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  • Writer's pictureMimi’s Nest Quilting Studio

All You Need To Know About T-Shirt Quilts

OK that title may not be totally accurate...but here's "a lot" that you may need to know about t-shirt quilts. While I wouldn't consider myself an expert...I have made several and am learning with every new quilt. Story time...


When the world was shut down for Covid Quarantine 2020, I was living my best life. All 4 of my big kids were forced to come back home from college for a few months and we had a FULL HOUSE! We had family dinners every night, and lots of quality time! If you ask them...they might remember things differently...but it was one of my favorite times in recent history! That was before the knee surgery, before the kidney tumor, before the hip surgeries, etc., etc. It was also before I became a quilter! Anyway...Liam and Gina decided that they would make a t-shirt quilt with all of Gina's old high school t-shirts. I don't even remember the process because they were hanging out in the basement using my 25-year-old sewing machine and sewing un-stabilized t-shirts together with zigzag stitching. They put the shirts together and then just kind of folded it up and forgot about it. But fast forward 6 months or so...post knee and kidney surgery and my introduction to quilting...and the girls asked me to "finish it up" when I got my longarm.


Since I was still a little baby quilter, I brought their floppy quilt top to the Fabric Center and asked for some advice. They sold me some stabilizer and said good luck! Haha. Well I did it, I ironed that thing as flat as I could and put stabilizer on the back of those floppy t-shirts and what do you know...it worked! I had a quilt top that was ready to quilt, I sandwiched it with some 80/20 batting and a nice 108" wide back and BOB'S YOUR UNCLE...instant success with thanks to my new BFF - my Juki longarm machine.


OK so after that first success, I was ready to tackle another t-shirt quilt. This one for my little sister, Anna. (She's not really little, but she'll always be my little sister...even though she's in her 40's.) Anyway, back in the 90's, Anna had leukemia when she was in high school, and started going to an annual summer camp for kids with cancer. Camp One Step At A Time has been a huge part of her life ever since then. Even as adults, she and her group of friends go back to camp every year and not only get to enjoy each others' company, but they give back and do fun things for the younger campers. If you know Anna, you know how much she loves her camp...and of course she had been collecting t-shirts every summer for all these years! So this next quilt was Anna's Christmas gift that first year.


This time I followed the "rules" of t-shirt quilting and actually ironed on the stabilizer before cutting out the shirts and I was able to take some of the smaller pocket designs from some of her shirts and make them into separate blocks. I also put a sashing strip in between each shirt and cornerstone blocks to match the border (and the quilting pantograph) with anchors because Anna's group is called the Seabees and an anchor is their thing. And then I used a fun rainbow stripe for the binding and Anna absolutely loved it! So do I. And I smile whenever I see it on her bed...that's one of many reasons why I love quilting.


My Uncle Pat passed away in 2014, and Aunt Diane had been hanging onto his t-shirts and sweatshirts with the intention of making t-shirt quilts once she retired. When she saw the one I made for Anna, she decided to delegate that task to me! I was so honored. The first box she found in her garage had only sweatshirts in it, and she thought she might have donated the t-shirts accidentally. But she really wanted each of their grandchildren (4) to have a quilt made with Grandpa Pat's clothes. So we added some of Aunt Diane's t-shirts and used fronts and backs and added some fabrics and we made it work! No sooner had I finished those first 4 quilts, she found the missing box of t-shirts! So we think it was just meant to be that Aunt Diane and cousin Nick were both meant to have memory quilts, too! This was such a special project for me to work on. I found the little poem that we embroidered on the corner squares of the grandkids' quilts online.


In these quilts, I learned a lot about working with different size t-shirts. Whereas Anna's camp quilt shirts were all pretty uniform in size, these shirts were not. And some of the sweatshirts had embroidery on them and some of the jerseys did not act like regular cotton even after being stabilized. Lots of learning, and lots of fun for me. I actually did some free-motion quilting with a simple stipple on the first few. Look how using different fabrics along with the t-shirts can change the whole presentation...can you guess which quilt is for the only granddaughter? I was glad to be able to use some of my St. Patrick's Day fabrics that I can never pass up when I see them at the fabric store. Uncle Pat was Irish like my mom, so I even chose a Celtic knot pantograph to use on that one.


Anna loved her camp quilt so much, she kept giving me more and more t-shirts. So for the next Christmas, I made her another quilt, this time with all the Relay for Life shirts that she had been collecting for years.


I have been asked about making t-shirt quilts a lot since starting this sewing journey. I've done a lot of research and tried to figure out a good way to price them. Like most crafts, it just varies so much from project to project. You want to make sure you're affordable, but you also don't want to be working for peanuts or overwhelm yourself so much that you lose the joy that you've found in your art. So what I have settled on is a per-shirt cost. $25 per shirt will cover the cost of fabric, batting, thread, quilting charge, binding service, and an hourly rate for my time.


It adds up fast, I know! So please remember how this all started for me...my kids sewing some old t-shirts together during Quarantine! I love sewing, but it isn't rocket science. If you need any tips or a quick lesson, give me a call! I'll help you get started and once you've got your t-shirts all sewn together how you like them...bring it to me and I'll load your quilt top on the long arm and finish it up for you. My longarm rate is 3 cents per square inch, so calculate your quilt top's length x width and multiply by 0.03 and that will give you the cost. Who knows, you might just end up loving this as much as I do!!




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