How to Stabilize T-Shirts for T-Shirt Quilting | New Quilters

PHoto of t-shirt with cutting ruler and rotary cutter

One reason we all love wearing t-shirts is because they are made from such soft, stretchy knit fabric. When it comes to making t-shirt quilts, though, their stretchiness poses a problem. The same give that makes t-shirts so comfortable also makes them get distorted and wonky if you sew them without preparing them in advance. Being a lazy quilter, I have actually tried this, and the end result isn’t pretty.

That’s why you need to stabilize your shirts before you use them in a quilt or any other sewing project. You do this by applying a fusible backing to the t-shirt fabric. The backing helps the shirt hold its shape while you cut and sew it. The softer and more worn a t-shirt is, the more it needs stabilizing before you try to sew with it.

Steps in T-Shirt Quilting

Making a t-shirt quilt involves four steps:

  1. Deciding on a design.
  2. Getting the shirts ready to quilt.
  3. Sewing the quilt top together.
  4. Quilting and finishing the completed quilt top.

This post covers Step 2, how to prepare the shirts for t-shirt quilting.

Supply List

Here’s what you will need:

  • Light-weight, iron-on interfacing such as Pellon Shape-Flex® (woven) or Therm-o-Web Heat’n Bond (non-woven.) Either woven or non-woven interfacing will work fine. Interfacing update from reader Sandy Shula: “Just from my own personal experience, I like to use Pellon P44F for colored T’s and 911 on very thin, polyester, or white shirts. I found the SF101 to add too much weight on larger quilts and it bubbled on me after washing. This also saves on interfacing cost since there can be a lot of waste depending on the size of your shirt blocks.”
  • A press cloth you can dampen for pressing the fusible interfacing to the t-shirts.
  • Steam iron
  • Ironing board or ironing surface

Step by Step Stabilizing Instructions

  1. Cut a square of stabilizer big enough to cover the whole image you want to feature, plus at least a couple of extra inches all around the image to give you plenty of space for trimming and seam allowances.  Be generous with the extra inches.
  2. Turn the t-shirt inside out. Lay the stabilizer square with its glue side (the rougher side) of the interfacing against the reverse side of the t-shirt image.  Update from reader Marilyn, who has made many t-shirt quilts and taught t-shirt quilting: “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.” Read the interfacing manufacturer’s instructions to make sure you have the right temperature and steam settings before you put that hot iron on the interfacing. Because once you do that, you’re committed!Photo of interfacing ironed to back side of t-shirt
  3. Press the interfacing to the t-shirt. Cover the whole thing with a damp press cloth to avoid melting the inks or any rubberized parts of the t-shirt image. I just dampened a piece of cotton batting I had lying around. Use firm pressure and hold the iron steady for 10-15 seconds in each spot to make sure the interfacing and t-shirt are thoroughly fused together. Overlap the pressing areas to make sure you cover all parts of the image.Photo of ironing interfacing to t-shirt with press cloth
  4. Turn the t-shirt right side out again. Cut out the image using a rotary cutter and a see-through cutting ruler. Leave plenty of extra room around the image for trimming and seam allowances. (Having that extra room is important. Don’t ask me how I know.) If you plan to cut a lot of t-shirts into the same shape, you may want to make a cardboard template that is the size and shape you want. That will speed up the cutting.Rotary cutter and ruiler on top of t-shirt

Here’s what the stabilized t-shirt image looks like once it has been cut out.Photo of t-shirt with interfacing pressed to back side


The t-shirt will now hold its shape as you sew, trim, and quilt it.

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