How to Make T-Shirt Quilts: Deciding Which Shirts to Include

These are some of my brother-in-law Charlie’s favorite old t-shirts. My sister gave them to me so I can turn them into a quilt. Do you have a stack of mismatched old shirts like these and dreams of transforming them into something spectacular?

That’s the challenge: how to make a beautiful quilt design out of a motley assortment of shirts in different sizes, colors, and styles.

How to Organize the T-Shirts?

The first thing to do is ask yourself this question: do all these shirts belong together in the same quilt? I took my brother-in-law’s shirts and laid them out on the floor so I could see them all together and notice any unifying themes or design features that would help me arrange the shirts into a coherent pattern. A lot of these shirts were from events supporting City Year, the non-profit organization he works for. But there were also others from concerts and other groups.

Here are a few ways you might want to organize your t-shirts:

  • Organization or event. Combine a series of t-shirts from the same college, the same club, the same rock band, or from several different years of the same annual event, like the Boston Marathon or the San Francisco Bay to Breakers race.
  • Hobby or interest. If the person you’re making the quilt for loves biking or wine tasting or a particular baseball team, you may want to design the quilt around those interests.
  • Color and design. T-shirts from unrelated groups or events can still look good together if they come from the same color family or have a design style in common.

If you have enough shirts to work with, weed out any shirts that just don’t fit the colors or theme you want for this quilt. A shirt that doesn’t match the quilt’s theme or style can still be used to make a throw pillow cover, or you could sew it onto a new t-shirt or sweatshirt to give it a couple more years of useful life. If you want to do this, you’ll need to stabilize the t-shirt for sewing.

What if the T-Shirts Don’t Have Anything in Common?

Fear not! You can bring unity to the most chaotic crowd of shirts by framing them all into matching quilt blocks. Making the frame blocks in several different colors, like the quilt shown below, can turn a group of shirts that clash into a colorful and lively quilt. Note how some of the smaller shirts got a double frame of two different fabrics that made all the finished blocks the same size. 

  • October 23, 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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