Jenelle Montilone of TrashN2Tees is the author of The Upcycled T-Shirt: 28 Easy-to-Make Projects That Save the Planet Clothing, Accessories, Home Decor & Gifts. She’s here for Part One of a T-Shirt Quilt series, giving you her best tips for a modern, upcycled and pretty new quilt!
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Happy January! It’s that time of year when we focus on out with the old and in with the new. Digging deep into the bottom of your drawer I have no doubt you’ll turn up a few old t-shirts, but instead of throwing them out let’s remake them into something new. I’m really excited to share my twist on the traditional t-shirt quilt, and help you conquer your fears of sewing with jersey knit; I’ll cover all of the essential tips for sewing a quilt from t-shirts.
My affinity for repurposing t-shirts to create appliques, crafts and quilts started nearly ten years ago. I was a newly stay at home mom looking for a hobby. Money was tight and soon I found myself cutting up outgrown clothing to make usable fabric. I gravitated toward sewing with quality knit materials cut from t-shirts, night gowns, dresses and sheets. These fabrics required no edge finishing (knit doesn’t fray) and they can be purchased secondhand for only a few dollars. These ideas were instrumental in the development of my sewing journey because I was no longer intimidated by experimenting or cutting into my fabric. As a bonus, it was readily available in a variety of colors!
In 2010 I started my own sewing business called TrashN2Tees. There I offered unique one of kind clothing for boys that were made entirely from reclaimed or discarded tees. TrashN2Tees [trash-into-tees] was the perfect marriage of everything I was passionate about: environmental science (my major in college), boys (having two sons of my own and the struggle to find clothing that reflected their unique personalities), and getting nurturing my creative mind. My blog soon followed, where I offered resources for textile recycling and creative reuse: home of The Ultimate Upcycled T-shirt Tutorial List. Did you know that 13 billion tons of textiles are trashed yearly in the United States? Of this 95% can actually be recycled or reused, but I believe it could all be repurposed. Eventually my small Etsy shop operation spanned into a full, nationwide clothing recycling program and I even wrote the book on t-shirt repurposing. It’s called The Upcycled T-Shirt: 28 Easy-to-Make Projects That Save the Planet. The book was published by Stash Books, and is available in your favorite stores and libraries. I’m very proud to tell you, TrashN2Tees partnerships in total have diverted more than 400 tons of clothing from our landfills!
Today we’re kicking off a two part series on how to construct a modern t-shirt quilt of your own. We’ll cover all the things you need to get started; where to find t-shirts, and how to maximize your t-shirt material, prepare your t-shirts for piecing and cut them to size. In the second part of this series we’ll cover the basic layout, reducing bulky seams, fool proof tips for screen printing the top of your quilt and I’ll show you how to bind the quilt using your backing.
You’ll need 10-12 large or extra large adult tees for a small lap size quilt like mine. (Finished measurements 40″ x 50″.) You’ll get more bang for your buck if you are using shirts without a pocket or screen print, however we can easily work around any images.
Shirts can be found in the bottom of your closet, in drawers or from a neighbor. If you’re still having a hard time finding t-shirts check out your local second hand stores, eBay and free-cycle sites. Keep in mind that you can easily create custom colors using i-Dye packets from Jaquard Products. These little capsules of magic just dissolve in your washing machine with no extra mess while creating your own custom colors for your quilt. If you’re still searching for tees after all of this, you can always pick up a few from your local craft store like Michaels or JoAnns.
- Sewing Machine
- 10-12 T-shirts
- 5 yards All Purpose Woven Fusible Interfacing
- 1.5 yards Flannel (or backing material of your choice)
- Natures Touch Batting
- Clear Acrylic Ruler
- Clear 12″ Square Ruler (You can also make a template of your own using cardboard.)
- Large Self Healing Mat
- Rotary Cutter Tool
- Masking Tape
- Polyblend Thread
- Ball Point or Stretch Needles
- Fabric Paint
- Foam Brush or Pouncer
- Optional + Encouraged: Walking Foot
1. Prepare your t-shirts by machine washing them. This is especially important if you are using any newly purchased shirts that might shrink later.
2. Next I like to cut the interfacing ahead of time. I recommend using cotton woven fusible, like Pellon SF 101. Precut 12.5″ x 12.5″ squares. With a variety of interfacing options available on the market, you’ll find that opinions on what type of interfacing is best for t-shirts quilts will vary. T-shirt knit stretches quite a bit and once cut will begin to curl. Using the cotton woven will add substance to your quilt squares and keep them from both stretching and curling when sewing.
3. Lay one t-shirt out onto a flat surface and start by removing the sleeves of the shirt right on the seam. Using a pair of scissors begin at the bottom side of the shirt, cut up to the arm hole following the shoulder seam and finish cutting to through the neck band. Repeat this on the other side. When you are finished you will have two pieces of t-shirt.
4. Place precut interfacing squares onto t-shirt with the grainy side down. You will be able to get at least two 12″ squares from every large tee. Shirts that are larger may yield four 12″ squares. Fuse the interfacing into place over desired area, press from the middle of the square to the outer edges to smooth out any creases and ensure the entire area is smooth.
5. Place your acrylic square ruler or template over top of the interfaced shirt. Use a rotary cutter to precisely cut out all of your quilt blocks into 12” squares. To make a small throw like mine you’ll need a total of 24 squares.
6. The last step for today’s portion of the T-shirt Quilt Series is to cut these squares into half square triangles. This can be done with the help of your large cutting mat, using the diagonal placement lines in the upper right corner of the mat. When you are finished you will have 48 half square triangles.
Here’s an example of how the woven interfacing stabilizes your t-shirt. The purple triangle has Pellon SF 101 on the back side while the green triangle has no interfacing. Notice how the edges curl up? As you work with knit fabric the edges will continue to curl which will later misshapen your finished quilt unless tamed.
Join me back here in the next couple of days for Part Two of the series. Until then I am looking forward to connecting with you here! Please feel free to leave any questions or comments, and let me know what challenges you’ve encountered while sewing a t-shirt quilt (or any t-shirt project!). I would also love for you to share any tips others might benefit from. I’m always excited to learn what methods others are using. Meet me on Instagram (@TrashN2Tees) and get my TrashN2Tees Briefs (not my underwear, my newsletter!) for bi-weekly DIYs, news, events and 20% off any purchase from the TrashN2Tees Shop!