Making a Tshirt Quilt – some good things to know

So, now that I’ve been doing this for a while… I thought I should add a few important items to the list of ‘what one should consider’ when making, or buying, a t-shirt quilt.

A. Let’s talk about stabilizers. Some people say they don’t want to use it, maybe because it adds too much weight to the quilt, or because they don’t think they need it. ***The quality/thickness of the tshirt has NOTHING to do with the use of stabilizer. Yes it should DEFINITELY be used on thinner shrits, but thicker tshirts still stretch, because they are still double jersey knit. Some people swear by stabilizer, insisting that you must use a certain type – maybe the $4/yd stuff that is basically fabric that irons on to the backside of the shirts. Sometimes I use heavy weight, sometimes I use medium/light weight. But I ALWAYS use something.

Use what you want to use, but please PLEASE PLEASE use SOMETHING! You may be able to get the squares together somehow without using any stabilizer, but even if you do, you are setting up the quilter for a disaster. Which means you are setting yourself up for a disastrous result.

The hopping foot on the longarm quilting machine essentially pushes the fabric in front of it. With regular cotton fabric, this ensures a nice, smooth stitch. With double jersey knit without a stabilizer, the fabric is free to stretch, and will get pushed and stretched in front of that hopping foot. This WILL create puckers and folds. The stabilizer prevents that by holding the fabric in place. Even the stuff that’s only $1/yd.

B. Use sashing. Sashing provides a great boundary between blocks, and creates a very clean look. It also helps ensure the seams between shirts don’t end up acting like big curbs for the quilter to get through.

There are as many ways to make a tshirt quilt as there are colors under the sun; maybe instead of sashing you use 2″ blocks. Or a different frame/border for each panel. If you use good quality fabric between the shirts, you will have a MUCH better looking quilt than if you sew a bunch of tshirt panels together.

C. VERY IMPORTANT! Use an experienced quilter. Very often, once a tshirt has been quilted through, it cannot be unquilted. I.e., if the stitches are pulled out for any reason, the holes in the shirt panel will remain, and will not close up with washing. There are two types of needles, and most of us don’t even keep the blunt point in stock, so if there is a hole in your quilt made by that longarm needle that doesn’t have thread through it, then it is a new hole punched in your quilt, and it could open up with washing.

If mistakes are made during quilting, an experienced quilter will know how to locate the stitches (they really sink into the jersey knit and are hard to remove once quilted) and pick them out without tearing the shirt fibers, as well as retracing steps to ensure there aren’t holes poked through the panels left open to see.

I will also say that quilt makers will charge based off different things – some charge based on size, some on panels (number of shirts). If you want to have a tshirt quilt made for you, ASK FOR PHOTOS, REFERENCES, or other information that will give you a warm, fuzzy feeling that this person is understanding the level of quality you want to end up with. Ensure you KNOW that they are experienced enough to complete the project.

I have seen horrible projects come out of good intentions. If you are unsure of the process, the price determination, how the outcome will look, ASK. Please!!! SHOP AROUND! There are MANY talented tshirt quilt makers out there, just ensure you are enlisting one that will provide the results YOU want. It’s YOUR money, YOUR shirts, YOUR project – ensure you are going to get what YOU want. If not, say thank you and call someone else.

Understand as well, the cost is usually equitable to the quality. If you are paying $75-150, you are probably getting something that isn’t going to last too long, or look very clean. And I can tell you, there are a lot of amazing tshirt quilts out there, but they won’t all look like this:

kids clothes

memory quilt

tshirt quilt

memory quilt



27 thoughts on “Making a Tshirt Quilt – some good things to know

  1. Hi. I just made my first t-shirt quilt. It is 65″x 83″. I used a tricot interfacing on all pieces and half inch seams that I laid out flat. I quilted it on the diagonal across the whole quilt 3 inches apart. I used a high quality cotton batting and quality flannel for the backing. I had no puckering etc when quilting. I just wanted to know if the quilting is enough and how I would go about pricing it? I did not use sashing as the client did not want it – I created 4 different width columns out of the t-shirts (all different sized pieces put together) and then stitched these columns together. Kind Regards Johanna

    • Hey dear – if you are asking how much you should charge for the quilting, for an all over design such as you have mentioned, i charge $0.02 (2 cents) per square inch. so take width x length of the quilt times .02 for the charge. i charge cost for the batting and fabric. feel free to email me with any other questions! xoxo

  2. Do you have a particular brand of stabilizer that you would recommend for tee shirts? I have a memory quilt in the works that will use articles of the deceased’s clothing. Many of the things the girl’s Mom brought to me are tee shirts and I want to be sure of good quality and consistent results. There are many to choose from and wanted the opinions of several people before buying. Thanks. Leann

    • Hi Leann. There are as many opinions as people, but I stick with Pellon. If you have thin shirts you can use the medium weight, just be sure to use steam. The light weight doesn’t stick quite as well to the shirts, but will make for a less heavy result. 🙂

  3. Hi – I’m making a tshirt quilt in rag edge style. I’m a first time quilter but long time crafter. I’m happy with the progress, have prepped 50+ shirts. I’m still teetering on whether to use a quilting cotton or flannel for the backing. I’ve heard it done both ways. Any advice? I’m expecting it to be a finished twin size and fear the flannel will be heavy but wonder if the cotton would be too thin.

    • Cool – I’ve seen photos of that and they look neat! Batik will not work, as it won’t fray, but quilting cotton will, so if you prefer, you could use that. Flannel is a bit heavier, homespun is like flannel but not as heavy if you can find that. Homespun will react just like flannel and is fabulous for rag quilts. That is what I would recommend. Hope that helps!

  4. Lisa Barth says:

    Hi I have made some T shirt quilts using knits, but someone has just sent me some clothes that are like sweater knits, have you ever tried this?

    • Hi Lisa, yes, a few times I have come across fabrics that seem impossible. I once used a knit watch cap in a quilt! With materials like this (it was like a knit sweater), it helps to use two layers of stabilizer, if you are using the kind that only stops stretching in one direction. Just use it like normal, and then iron on a second layer turned 90 degrees, which will essentially stop stretch in both directions. They are lightweight enough that it will work and be workable. Sometimes polyester knits can be like this too, but you have to be careful of how hot your iron is, and that can make it difficult to ‘melt’ the stabilizer to it.

      Best of luck with it!

      • Lisa Barth says:

        Thanks for the quick response , and the tips. Will give it a try. Sincerely, Lisa

  5. I have some items from a friend to make some memory quilts for her kids, we were using smaller squares about 6×6 of the shirts so there are enough to go around. Some of the items are light to mid weight sweaters. My quilter isn’t sure if the sweaters can be quilted using the long arm. What are your thoughts? I am really hoping we can quilt them. Thank you!

    • Hi Lynette – I assure you they can be quilted. I have quilted through many a sweater. The thick decals or embroidery patches are what should really be of concern. Those can get caught on the hopping foot or break a needle. Otherwise I assure you it can be (and has been) done!

  6. C Deutsch says:

    My first time to quilt a t-shirt quilt. What approach do you recommend for t-shirts that have very heavy rubbery heat fused sections? Client put together the quilt beautifully with stabilizer, but did not consider resistance that just forcing the needle through will create. I use a computer driven set-up. Thank you in advance!

    • Hi there! I have those types of shirts often and they can indeed be quilted through, just know that the holes are visible. The ONLY major issue there is IF your thread breaks, you need to be very careful to retrace each hole punch when you restart so you don’t leave a trail of extra holes if that makes sense. I suppose on a computer driven machine that should not be an issue.

      You could try to go around them (not sure if that is feasible on your machine, probably more difficult than it’s worth) but you can just go through them. From my experience (I have one I did for myself) the holes do not grow when the quilt is washed.

      • C Deutsch says:

        Thank you. Made up a test piece using leftover fusible I had on hand . . . used fusible two times in same spot to be sure that coating was thick, then proceeded with stabilizer, backing, etc. Using another machine with feed dogs down and larger needle, did free motion so stitches would be longer (about 9/inch) and slowed down my speed. Have to love Bernina’s stitch regulator. Mounted the real quilt using stitch length and slow speed, size 16 needle, ball point, and absolutely no issues!

      • That’s awesome! I’m so glad to hear it!! Good call on doing the test piece. I have only quilted on my long arm machine so that isn’t as feasible but I’m super glad it worked out for you!!

  7. I have two t-shirt quilts pieced and ready for quilting on my longarm. Do you ever use monofilament thread in the top? When there are so many colors in one quilt, what color of thread do you choose? One quilt has lots of black, orange & grey. The backing is a black & white bold print…soccer balls. I really don’t want the thread to stand out.

    • Hi Diane! I understand they often have a wide variety of colors in them. I never use monofilament, as I only seem to have trouble with it. Instead I pick a lighter color thread. I will usually string the quilt up and then choose a few cones of thread and place them over a number of shirts to see which seems to work best. That’s how I choose. Sounds like in this case a light grey will blend in well. Best of luck!

  8. fdwife153 says:

    I had a t-shirt quilt made for me off ask my memories from hs and college…my dog decided to eat a hole straight out of the middle (the hole is down the center of 2 t-shirts)…is there any way to repair and save my quilt? It is all lost? 😦

  9. I have a T Shirt quilt totally done; after washing one of my seams have come apart on a shirt and sashing 😦 whats the best way to hand sew it without stretching the jersey? I used interfacing!

    • oh no! well, if the entire thing is constructed and now a seam has come open, your best bet is to try to hand stitch it with a blind stitch, in thread color that matches one or both sides so the thread isn’t too visible. Some fabrics fray differently and that one must have frayed more easily so the one wash was enough for that to unfortunately occur. Sorry to hear!

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