

    Photo by Flickr.com user Sailn1

    This one uses wonky piecing to display the shirts at odd angles. I like it — don’t you?

    Photo by Penny Fabric Art, Flickr.com

  • Go all-out and do something dramatic. Roberta de Luz, author of  [amazon_link id=”B0062GK6FK” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Terrific Tees: I Can’t Believe it’s a T-Shirt Quilt [/amazon_link], made this motorcycle gang t-shirt quilt that frames the t-shirt images in New York Beauty quilt blocks.

Photo by Deb Roby, Flickr.com

Even if  New York Beauties are beyond your piecing capacity, think about how you might frame a collection of t-shirts with your favorite quilt blocks. I have a pile of my brother-in-law’s old t-shirts  to turn into a quilt right now, and I’m thinking I’ll use half-square triangles for sashing. A line of Flying Geese blocks would also make beautiful sashing for a t-shirt quilt.

Featured photo by Marion Patterson, Flickr.com.

  • October 9, 2012

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Felicity Walker
 

Felicity Walker is the author of the best-selling Quilting for Beginners book series and other books for quilters. She has been quilting for nearly twenty years and loves finding easier, faster, and more fun ways to make quilts.

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