Monday, August 22, 2016

How to Make a Patchwork T-Shirt Quilt (+ Cushion) - Part 1 of 2

Irrespective of my efforts in baking, walking, playing, cuddling, I'm pretty sure that our pets LOVE their "Daddy" best. Grrrr... After seeing a friend's baby onsie quilt, my husband suggested I make something for the dogs from his old t-shirts so they could snuggle with him when he's not home. If it meant that he would finally part ways with some of his stretched out old holey t-shirts (hehehe...) how could I say no...especially since it was for the (spoiled rotten) pets?  I made these ages ago, and they have been thoroughly enjoyed through our cold winter weather, but I have been saving the instructions for a pre-Father's Day special collaboration with our partner blogs Dalmatian DIY and Green in Real Life.

To make your own t-shirt quilt, you will need: old t-shirts, iron-on interfacing, wadding, backing fabric, binding fabric (or pre-made binding), coordinating thread, scissors, a rotary cutter and board (not essentials, but makes the job so much easier!), iron and ironing board, and basic sewing equipment.  Tips: You can get by using a standard sewing machine foot (I did), but if you have a walking foot it is much easier for working with the quilting stage of this project. Buy or create a cutting template to use with your rotary cutter when making your squares - it is sooooo much easier! 
Planning the Pattern and Size: Anything goes! The quilt can be scaled to suit the t-shirt designs and patterns you have available (as I did for this project), or you can start with a standard bed/blanket size and plan a patchwork layout. The simpler the pattern, the easier it will be to cut, sew, and quilt; however, grid patterns are also less forgiving for accident misalignments or errors. I used a combination of large squares (T-shirt designs), same width rectangles (T-shirt designs and plain), and smaller patches which combined to the same width/height as my rectangles. This allowed me to use my available designs, add a little extra colour/interest, but still keep a linear strip for simple joining and quilting. Each quilt (I made two - one for each dog) is square, three linear strips wide with two squares + two wide rectangles per strip.

Since a t-shirt quilt is usually pretty colourful, you can go wild with your backing/binding, keep it understated and let the t-shirts do the talking, or pick something that goes with your decor so the quilt blends when folded or reversed. Tip: Remember that you need to fit the project through your sewing machine working from inside/center outwards whilst quilting the t-shirts onto your wadding/backing so don't make a plan too big/thick to work on with your machine. 

Prepping the T-Shirt Patches/Squares:
  • Make sure that your t-shirts are clean before starting the project.
  • Cut the section(s) of the t-shirts that you want to use slightly larger than each planned patch. Remember that every patch will need to be the intended finished face size plus seam allowances.  No need to be too fussy, as you will be trimming down to final size after interfacing. Tip: If your t-shirt doesn't have side seams, excess in the section below the design is perfect for making t-shirt yarn, so trim the bottom off before you cut the front away from the arms/neck/back.  Green in Real Life also has other uses for your offcuts.
  • Cut your interfacing slightly larger than each planned patch.  Interfacing stabilises the fabric to prevent sagging and stretching. That makes it possible to cut precise squares and sew the quilt together using standard methods. It is possible to quilt t-shirts without interfacing, but I strongly recommend using interfacing for recycling mix-and-match.  Tip: You can use a thin interfacing for a soft supple quilt or a slightly heavier weight for a stronger sturdy quilt - not desirable for a blankie but can be handy for a dog bed or mat.
  • Iron your interfacing to the back side of your patches.  Since t-shirt designs tend to dislike heat, you can spot test the patterns as well as iron face down on an ironing rag just in case. 
  • Make sure they are thoroughly fused together (re-iron if needed) before you trim each piece to precise patch size/shape. This is where a template, rotary cutter, and mat can save a lot of time and effort, but standard measure, mark, and cut also works.

Confirm Your Pattern and SizeLay out your design to confirm placement of patches and double check your sizes/alignment. Tip: Take quick-reference photos (e.g. on your mobile) and/or mark the backs of your patches to help you keep track of your design layout.  I did this several times during patch prep and joining to check and double-check.  For space, I resorted to the floor and the dogs immediately hopped on top, I knew the quilts would be be well-loved! Look at Humphrey "helping" below. Even the cat was keen to sprawl all over the project, which is what spawned the idea of making a wee little patchwork cushion/pillow for his favourite basket using some of the t-shirt offcuts.  

Joining the T-Shirt Patches/Squares: The best way to do this will depend on your design; however, if you have linear grid pattern (like mine), you can join your patches into strips and then join your strips.  Tip: Be VERY careful with sewing along your seam allowances throughout to preserve your design, and make sure you aren't sewing anything together upside down. Eek!  
  • If you have patches smaller than your linear strip width (I had a few locations where to smaller rectangles were combined to form a strip width rectangle), you will need to join together these first.  Sew face-to-face along the seam allowances, then iron the seams. If your patches are all the same width, proceed directly to joining patches into strips, per below.
  • Working from one edge, sew your your patches together to form a set of linear strips. Sew face-to-face along the seam allowances then iron the seams.
  • Sew the strips together to form the face of your t-shirt quilt, taking care to align your pattern if/as needed. Sew face-to-face along the seam allowances then iron the seams.

Stay tuned for Part 2 (Assembling and Finishing the Quilt + Making the Matching Cat Cushion) Next Monday! 



  1. My sister and I were just talking about making tshirt blankies for the kids this fall. This is perfect timing. We were going to do all big squares and are still saving shirts to have enough. I like how yours has smaller pieces mixed in but still up and down lines for easier sewing. Now we can use the backs too so fewer shirts. Thanks for the ideas!

    1. Hooray! :) So glad that you found it helpful. I wanted to make my small-ish quilts a little more interesting than a 3 x 3 of big patches, and being able to use backs/bottoms was definitely a plus. Good luck with your project!


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