Jenelle Montilone from TrashN2Tees is the author of The Upcycled T-Shirt: 28 Easy-to-Make Projects That Save the Planet. She showed us how to gather supplies and get our knits prepped in Part One of our Modern T-Shirt Quilt series. Now Jenelle fills us in on the rest of the sewing! Learn how to sew and finish your Modern T-Shirt Quilt, and show us with a link in the comments…
Welcome back, and many thanks again for joining me here! I’m Jenelle Montilone, author of The Upcycled T-Shirt and designer behind TrashN2Tees where I re-image waste and design sustainable sewing solutions. A few days ago we dove head first into the idea that t-shirt quilts don’t have to be just square screen print blocks. I shared a little about myself and the journey that lead me to creating all things from discarded textiles. If you’ve missed Part One of this series, be sure to check it out.
Just like any creative process there are many possible ways to achieve a beautiful quilt and I’m happy to share how I created this modern twist on the t-shirt quilt. I received a few emails with requests for the more traditional quilt pattern that was featured at the end of Part One; you can pick up that pattern for free at a local Joann Fabric’s or right here online. Here 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. Let’s do a mini recap and get started!
You’ll need 10-12 large tees to create a throw size blanket. For this t-shirt quilt used ½ white shirts and the other half are a mixture of colors. T-shirts can be found in your closets and drawers, from a neighbor or picked up second hand at a thrift store or auction site. Always prewash your t-shirts without fabric softener (new or used). Tools like a rotary cutter, large self healing mat, 12″ acrylic square ruler and 6″ x 24″ acrylic ruler will come in handy, but you can absolutely work along with a homemade cardboard template, a marking tool and scissors. Up to now we’ve prepared our fabric and cut 48 half square triangles.
7. Now we are going to lay out our quilt. The design I’m sharing with you today is made up of six vertical rows consisting of eight triangles each. As I laid out my own, I preferred the negative space of the white and arranged it so all of the white triangles were facing right.
8. Typically when you are sewing with knits, a straight stitch for construction is not the most suitable; we’ll usually use a zig zag, overlock or maybe even a double needle. Jersey knit fabric stretches easily and a straight stitch doesn’t allow the seam to give. If you remember, we stabilized the knit fabric with an all purpose woven fusible, so now our t-shirts adopt many of the same characteristics of a quilting cotton. Today, you will not need to break out any speciality stitches! However I do recommend that set your stitch length to a medium (2.5mm-3.5mm) setting. All seams are ¼”.
In addition, I strongly encourage you to use a walking foot. (See photo.) A walking foot is one of those tools you didn’t realize you’d need/love/use all the time until you have one. It can be used for quilting and it’s one of my favorite tricks of the trade when tackling jersey knit projects of any type. The specialty foot acts as a second set of feed dogs, feeding your fabric from top and bottom evenly under the needle to prevent puckering and shifting. We’ll use it again later when quilting the t-shirt quilt sandwich (batting/backing/top).
9. To reduce bulk while constructing t-shirt quilts I like to grade my seams and then press them over. To grade the seam you’ll simply trim one side of the seam closely to the seam itself. Then press the seam flat.
10. Cover a large flat surface with newspaper or use a mega-sized cardboard box. Next we will be adding straight lines to add design and texture onto the quilt top. Tape the quilt down along the edges to reduce shifting and lifting. Iron your quilt top to make sure it’s flat.
11. Make a stencil using tape. Using a ruler I marked out 2.5″ diagonal strip, then placed the tape on either side of the measurement. Remember earlier when I mentioned that you should pre-wash your tees without fabric softener?… Well, fabric softener will affect the way the paint dries in the fibers and cause the paint to wash out in the future. Use a foam brush to blot the paint onto your quilt. The up and down motion will prevent any paint from getting smeared beneath your tape markings and give you crisp clean lines. Allow paint to dry for two hours and repeat process for additional details. When finished, allow the fabric paint to dry for 24 hours. Follow the directions on your paint medium of choice for proper setting instructions.
12. Now it’s time to make a quilt sandwich! Use spray adhesive to apply your t-shirt quilt top onto batting. Trim quilt to size and trim away excess batting; this will be much easier if your batting and t-shirt quilt top are the same size. After your quilt top and batting are trimmed, you will lay the quilt top/batting onto the center of your flannel backing. (Please note that in this tutorial I am using velvet to back my t-shirt quilt.)
13. Using the walking foot again I quilted the throw using a “stitch in the ditch” method, which basically means you follow the lines of your pieced top. I stitched vertically on the row and then diagonally.
14. Trim the backing, leaving 1″ all the way around the edges.
15. Starting at the bottom edge (or anywhere) fold the backing in half, and then over the quilt top halfway, one more time pinning it into place. I like to work with the long sides first (right and left side) folding them over and sewing into place. From there I moved to the short edges and worked on mitering my corners as we’ll cover here in a moment.
16. When you get to the corner, fold it over like so.
17. Then you fold the next edge in half once, and in half a second time to make a mitered corner.
18. Sew your binding into place using your walking foot. As you sew the corners, pivot by keeping your needle in the down position, lift your presser foot or walking foot into the up position, shift fabric to turn, put the foot back down and continue on.
T-shirt quilts are a wonderful way to capture memories, but I hope that this series has also helped you see the possibilities that are available when we see and use unwanted textiles in ways that serve both form and function. Transitioning from quilting to sewing with knits– or garment making to quilting– doesn’t need to be daunting when we apply what we know in a way in which we are comfortable and confident. If you’re looking for more great projects to use up the scrap tees left behind please pick up a copy of The Upcycled T-Shirt or visit the TrashN2Tees blog where I share more free projects, patterns and products that change the way we consume and create.
You can also keep up with all of my kooky adventures running a creative business and raising kids on Instagram @TrashN2Tees.
You already have everything you need on hand to join me and 1000’s of others across the country in breaking a world record: participate in The Big Ball of Tshirt Yarn project! Learn how to create t-shirt yarn and how taking five minutes of time can positively impact our communities around the world.