T-shirt quilt patterns for beginners: how to stabilize a T-shirt for sewing (tutorial)

There’s a reason why T-shirt quilts are an all-time favorite—they’re simple, they’re personal, and they’re filled with memories. T-shirt quilts are a wonderful way to say congratulations, thanks, and I love you to graduates, sports fanatics, music lovers, and more.

t-shirts

One question most quilters have—since we work primarily with woven fabric—is how to cut and sew knit fabric to quilting cottons. That’s because knit fabric (which tees are made from) stretches! The book Terrific T-Shirt Quilts breaks down the steps. Once you know the steps, you and your machine will be whirring out T-shirt quilts for everyone in your family. And they’ll love you for it!

Too-Precious-to-Pitch-T-shirt-quilt
Too Precious to Pitch T-shirt quilt designed by Krista Moser

Today we’re sharing a few tips from Terrific T-Shirt Quilts about how to get your T-shirts quilt-top ready. If you’ve ever used interfacing, you’re already one step ahead!


STABILIZING A T-SHIRT

From Terrific T-Shirt Quilts

To prepare T-shirts for use in a quilt, you can either plan the quilt and cut out and interface only what you need, or “harvest” fabric from all your T-shirts first and see how much fabric you have to work with before choosing a quilt pattern.

Approach 1: Apply Interfacing to Select Areas

First, plan which T-shirts you’ll use for specific blocks. Then, cut interfacing pieces a few inches larger than needed for each T-shirt piece. This allows for shrinkage or shifting while fusing; once the T-shirt piece is interfaced, you’ll cut it to the exact size. Just before cutting each T-shirt, turn it inside out and place the interfacing behind the logo area so that it ends up where you want it on the finished block.

Go-Zags-t-shirt-quilt
Go Zags! T-shirt quilt designed by Janet Nesbitt

Approach 2: Apply Interfacing to All Useable Areas

Interface all usable areas with a piece of interfacing that’s a little smaller than the T-shirt area. Later, cut into the needed pieces for the quilt design you’re making.

1. Cut the T-shirt up the sides and across the top to separate the front and back; remove the sleeves.

How-to-cut-a-t-shirt-for-a-quilt
Using scissors or a rotary cutter, cut up the side of a T-shirt, close to the sleeve seam (so you can save the sleeve fabric, especially if it has a logo). Then cut across the shoulders and neckline, and down the other side.

2. Place the T-shirt front or back wrong side up on your work surface, and then place interfacing, fusible side down, over the desired area. (The fusible side is usually the bumpy side; when heated, the bumps become “glue” that holds the interfacing to the T-shirt.) Following the manufacturer’s instructions, fuse in place and let cool. If you want to use the sleeves, cut off the underarm seam, open up the sleeve, and interface. Be sure to put the stretch of the interfacing perpendicular to the greatest stretch of the T-shirt (usually the greatest stretch of the T-shirt will be around the body).

Cutting-interfacing-for-a-t-shirt-quilt
Cut the interfacing a couple inches bigger in either direction than the piece you plan to cut from the T-shirt. Fuse the interfacing in place, and then trim to the necessary size.


Tween-Dreams-t-shirt-quilt
Tween Dreams T-shirt quilt designed by Sheila Markewicz

Terrific T-Shirt QuiltsAre you ready to make a quilt full of memories? The patterns and how-to in Terrific T-Shirt Quilts walk you through all the basics. Create layouts that easily incorporate different-sized images; feature baby clothes and other tiny motifs; create with specialty fabrics like mesh and sweatshirts; and even include embellishments on T-shirts. If you’ve got a stack of tees, Terrific T-Shirt Quilts will help you turn them into a family treasure.

Have you ever made a T-shirt quilt? What was the theme? Tell us in the comments!

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28 Comments (leave a comment)

  • Yess I made 2 for a friend out of his hawaii tShirts….happyness04431@yahoo.com

    Anna brown on January 16, 2017
  • yes, for my daughter when she graduated for Buffalo Grove high School. I used all of her team shirts.

    —Angie Little on January 16, 2017
  • I’m in the process of making not really a tee-shirt quilt, but the same process. A friend asked me to make a memory quilt out of his daughters old clothes. Almost all of it is knit fabric which I am cutting then stabilizing.

    —Joanne O'Neal on January 16, 2017
  • First T-shirt quilt was for son from his college shirts.

    —Marsha Teter on January 16, 2017
  • I made a t shirt quilt for my grandson when he graduated from high school. He loved basketball and track so I used his t shirts from those sports. He had so many shirts that it was a big quilt and instead of quilting it I knotted it at the corners of every shirt.

    —Dixie Felton on January 16, 2017
  • I’ve made 2 so far, both for graduations. They are a loved gift!

    —Claire on January 16, 2017
  • I’ve done at least 2 t-shirt quilts, one being from shirts that our mom saved for my sister from age 5. So all sizes, it was a challenge to say the least. Now I have no less than 35 shirts from my marathon running sister-in-law, not the traditional cotton shirts. I have turned to the books for help and am still on the planning step of this one.

    Joyce on January 16, 2017
  • I"ve made a t-shirt quilt for my husband.He loves Harley Davidson motorcycles and had saved alot of t-shirts so I decided to make him one to surprise him.He really enjoyes it.

    —Connie Hopper on January 16, 2017
  • I haven’t made one yet, but I need to! I’ve had plans to try, but I’ve never followed through. Thanks for the tips. Now, I need this book.

    —TaraA on January 16, 2017
  • I have made many t-shirts quilts with various themes. Most were sports themes but I have also made some for a family that lost a child. Currently I am working on several made mostly from solid color shirts using novelty fabrics for the sashing. The sashing sets the theme of the quilt.

    —Maureen Klebe on January 16, 2017
  • I made my son a WSU T-shirt quilt to take with him when he attended WSU, the t-shirts and shorts were all his from the age of 9 on.

    —Susan on January 16, 2017
  • I have made 3 t-shirt quilts from Harley Davidson t-shirts. Its a great way to treasure all the places the guys have been. Funny thing is that even after making three quilts it didn’t put a dent in the stack of t-shirts they had accumulated. Looks like I will be making more of them.

    —Sue F on January 16, 2017
  • I have made many t-shirt quilts with a variety of themes, such as for a university president, favorite university, Harley-Davidson, car club, and on and on. I am ready to make t-shirt quilts for my twin grandsons who are getting ready to turn 12. I started keeping their t-shirts when they were 9 months old. T-shirt quilts are fun to make and it is wonderful to see the people who receive them and start reminiscing (sp) about each shirt.

    —Dottie Alexander on January 16, 2017
  • I made one for my great niece when she graduated from high school. Luckily, since I am a hand quilter, I got her mother to take it to a longarmers quilter. Lots of different high school activities are represented in the collage style quilt.

    —Carol on January 16, 2017
  • I am ready to make my first one. I have gathered the shirts and started cutting them apart. This information came at a good time. Thank you.

    —Margaret Dalmer on January 16, 2017
  • Yes, i have made 2 t-shirt quilts. One for each daughter. One displaying all the plays she acted in and the other with her tennis and debate team events.
    They turned out ok, I won’t tie them next time, thread broke over time.

    —Debra W on January 16, 2017
  • I have made several tee shirt quilts. I remember one in particular which was made from Harley Davis motorcycle ralley shirts from sites throughout the world. I used an attic windows setting for the blocks and a flame printed fabric for the border.

    —Jackie Pierce on January 16, 2017
  • I have a bagful of shirts, but have not started it yet.

    —Jane on January 16, 2017
  • I haven’t ever made a T-shirt quilt.

    —Stephanie Woodward on January 16, 2017
  • I have made a t shirt quilt for my son, this was after high School and collage. Worked on it in one winter, The theme was memories of schools and what he did with the collection of tee shirts. Finding them was fun, every thrift shop I went to always had something to go with the theme. Surprised him at Christmas and he loves it.

    Althea Klosterman on January 16, 2017
  • I haven’t, but have my sons track shirts from high school ready for a quilt. The theme will be long distance running or track.

    —Karen M. on January 17, 2017
  • I have made a tshirt quilt for my nephew for his High School graduation. He said he likes it and uses it on his dorm room bed. It does create a keepsake. This is my blog photos if you would like to view it. http://nettiesews.blogspot.com/2015/06/tshirt-quilt-finished.html

    Hi Danette, your t-shirt quilt is wonderful – I love how you tipped the shirts on the background pieces! So creative, thank you for sharing with us! –Jenny

    Danette Stankovich on January 18, 2017
  • I have never attempted one. The stretchiness intimidates me. Your tips should help resolve that. Thx

    —JanG on January 20, 2017
  • Haven’t made it yet, but the t-shirts destined for a quilt live inn a bag under my cutting table.

    —bookboxer on January 20, 2017
  • I’ve been sorting through clothes and other material items to make a memory quilt from my youngest baby’s things. And in the process I think I’ve found enough to make another memory quilt incorporating things from all of my children

    —Skye B on January 20, 2017
  • Someone just asked me yesterday to make a t-shirt quilt, and I hesitated to answer. Seeing your tutorial here today, told me I could say yes! Must be Someone is telling me to do this!

    Sounds like it’s meant to be, Madeline! 🙂 Thanks for your comment! –Jenny

    —madeline wallace on January 21, 2017
  • I have made a lot of t-shirt quilts. This book is a pretty good reference for making your own t-shirt quilt top.

    The hard part (and very important part) is the quilting. Of course, as a longarm quilter, I cringe when the tops aren’t sufficiently quilted. We ‘fix’ a lot of quilts that we were either just tied, or minimal quilting around some of the squares. A t-shirt quilt is a great project (although can be very heavy and bulky) to do on your domestic machine. If you aren’t comfortable call your local longarm quilter, and ask for a very simple meander type quilting pattern.

    Betty B
    Cypress TX
    T-Shirt Quilts of Texas
    http://blog.tshirtquiltstx.com/

    Betty on June 18, 2017
  • I made a t-shirt quilt for my nephew who graduate the class of 2000. His mom had his t-shirt from kindergarten which said class of 2000! She had t-shirts of all his interests throughout his school years. I used th lightest weight interfacing but it turned out to be a pretty heavy quilt.

    —Debbie on May 14, 2018

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