Interfacing in T-Shirt Quilting – New Quilters

Photo of t-shirt quiltOne of the most popular articles on this blog is one we wrote about using interfacings to stabilize t-shirts so you can sew the t-shirts into a quilt without stretching them out of shape. That article provoked this question from reader Stacy:

“I noticed that you state, woven or non-woven interfacing is fine. I know nothing about interfacings. Could you explain the difference between the two? Advantages and disadvantages of each type, please? I heard that some can be very stiff and I really do not want that. Thanks again!”

We thought some of you might also like to see our answer to Stacy’s question.

First, let’s start with a definition. An interfacing is “a moderately stiff material typically used between two layers of fabric in collars and facings.” In t-shirt quilting, the role of the interfacing is to stiffen and stabilize the stretchy t-shirt fabric so it doesn’t get pulled out of shape while you cut and sew it.

Photo of interfacing bolt

You will find three types of interfacings at the fabric store:

  • Woven interfacing looks and feels a bit like regular quilting fabric. It has two layers. The top layer has woven threads that run vertically and horizontally, just like quilter’s cotton. The bottom layer is a thin sheet of glue that lets you iron the interfacing to another fabric.
  • Non-woven interfacing is a single sheet that looks and feels more like felt. It also has two layers: the top layer of polyester fibers that have been matted or bonded together, and a bottom layer of glue that lets you fuse the interfacing to another fabric.
  • Knitted interfacing. Like other knits, this type of interfacing is flexible and stretchy. Because of that, you shouldn’t use it for t-shirt quilting.

Interfacings come in a variety of weights for different uses. The lightest-weight interfacings are very thin and flexible, and provide less stiffening. You will barely notice that the interfacing is there when you use the finished project. The heaviest interfacings are really thick and stiff. They are used to shape purses or make other permanently stiff shapes like petals for artificial flowers. They are much too heavy and inflexible to use for t-shirt quilts.

For t-shirt quilting, we recommend using a lightweight fusible interfacing such as Pellon Shape-Flex® (woven) or Therm-o-Web Heat’n Bond (non-woven). If you find a different brand at your fabric store, just make sure it is light weight and won’t stretch out of shape, and you’ll be good to go.

Information junkies, click here for a much more thorough explanation of interfacings and how they are used in sewing.

A deep dive into the facts about interfacing and how you can use it to make better t-shirt quilts. Article from NewQuilters.com. #interfacingfortshirtquilt, #tshirtquilt, #tshirtquiltdiy

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  • Interfacing Issues Anne says:

    Thanks for the info. If you’ve accidentally used interfacing that is too stiff, is there any way to soften it up after the fact other than washing a lot?

    • Not that I know of. But now that you bring up the question, I might try putting put the quilt in a cool dryer with a clean tennis shoe, to try to beat it into submission.

  • Dorothy says:

    I’ve made numerous t-shirt quilts for customers — without interfacing. When I was just starting my business I happened to be in line at a fabric store behind a woman with whom I struck up a conversation. Turns out she’d made lots of t-shirt quilts. At that point I thought interfacing was a must so I asked which kind she used. Her answer surprised me.

    She told me she doesn’t use interfacing; she uses starch. So I experimented with starch until I found a method that works for me. Starch is cheaper, easier and faster to use than applying interfacing. And it does not add stiffness or bulk to the finished quilt. Here’s my method:

    I mix liquid starch 50/50 in a bowl with warm water. I cut the t-shirts roughly to shape. I immerse the T-shirt pieces in the starch mixture, saturating them well and squeezing them out, and hang the pieces to dry. When they’re dry, I press the pieces using a spray bottle of plain water to dampen them as needed. Then I trim the blocks to size and proceed with my piecing. Any starch residue left on the iron plate comes off easily with a wet cloth, but I never had trouble with this. (Incidentally, I tried spray starch and it doesn’t work.)

    Once the quilt is quilted and bound, you can wash it to remove the starch. On customer quilts I attached a tag instructing the new owner to wash the quilt within a few months, and not to store it with the starch still in it; starch is sometimes is made from plants and can attract insects.

  • Marilyn says:

    Having made and taught t-shirt quilts I notice the one thing every blog leaves out. Super Lightweight interfacing is great as it adds no bulk, but there is some stretch to it one-way. T-shirts stretch one way. To lock the stretch out and make the t-shirt stable like any other quilt fabric you need to turn the stretch of the interfacing opposite (90 degree) to the stretch of the t-shirt.

  • Anita says:

    I have made 40+ tee shirt quilts, interfacing is vital! However, your suggestion to use Heat N Bond is confusing, that product is fusible on BOTH SIDES and is not the correct product for this application, it will be a big mess!
    I prefer woven interfacing, Pellon SF 101, a little more expensive, so I buy it when I have a good coupon! It really keeps the squares “square,” I think that’s the trickiest part for a beginner making their first tee shirt quilt.

    • Hi Anita,

      Thanks for giving us the benefit of your experience. 40 quilts is a huge number! Re Heat N Bond: that is a brand name for interfacing that comes in several different configurations, including a lightweight, single-sided interfacing suitable for t-shirt quilts.

  • Tina Raider says:

    Don’t you have to have a material that you bond the other side to?

    • Felicity Walker says:

      Thanks for your question, Tina. The answer is that for t-shirt quilting, you need an interfacing that has glue on one side only. You bond the interfacing’s glue side to the back side of the t-shirt by ironing the two layers together. That makes the t-shirt stable enough to let you cut and sew it without stretching it out of shape. After that, you simply use the combined t-shirt/interfacing as the top layer in your quilt. You can add batting and backing layers just as you would for any other quilt. Hope that answers your question.

  • Marika Swanepoel says:

    Just a comment and thought on all the wonderful kinds of interfacing one gets overseas. We only have one tiny guilters shop in Windhoek, and they don’t keep everything we quilters so dearly need. I also adore and get very very jealous about all the beautiful materials I see from overseas shops. Marika Swanepoel

  • Stacy says:

    I feel (almost) famous. hahaha!
    Thank you so much for all of this useful information.
    It is much appreciated.
    Cheers,
    Stacy

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