April 23, 2009

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial Part 1 - Planning

I've noticed as I read my stats (yes, I'm a stat checker), that I get quite a few hits as people search for info about t-shirt quilts. Even though my first post about my Aggie t-shirt quilt sends you to a great site with instructions, I thought I'd do a running post as I make this quilt for my cousin Sarah as she graduates from Terrell High School to go off to Tarleton State University (a member of the Texas A&M University System - Whoop!).

You know, just in case you would like to know how I make one. : )

Step one: Pick out your shirts and decide how to use them.

It depends on how many shirts you have and what parts of them you plan to use as to how you proceed.
  • Don't use shirts that have gaping holes in them, paint on them, stains, etc. ; )
  • Thin, worn shirts, and small holes are ok as the interfacing will actually help hold everything together.
  • Decide what parts of the shirts you want to use. You may decide to use front and back and that will give you two blocks per shirt. Some shirts have only a small logo in the front pocket area and a bigger print on the back. You can use that small logo if you decide you're ok with a little more work. You may also decide to minimize the size of each block to the actual size of the writing on that shirt, making a smaller block. The only way to include smaller pieces/blocks, is with a variable t-shirt quilt (see quilt below). With this kind of quilt, the columns will have the same width, but there will not be any discernible rows. If there's writing on the sleeve or front pocket area that is small, you can still use it, you just have to improvise a bit more.
Once you know how many shirt blocks and/or pieces will you have, you can determine how big your quilt is going to be. Based on your estimates, you can throw out shirts or add shirts to get the correct size. (It is best to make this decision before cutting!)
  • Sarah gave me about 16 shirts to work with. I looked through them and threw out one that I thought was inappropriate (didn't fit in with the others and was kinda tacky) and found one that was a duplicate. No problem, I'll make a pillow out of that one. After grouping my small pieces and determining which fronts and backs to use, I have 3x5 blocks.
  • To estimate quilt size, use the estimate of one full t-shirt front or back = 12-14" square block. Add your sashing (2-3 inches) and you can make a good estimate of what size quilt you can make. So, if you have 3 columns (x12) + 3 inch sashing (x3), your quilt without a border will be 45" wide. 5 rows (x12) + 3 inch sashing (x4) = 72" long (the length estimate will not hold true in a variable quilt - you can actually fit in more shirts because some shirts may be 1/2 the "length" of a block - see my Aggie quilt).
  • You can always make bigger sashings and add a wide border to make a wider/longer quilt as needed. Plan ahead! Draw pictures!
  • If you plan to have small pieces, think about how you can group them to make one "block" and consider them in that manner in your estimates.

    I think I'll add a border to the blocks as well as the quilt to make it a twin size quilt that she might be able use in her dorm room. (4x5 is probably a decent twin size in this case). Check out Goose Tracks' list of sizes if you don't want to do the math!

Step two: Cut the shirts.

This is the really hard part. Especially if they're your treasured shirts! I cut off the sleeves and then up the sides to the middle of the underarm. I leave the collar at this point, because you have to make sure you have a good 1/4 inch allowance after you decide how you want to cut your "block". Some printing can get really close to that collar. Part of the problem I have with using the same size blocks, is that the only way to leave 1/4" at the top and get the block as long as you need it, is to have a lot of blank t-shirt below your writing and I think that can look kinda funny some times. But it is easier.

Step three: Plan your blocks. (I recommend a big open area for this one.)
  • If you are not doing a variable t-shirt quilt (you didn't include any small blocks or pocket areas or sleeve portions of your shirts), simply measure the writing, adding 1/2" on the width and length of each shirt's printed area. The longest width and the longest length = the width and length each of your blocks has to be. All you have to do is decide on how to arrange each block in your quilt, and you can even do that after cutting and applying the interfacing. So you're done for now!
  • As you can see in my Aggie quilt, there are not precise rows. The only way to make sure each column comes out the same length is to play around with your shirt placement until it works! The best way to prepare your shirts so you can decide on how to cut each one is to pin them and do a lot of finagling.
  • I make a temporary decision on how I want to frame the writing/picture on a particular t-shirt. I fold over the top and bottom...

then the sides. I pin the corners so it will stay in place as I move things around later on. I like to get fairly close to the item of interest (always leaving a frame and of course 1/4 inch seam allowance) because I don't want to take up a lot of room with t-shirt unless I need to. I want to fit as many t-shirts in as possible! You may have to pin the top, bottom and sides as well to add stability.

Here's a shirt all pinned and ready to move around:

Step four: Arrange your blocks.

I leave an imaginary sashing (the fabric that will frame my blocks) between the blocks as I lay them out. At this point, I can see approximately how big my quilt is going to be and arrange the blocks in a pleasing way according to color and content (mainly color). This is a lot of red, but I'm going to make the pattern of colors more organized with the borders I use.

It turns out that, even though I've used the variable t-shirt method on this quilt, there are pretty obvious rows. I will have to make some adjustments in my border fabrics, though to make sure everything lines up perfectly.
The goal with the height in a variable t-shirt quilt is to end up with all of the columns being the same length. You have to be a little free form with it and experiment with different lengths for each shirt. You have to treat it like a puzzle and move shirts around until it all fits pretty close within the size of your quilt. To do this, you may have to add extra sashing. It takes more time and thinking, but I think the result looks great if you take the time and do it right!
Well, this is all I've done so far! This week, in the Cutting Phase, I plan to cut my blocks out, iron on the interfacing, and maybe cut my border fabric! Dig out those t-shirts you've been saving up and join me! And feel free to ask any questions you might have about the process!


betsy green said...

ok, lady. . . .I don't know where you find the time. . .but I am a bit inspired. We have BOXES full of a&m shirts from when J played handball there and I REALLY should do SOMETHING with them!

Valerie Edwards said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I'd love to know what kind of interfacing you recommend. A t-shirt quilt is definitely on my "to do' list. Thanks, Valerie Edwards

Abby said...

Thanks for stopping by, Valerie! I use Pellon lightweight fusible interfacing. It runs around $1.99/yd at Hobby Lobby. There's a thicker one, but this one works just fine. Good luck with your quilt and your "to do list"!

Alisa said...

Thanks for the tutorial! I'd love to know what kind of interfacing you recommend. A t-shirt quilt is definitely on my "to do' list.

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