How to Make a T-Shirt Quilt

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Photo by John Polak
Learn how to make a t-shirt quilt with a modern twist in this project from "Quilting with a Modern Slant" by Rachel May.

Quilting with a Modern Slant(Storey Publishing, 2014) offers a glimpse into dozens of unique visions, with profiles of quilters and artists who have developed their own aesthetic and quilting tips and patterns from author Rachel May. Modern quilting offers the freedom to play with fabrics, patterns, colors, stitching and the way in which they all connect. With photographs of finished quilts, quilting tips and tutorials on natural dyeing, machine quilting, appliqué, finishing, improvisational piecing and even starting a blog, this book is chock-full of ideas to inspire quilters of every level. Sherri-Lynn Wood contributed this project from “Chapter 2: Improv,” which will show you how to make a t-shirt quilt.

How to Make a Modern Memory Lane T-Shirt Quilt

T-shirt quilts are all the rage, probably because T-shirts with logos of all sorts have become a staple of the American wardrobe. More often than not, the T-shirts’ logos are centered and cut into large uniform squares and sewn into a grid. This approach effectively concentrates sentiment by gathering all the memories in one place, so let’s take it to the next level by adding more visual interest.

When I’m working with memories, I want to create a quilt that is as beautiful as it is meaningful. So when I make a quilt with lots of T-shirt logos, I like to mix it up.
To do this I combine a contrasting mix of fabrics with the T-shirt to create what I call a memory lane. Even though this process fragments the logos, they are still readable, because they are held together in a path of color.

What You’ll Need

• T-shirts
• Contrasting fabric from your stash or other meaningful clothing
• Iron-on interfacing for knits (optional)
• Spray starch (optional)
• Backing fabric
• Batting

T-Shirt Quilt Instructions  


1. Gather and prepare your T-shirts. If they are mostly bland, you will want to include other brightly colored or contrasting cloth to combine with your T-shirts. This will give your memory lanes some punch. Fabric from your stash will do, or you might choose other clothing and materials that carry meaning or tell your story.

If your T-shirts are threadbare or extremely stretchy, use an iron-on interfacing to reinforce and stabilize. Heavy-duty spray starch is another alternative for stabilizing stretchy material. Otherwise, try not to stretch the material as you sew.


2. Cut out each T-shirt logo without a ruler. Leave plenty of space around it.


3. Include neck cuffs. Sometimes I include the neck cuff of the T-shirt along with the logo, then fill in the curve with other fabric to maintain a straight edge at the top. To do this:

• Place the neck cuff of the T-shirt over the contrasting memory lane cloth and pin in place.
• Use a blind appliqué stitch to sew the cuff in place on top of the memory lane cloth.
• Trim away excess cloth on the wrong side and across the top from shoulder to shoulder.


4. Prepare a base-cloth. Use a contrasting color and/or value from your T-shirts to create a base-cloth that roughly matches the size of each T-shirt section. Sometimes I combine two or more fabrics to create my memory-lane base-cloth. In this instance I’m using the blank sides of my T-shirts, but feel free to include materials from your stash or other clothing that carries meaning.


5. Create your memory lanes. Layer the T-shirt logo under the base-cloth, right sides up, so that the top edge of the base-cloth overlaps where you want to make the first cut-through of your T-shirt.

• Cut the same line horizontally across and through both pieces of cloth.
• A couple of inches below the first cut, repeat the above step, this time layering your T-shirt section on top of the memory-lane section.
• Carefully gather all your cuts, keeping them in order.
• Starting at the top, pin the first two strips with right sides together and sew.
• Pin the third strip to your second strip in the same way and sew. Work your way down the strips until you’re done.

Options for Shaping Cuts

• When cutting freehand, be present and move from your core. Your cutting line is the signature of your hand.

• You can cut straight across. You can cut wedge shapes. You can cut curve shapes. You can cut curvy wedge shapes. You can rotate your base-cloth in the opposite direction, if made from multiple fabrics.

• Remember that a 1/4″ of the logo will disappear in the seam at each cut.

• It is okay if your memory lane curves or the sides are unequal. Leave finished sections untrimmed for now.

6. Assemble your memory lanes. Once you have created all your memory lanes, arrange them like a puzzle with right sides facing up. Pay attention to natural fits, and bleeds of colors and shapes across seamlines.


Once arranged, match up the outer edges by overlapping sections that will be next to each other and cutting the same line through both sections, so that they mirror each other. As needed, add fabric to lengthen a section (so it’s equal to the piece you are sewing it to), or cut off the excess after you sew the sections together.

7. Make the quilt sandwich and quilt. (See How to Make a Quilt in Six Steps) Hand-quilting puts the body in a soothing meditative posture, perfect for quiet reflection when quilting alone, or for sharing stories, memories, and emotions with others.

When hand-quilting, I mirror and echo a simple freehanded scallop pattern that requires very little advance marking. I use a size 006 embroidery needle and #8 DMC pearl cotton. It helps to concentrate on making straight and even stitches and not on stitch length. Smaller stitches will come naturally with repetition.

A Final Tip

Make a striped fabric out of your remaining T-shirt and base-cloth scraps to use as a border.

Quilting Instructions from Quilting with a Modern Slant

How to Make a Quilt in Six Steps
How to Quilt by Hand

Reprinted with permission from Quilting with a Modern Slant by Rachel May and published by Storey Publishing.Photos by John Polak and Sherri Lynn Wood.