Everyone has them, those novelty T-shirts that accumulate through years of school activities, concerts, charitable functions, memberships of clubs and associations, volunteering, travelling, etc. Most of them are seldom worn any more, but because of the fond memories they represent, getting rid of them simply is not an option. Therefore, such shirts are liable to sit in the bottom of a drawer indefinitely, just taking up space. This entry, however, offers a colourful alternative to this bleak scenario by creating a beautiful patchwork quilt, using your T-shirt designs as patches.
Because the primary purpose for making a T-shirt quilt is to preserve your fondest memories, there is no right or wrong way to make such a quilt, and there are many variations. Following these instructions will result in a quilt that fits a double bed. However, you may easily modify its dimensions. This entry is simply meant as a guideline to get you started.
Choosing your Materials
You will need:
- A cutting board
- A fabric cutter1
- A long plastic straight edge that attaches to the edge of your cutting board2
- A large spool of thread (any colour)
- A needle
- A sewing machine with a needle strong enough to sew through denim
- +/- 20 T-shirts
- Several pairs of old trousers3
- Iron-on interfacing fabric4
- A tea towel
- An iron
- An ironing board
- A cotton sheet (double bed size)
- A flannel sheet (double bed size)
- A large, durable sewing needle
The first step is to choose the T-shirts you wish to include. For some, this is a simple task, and for others it may require more thought. You may wish to create a quilt that represents several important aspects of your life, or you may choose a single theme, such as travel, concerts, or sporting events. You should try to find T-shirts with large designs, but if you wish to include small pocket-sized emblems, several can be sewn together to form one large quilt square.
Preparing the T-shirts
Once you have chosen your T-shirts, you must make sure they have all been prewashed and ironed. Now you are ready to begin. Start by measuring the T-shirt designs. The longest length and widest width will become the standard dimensions for every square. Be sure to leave a generous allowance on all edges. Recommended dimensions for cutting the designs are 38 x 40cm. Centre your design on the grid of the cutting board and cut your designs using your fabric cutter and straight edge.
Next you need to cut 20 38 x 40cm pieces from your iron-on interfacing and iron them onto the back of each T-shirt design. This adds bulk to flimsy T-shirt material, preventing it from stretching while you sew it later on. To attach the interfacing, put your T-shirt face down first. Then put your interfacing on top of it (adhesive side down). When ironing on the interfacing fabric, you must either spray water on the fabric before ironing, or use the iron's 'steam' feature while you iron. Also, use your towel over the interfacing as you iron, otherwise the heat will cause the interfacing to distort and shrink. Finally, when all your T-shirt designs are ready, lay them out on the floor (four columns/five rows) to decide their location on the quilt.
Preparing the Trousers
The next step in making your quilt is a great way to relieve stress after a hard day's work - tearing apart denim trousers for the borders between your T-shirt designs. You will need only the flat material of the legs, so you can cut off and dispose of the seams. You may wish to save the seat portions however, as you can evidently recycle them into stylish handbags. Next, use your cutting board and cutter to cut the denim into border strips. The 24 strips going across should be 9 x 38cm and the 25 strips going down should be 9 x 40cm. Finally, you will need thirty 9 x 9cm squares5 to use where the denim strips going across meet those going down.
Assembling the Front of your Quilt
If you've made it this far, it is now when your patience will pay off. It's time to sew your pieces together. All seam allowances will be 1cm in this quilt. Start by pinning two of your horizontal denim strips to the top and bottom of your top left quilt square6. Use your sewing machine to sew them together. Add another T-shirt to the bottom and then another denim strip. Continue until you have a vertical strip containing five T-shirts alternating with six denim pieces. Do this for all four columns. Then iron your seams open7 on the back of each column, using your towel between the iron and your fabric.
Next, pin 9 x 9cm squares to the top and bottom of one of your vertical denim strips. Sew them on. Keep adding another vertical strip and another square until you have a long strip consisting of five vertical denim strips alternating with six denim squares. Make five strips this way. Again, iron the seams open on the back of each column.
Finally, pin a long denim strip to each side of your first column of T-shirts. Be careful to match up the squares with the horizontal denim pieces. Sew them together. Add another column of T-shirts and another column of denim until the front of your quilt is complete. Once more, iron all seams open on the back, using your towel between the iron and your fabric.
Attaching the Backing
Make sure your flannel sheet and your cotton sheet are both pre-washed and ironed before you begin. Then lay your quilts front face up on the floor. Put your flannel sheet on top and cut off any extra material that hangs over the edges. Last, put your cotton sheet face down on top, again cutting off excess material on the edges. Pin everything together and sew around the edge slowly with your sewing machine. Leave a 20cm opening in the middle on the bottom edge. Turn your quilt right side out again, and sew a few quick stitches by hand to tack the flannel sheet in place in the opening. Fold the edges of your opening in to coincide with the rest of your seam, and stitch it closed by hand.
To complete your quilt, you need to put frays8 in every other corner of the T-shirt designs. To do this, put a piece of yarn through a large, durable sewing needle with a big eye. Match up the ends so the piece is doubled. Don't put the fray exactly in the corner, as this would be too difficult with so many seams meeting there inside the quilt. Rather, put the needle through starting on the cotton sheet side of the quilt and bring it up about 1cm in from the corner. Sewing through so many layers of fabric is not easy, so you'll probably need to use a pair of pliers to pull your needle from one side to the other. Make a small, inconspicuous stitch, pulling the needle through again to the other side. Tie the yarn in a knot and cut, leaving the frays about 3 or 4cm long.
A Work of Art
And there you have it; instead of a cluttered bureau full of old T-shirts you never wear, you now have a priceless souvenir representing the great moments of your life.