How To: T-shirt Quilt (Introduction)

We all have them, t-shirts from a chapter of your life you’d like to keep and treasure. In totes…in drawers…everywhere.  The phrase ‘oh! I’ll make a t-shirt quilt.’ runs through your mind. Well here you go!

Before we get started, a couple things to keep in mind.  If these terms are vague to you, go to your local library or online and do your research!  It will make things much easier for you later on.

Pick out the t-shirts you would like to use for your quilt. Is there a theme?  Certain period in your life?  Colors?  Lay them on the floor to brainstorm ideas and what shirts work together.  This will help to figure out backing and binding fabric colors as well.  My quilt is based on my college years, so black and gold will be the fabric colors featured.

When figuring out the size of your t-shirt quilt block, keep in mind the size of the graphics on the t-shirt. You don’t want to trim off a favorite shirt by accident!

Here are some shirt quantities to estimate a quilt size.  If you use sashing, the size of your sashing can take a row and column of shirts out of this estimate.  Sashing can be used to separate blocks that clash and give you the flexibility to make the quilt the exact size you want.

T-shirt blocks are assumed to be about 14 inches, adjust as needed.
12 shirts = throw-size quilt, approx. 48″ x 64″ – 3 across x 4 down
20 shirts = twin size quilt, approx. 64″ x 82″ – 4 across x 5 down
30 shirts = full size quilt, approx. 82″ x 96″ – 5 across x 6 down
36 shirts = queen size quilt, approx. 96″ x 96″ – 6 across x 6 down
42 shirts = king size quilt, approx 110″ x 96″ – 7 across x 6 down

I’ve seen it either way with the t-shirt blocks sewn together or with fabric (sashing) placed inbetween them.   Using sashing will effect the time it will take to complete your quilt.  Decide at the beginning if you will use sashing or not.

Batting is the fluffy stuff inbetween the quilt top and the backing and effects the warmth of the quilt. Thankfully there are all kinds of batting out there and the way it is woven can allow you more quilting options to keep the batting in place over the life of your quilt.

Binding is found on the edge of the quilt and binds the front and back together.  Binding can be purchased or made from the fabric you are using.  Binding is usually cut on the bias, but can be cut on the straight edge as well.  Bias binding is sturdier then straight edge, and double fold is stronger then single fold.

Quilting traditionally kept the batting in place over the life of the quilt.  Many old quilts have intense quilting patterns to keep the cotton batting in place.  Today, a variety of batting is available made from a variety of materials.  The tighter the weave, the less quilting you need to keep it in place.  Quilting is more of an art form or for decorative use.  You will want some kind of quilting, influenced by how much it will be used, and it is done either by hand or by machine.

  • Tie tacking (by hand)
  • Stitching along blocks or designs within the block (by hand or machine)

If you plan on using this everyday, make sure your materials are high quality to stand up to washing and use.  The degree of use will effect the type of sashing, binding, quilting and batting you will need.

This is a lot of information to take in, so research will make this less intimidating. It can also take some time.  If you’ve never done it before, keep it simple.  For the quilt I’m going to walk you through….in sewing time, it took about a week or two. In reality for me – 6 years. Picked the shirts in 2005, assembled the front in 2010, completed in 2011.  6 years, 6 apartments.  Life happens.

Now time to get started…wait, do you have a cat? Put the cat away…now you’re ready to get started.

Table of Contents
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Introduction)
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Tools)
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Fabric and Sashing)
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Fusing and Piecing)
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Assembly)
How To: T-shirt Quilt (Quilting)


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