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



Bringing Out The Best in Your Quilt – A Longarmers Perspective

The basis for the title comes from my leadership training. Once upon a long, long time ago I was told to read a book we fondly refered to as “The Book of BOB”, BOB standing in as an acronym for Bringing Out (the) Best, but referring to people.

I was asked to lecture for a guild (coming soon!), and subsequently had to come up with a title for my speaking engagement about being a longarm quilter. This is what came to mind.

If you think about the title sentence, it does really make sense. It reveals that as a longarm quilter, I will give my perspective on how WE can bring out the best in your quilt. Yes, WE, meaning you and me, or you and whomever your quilter happens to be.

I know there are others out there that offer this same ‘speech’, but what I am truly offering is an interactive session with your group, and it doesn’t just address MY personal requirements and preferences. The good news is that this can apply to any two people that work together.

The bottom line is that this entire situation comes down to communication. If the quilt maker wants heirloom and goes to someone she used to have quilt for her that way a year or more back, how can she be sure that quilter hasn’t changed her style (this happened to someone I know). How are you SURE that your longarm quilter isn’t going to GO WITH IT when that’s what you tell him to do? Maybe “go with it” in his opinion means show quality detail, but that’s NOT how much you wanted to spend!?!

This post is a bit of a teaser, because I will be delivering this interactive seminar to the Land Of Lakes Quilt Guild in Lewisville on January 14, 2013 at 7pm. I will address:

what happens when you don’t carefully measure the blocks before piecing them

blocks of different sizes

what happens when you iron seams that are NOT flat…

ironing crease in seam

and a variety of things that can happen when you piece the back, when you don’t measure the borders and more. And of course, I will address how the longarm quilter can make these ‘issues’ disappear, like magic.

I will also provide guidelines and questions to ask each other so that interaction can go smoothly. That really should not be uncomfortable for anyone. And if you have questions, feel free to comment here!

ps. to ALL my customers, don’t worry – your quilts will NEVER end up in this type of discussion!!! the one pictured above was an old family treasure, and some other examples are charity or my own work, made in a way so I had some great examples to share!

Fabric Choices

OK, this is quite a subjective topic, and can be one of much contemplation and discussion. I can tell you without bias that there are most definitely different levels of quality fabric to begin with. On top of that, the dying process differs, so sometimes you may have a stiffer fabric that looks deeply colored, but once washed it becomes soft and the color bleeds all over your other fabric. Some fabrics are made with threads already dyed, so they will give you less trouble.

Let me begin by saying that if you shop at a craft store, you will get craft store quality fabric. If you shop at a sewing store, you will get better quality fabric. If you shop at a quilt shop, you will most definitely get THE BEST quality fabric available. Ever notice how expensive the fabric is in a quilt shop? THAT IS WHY! It tends to be higher thread count, new or prevalent lines and popular fabric designers. Don’t trust me? Go to the three types of stores and buy a fat quarter and test it out – feel it out. There will be a difference!!

The source for their fabric is very reputable and you can often find it online, but online you can’t touch and see in person what you are looking at, which can make a difference if you need that particular color for a project. I have fabrics bought online that I love, and some that the color seems weird when it arrives and I’m not really sure what to do with it.

But some online shops you will come to trust, knowing that they ALWAYS have fabric that is good thick quality, soft and supple. You’ll just have to ask around or order samples until you can be sure.

The fabric I am showcasing below is what I believe to be high quality fabric, but brings another point to attention. Fabrics are dyed by different means; they have always been treated differently. Some you can tell by looking at the back of the fabric if the dye soaked through or the threads were dyed prior to weaving, if it was surface coated or how much of any pattern on the fabric is showing on the back.

As an appraiser, oftentimes we look to the seams or any tears in the quilt for information on color fade – whatever is inside the seam will not have faded.

 This particular fabric came to my attention when I began to quilt it, and the fabric seemed to pull. I changed my quilting needle, but the result continued. Once I looked at the back of the fabric I realized what was happening.

The needle punched through the fabric as I quilted it, and when that happened, some of the threads in the fabric turned just a bit, causing the white of the undyed portion to show through on the top. It didn’t happen at all in the green, which was dyed through the fabric.

Once washed, this quilt top will probably tighten up and the white portion of the threads will become less noticable.

There are really two lessons here:

1. If your quilter returns a quilt to you that has white striations in a certain fabric, realize that it may just be due to the method by which the fabric was dyed. You can always ask if they used a new needle on your quilt (that answer should always be yes).

2. If you don’t want the possibility of this occurring in your quilt, check the fabric back prior to buying it.


Hello my friends, I know it’s been a while, but t’is truly the season. Meaning, this is THE season for quilters to be busy. June is second to the holiday season for reason of graduation gifts. But a far second, let me tell you.

I felt the need to take a moment to share a few thoughts, as I have recently found yet another “t shirt quilt maker” that offers a pretty sad result. This “company” brings customers in by way of a very low price. For those of you who want a t shirt (or memory, clothing, baby clothes, sports jersey, etc.) quilt made for you, here are some very important considerations I beg of you to ask prior to handing over your precious and irreplaceable items:

1. DO THEY USE A STABILIZER ON THE SHIRTS? Stabilizer is a light fabric that is ironed onto the backside of any jersey knit item to stop it from stretching. If you have shirts that are in good shape, or relatively new, this may seem like something that could be skipped. Not so, my friends.

When the shirts are sewn together, the stabilization prevents the shirts from stretching at the seam, so you don’t get your quilt back with all sorts of puckers at the seams. When the quilt is quilted, the stabilizer also adds an extra layer of strength and thickness to the top.

2. WHAT KIND OF BATTING WILL BE USED? Batting is the center, and batting price and quality varies more than cotton fabric. If they tell you they use 100% polyester, your quilt will not be as warm, but with all the t shirts you may be warm enough without a good quality batting. 80/20 batting is a blend, and cotton will quilt nicely, and lay flatter. Polyester batting also will not give the traditional look a quilt gets after washing, which happens with cotton batt as it shrinks in a little.

3. HOW MUCH QUILTING WILL BE DONE? Batting requires stitching or ties to hold it EVERY 4-6 square inches. So if your quilter says s/he will be quilting it every 12″, your batting will eventually tear and shift. Not good. Don’t pay someone to make your treasures into a quilt that will not last past a few washings.

4. WILL THERE BE ANY MATERIAL THE QUILTER PROVIDES? There are a few reasons to ask this question. One, if they are providing material for you, you will want to know the quality of the fabric (i.e. where did they buy it – a quilt shop or a craft store), the construction (is it 100% cotton), and whether it has been prewashed. Prewashing prevents additional shrinkage and especially with lower quality fabrics, the colors can bleed, which can essentially ruin your quilt. Secondly, you want to know that they are using good quality if that is what you are paying for. If the charge passed on to you per yard is <$10 you can bet it’s not fabric from a quilt shop, so you may have rougher texture, lower thread count, shredding seams or color bleed in the end.

I implore you to ask ask ASK for details from the maker PRIOR to relinquishing your shirts. It makes me very sad that there are great quilt makers out there potentially having their reputation tarnished by the few that are either ignorant or not focused on the quality and care of your special item.

These are truly one of a kind gifts and should be treated as such. I’ve made enough memory quilts to truly appreciate these irreplaceable gems and what they mean to the families that retain them.

In fact, your best bet is to ask to see photos of their previous work. That will give you a good visual as to what you should expect from them. Just FYI, all the pix posted here are from quilts I have made for my customers. 🙂 The three below were for siblings:

Buyer beware, and best of luck with your endeavor my friends!!

Importance of Quilt Backing Size

I have touched on this before, but I thought I would show more clearly how/why this can be an issue if the backing for your quilt is not larger than the top. Most quilters will request anywhere from 3-6 inches on EACH side of extra fabric. Here is why:

The extra fabric on the top and bottom of the backing are used to pin the material to the canvas rolled at each end of the longarm machine, ‘right’ side facing downward. After both ends are pinned to the canvas, the quilter rolls the fabric under so the top edge of the backing is within the quilting space. Then the quilter lays the batting on top of the backing, and lays the quilt top over the batting. There’s your quilt sandwich.

If the top of the quilt is the same size as the backing, your quilt will end up short, because the backing is pinned to the canvas, the backing is now about an inch shorter than the top.

The sides need extra material so we can ensure all the wrinkles (not everyone irons their backing material…) are pulled out and that when the quilter moves from one side to the other, that they don’t push or pull the fabric and create folds on the back. This is most likely to happen at the edges.

The way a quilter can get around that issue is to drive the longarm quilting machine with one hand and hold the edge of the material taught with the other, but this can affect the quilting quality.

So please, my quilt making friends, please leave extra material on the sides and ends of your quilt for the quilter of your choice. You will make her (or him) happy and you will end up with better results. Happy quilting!

Preparing the Binding and Binding Your Quilt

There are a number of ways to finish a quilt = binding tape, knife edge, fold over from front to back (or vice versa) or an applied binding. Binding tapes were used in the first half of the 19th century, often referred to as Trenton Tape, the primary manufacturer. These selvage tapes are coming back around again. Knife edge is what you see on a decorative pillow, for example, when the item was either turned inside out when the edges were sewn together, or the edges were turned into each other and sewn down from the outside. Fold over bindings incur the use of excess top or usually backing material, that is folded over the opposite side of the quilt and stitched down. From those I have seen, the fold over binding is usually fluffier, less tight than an applied or tape binding.

The binding I’m detailing here is a double-fold applied binding, machine stitched front and back with mitered corners. It’s much easier than you might think, and takes MUCH less time (and finger blisters) than hand stitching. But if you prefer to finish the binding by hand, I will address that as well.


1. Picking binding fabric – you can either choose a fabric that complements the quilt and draws out certain colors from the quilt top, use the same fabric as the backing or use the same color or fabric as the outer border on the top. I tend to use the same or similar color fabric on the back as I use for the outer border on the top, so I usually use my extra backing fabric as my binding fabric. This makes thread choice easier, as you can use same color top and bobbin to ensure you hide your seam as best you can.

2. How much binding do you need? Well, start with your quilt circumference. Add in 4″ for each seam (that depends on the length of your strips) and another 3″ or so for each corner of your quilt. So in the case of using my extra fabric from the backing, if my quilt was square, I’d presume to need 5 strips of the length of that backing to make my binding.  That’s the kind of math I like! 

You can see my extra binding bin just awaiting use in some scrappy quilt.



3. Cut your binding strips Cut strips of the fabric you’ve chosen. I use 2 1/4″ wide strips, but some quilters prefer a 2 1/2″ binding. If you are uncertain, start with 2 1/2″ and if you find you don’t need that much fabric to get a nice closure around your sides just go with less the next time around.

You don’t have to use bias strips (diagonal across your fabric). I always hated how that left my material scraps wonky.



4. Sew your binding strips – The strips need to be sewn at a diagonal to each other, so there won’t be any thick seams to sew through upon attaching the binding to your quilt. This is easier with patterned fabric versus solids that are reversible. Trust me on this one. 

Place two strip ends at a 90 degree angle to one another, right side together and sew at a diagonal.

When opened this should create a continuous strip.

Sew all your ends together to create one long strip.

Ensure your seams are all to one side of the fabric, and then trim the excess triangular pieces from the seamed ends to leave just your 1/4″ seam allowance.






5. I hate ironing. Yep, I’ve said it before, and it’s true. But its the one part of my job I don’t love, and it’s necessary, so let’s just get on with it.

The binding must be folded over and ironed along the entire length.

When you come to the diagonal seams, press them open and continue along your strip until the entirety is folded over and ironed in place.

Your binding is now complete and ready to be attached to your quilt.


A. Attaching the binding to your quilt – if you have decided you will hand stitch the back of the binding, ensure you attach the binding by machine to THE FRONT of the quilt. Otherwise, we will first attach the binding to THE BACK SIDE of the quilt.

Leave yourself about a foot of binding above where you begin to attach it to the quilt.

Starting more than halfway down one side of the quilt, align the open edge of the binding to the edge of the quilt and sew down the length of your quilt.









B. Corners – Don’t be afraid, this is really easy and they will come out square.

Sew up to 1/4″ from the bottom edge in the direction you have been sewing. 

You’ll know where that is because the thread from sewing the binding on the back will be your guide!

Lift your needle and move the quilt to the side a bit.

Pull the binding up to create a fold that is triangular, and when you bring the binding back down it is squared on top.

Move your corner back under your sewing machine and lower your needle in the corner 1/4″ in from the corner.

Begin to sew in the direction perpendicular to the previous seam. 

Continue down the length of the quilt until you reach the next corner and repeat.



C. Finishing the binding ends – you could very easily sew down one end of the binding and sew the remaining end over it, but it can leave a rough edge if you don’t fold the end under, and an unsightly bump if you do. Instead, try this method: once you round your final corner, stop sewing the binding to the quilt when you have about 2 feet between that spot and your starting point.

Cut your thread and lay the part of the quilt flat on the table where the binding is not sewn.

Flatten the binding from the start onto the quilt, and lay the end of the binding over it, so they are on top of one another.

Take the very end of the binding, open it up and lay it upon the overlap of the two bindings, about 1/4″ in from where the beginning of the binding starts.

Give a 1/4″ seam allowance on the other side of the end of the binding and cut it. This will give an overlap of about 2 3/4″ (if you’re using 2 1/4″ binding).

Open each binding end and place them right sides together, ensuring neither side is twisted.

Turn one end so they are perpendicular and sew on the diagonal, just as you did in preparing the binding strip.

Before trimming the inside of your seam, ensure your binding is of correct length and with no twists – lay it flat on the quilt and ensure there are no puckers in the quilt and no excess binding. If either of those occur, pull out your seams and either loosen or tighten by sewing just inside or outside your previous seam.

You can finger press (wet your fingers and press down the seam allowance to either side) the seam and fold it over to match the ironed binding.



D. Finish the first side by placing the quilt and binding back under your needle, ensuring to overlap from where you left off just a bit, and sew the rest of the binding to the quilt, overlapping your seam at the end as well, just to ensure it is secure.


If you have the time and patience, you could slip stitch by hand, maybe while you are watching the news or a movie with family on the couch. If you don’t, follow along!

1. Turn your quilt so the front side is up.  Starting on any side of the quilt, towards the top of that length, fold the binding over towards the front of your quilt and put your needle down through the layers. 

Sew carefully so you keep your seam as close to the edge of the binding as possible, without missing the binding. If you do miss it or are unsure, reverse your stitch and stitch over that area again.

2. Corners – when you get to a corner, stop about 1-2″ before you get there. 

Take the binding material from the next length and fold it up, which will give you a mitered corner.

Slowly proceed with your machine to ensure you keep the binding in place as you approach the corner point.

Once you reach the intersection of both bindings, leave your needle down, bring your foot up and turn your quilt.

Sew down the next length until your next corner and repeat.






3. The finish! Once you round your final corner, sew past where you began to attach the binding to ensure you have a secure seam. Trim your threads and YOU ARE DONE!

Now wasn’t that easy? 😉 Happy quilting my friends!

How to make a T SHIRT quilt

I am going to do my best to keep this simple. What this post will lead you to is a finished quilt top, with stabilized t-shirts, separated by sashing and surrounded by a border. I can’t tell you how much material you will need because I don’t know what size you want to end up with, but you can count on 1-2 yards of sashing material and border material (each).

Required items:

  • t-shirts
  • stabilizer (I like to use Pellon heavyweight fusible, available at nearly any craft/sewing shop) – you’ll need a yard for approximately every 2 shirts (unless your squares are going to be small)
  • sashing material
  • border material
  • hot iron, set to ‘cotton’
  • sewing machine and thread
  • rotary cutter and self-healing cutting mat (also available at sewing/craft stores)

The process is as follows:

1. Cut the shirts! The main point of step 1 is only to separate the front from the back and take the sleeves off.

2. Decide which panels from the front and backs of your shirts you would like to include in your quilt, discard the rest. Count your panels so you can ensure the number works, ie if you have 28 panels and want to make the quilt 4 x 6, you need to cut out a few more, or make your quilt 4 panels across by 7 long. Or you could find another shirt and make it 5 across by 6 long (30 total). If you have two panels that are small logos, they can be sewn together into one block.

3. MEASURE!!! This step will help you determine the size of your quilt, because it is based mainly on the size of the panels. Check the smallest and largest size your squares could possibly be based on how they are currently cut (approximately, they aren’t square yet) AND the logo/picture on the panel. If the smallest panel you have cut is 10″ x 10″, then your squares will be maximum that size. If the largest logo you have is 8″ wide x 4″ tall, then your smallest possible square would be about 9″ wide x 5″ tall.

4. TRIM the panels to about 1″ wider and longer than you want them to end up.

5. Stabilize your t-shirts. To be perfectly honest, the part of my job I like the least is ironing, but this is really REALLY a necessary step. On your ironing board, place your first panel face down. Put stabilizer on top of it, bumpy side down and press.

If you move the iron back and forth you may incline the shirt to stretch, so just press, and pick your iron up and press again until you’ve covered the entire shirt.

Your stabilizer should come to the edges of the shirts, or at least close.

6. TRIM, yes again. Notice how the stabilizer made your shirts less stretchy? Since we now have STABLE squares/rectangles, we can trim them to the size we want them to be (making sure we include 1/4″ seam allowance on each side, of course).

If you want your quilt to be nice and flat, ensure those squares are all the same size.

7. Add sashing. This is a fun part for me, because it’s really starting to come together. First you need to decide how big you want the sashing to be, and that may be based on how large you desire the final product to be. Let’s assume you want the sashing to end up 2″ wide, so you cut 2.5″ strips out of the material you want.  Stack your shirts all facing the same way (ie face down, top of shirt away from you). Lay a shirt on top of the sashing strip, and sew. When that shirt is attached, place another shirt on your strip. Then basically chain piece until your sashing isn’t long enough to fit another shirt. Get another sashing strip and begin again. I can usually get 3-4 tshirts along each sashing strip.

8. IRON, yes again. uuuuuuuggggghhhhhhhhh. Iron the seam towards the sashing, which it will be inclined to go towards anyway.

9. More sashing… Lay the shirts all the same way again, say face down, top towards your left side. Lay your shirts one at a time on the sashing and sew, just as before.

10. hmmm, IRON? Y E P!!! Again.

11. Lay out all your panels in a large area (like the floor or a big table). This is where you can decide what your eye likes, and which squares you want where based on color or logo.

12. Assemble rows! If you need to, pick up two squares at a time from your layout, so as not to confuse yourself. If you can pick up a row at a time then do so. When you complete each row, there will be one side without a sash. Add the sash at that time. You can also use this as an opportunity to attach sashing to the bottom (or top, whichever is missing sashing). Doing that at this point alleviates the need to sew a long seam.

13. Sew rows together to complete the center! This step is as easy as it sounds!

14. Border time!! Decide how big you want your border to be to frame your great work of art, and cut it 1/2″ larger. PIN THE BORDER TO BOTH SIDES OF YOUR QUILT! Measure your top so far through the center and that’s as long as your borders should be for the sides. Be wary of WAVY borders if you don’t measure and/or pin!!! Once the sides are attached, then measure/pin the top and bottom borders and attach.

YOU ARE DONE!!! Can you believe it? There are plenty of ways to make it more complicated and intricate, but this is a good starting point!

Best of luck my friends, and happy quilting!!!