Monday, February 20, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Optional

Finally, now that you have completed your t-shirt quilt, you might want to label it somehow.

There are a few different options.
  1. Custom labels (like shown above).  Read more about custom labels here and here.
  2. You can buy some generic labels from the craft/fabric store.
  3. You could print out a label on iron transfer paper and iron it on.
  4. Or, you could just write your name and date made on the back of the quilt with a permanent marker.
And if this is a special quilt, to commemorate a birthday, anniversary, or graduation, etc.  You might want to include either a block on the front (embroidered or iron transfered).

Or if it doesn't fit in with the theme, you can put one on the back side.

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 9

The last step to finish your quilt is binding.

First, you need to trim up all of the sides, making sure you have a nice straight line where the top, batting, and backing come together.  To do this, use your cutting mat, rotary blade, and a template/ruler for a straight edge.

See how nice and clean that looks.

If you have never binded a quilt before, I would suggest this tutorial from

You can buy pre-made binding from the craft/fabric store, but I like to make my own.

When machine binding, I recommend sewing the binding to the back side of the quilt first.

Then flip the quilt over and complete the binding.

And...drum roll please....TA-DA!

And the back of the quilt...

Optional step: Labeling

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 8

Now is the fun part!  The actual quilting.

I highly suggest quilting your t-shirt quilt using the free arm quilting technique.  You don't need an expensive long-arm quilting machine, most newer sewing machines have free arm quilting settings.

I use a Brother SE-400 with my embroidery foot (Q) and stitch 3 (default setting) and (the most important part) the feed dogs lowered.

If your machine doesn't have free arm capabilities, you can just quilt it using straight lines.  But, you might want to invest in a walking foot, because the jersey is very slippy material.

I'd also suggest investing in some quilting gloves.  When I first saw these, I assumed they were for keeping the material clean from the dirt/oil on your hands.  But, I discovered that these gloves are designed with grips, because it makes it easier for effortlessly moving the quilt around while you are sewing.  I think this were $4.99 at Joanne's.  Not a big investment, but made a huge difference in my grip.

You'll want a large working surface.  You don't want the bulk of the quilt hanging off the table, weighing it down and making it harder to move.

Free arm quilting is fun, but it looks cool too.

And it makes the back just as pretty as the front....

If you need some inspiration for patterns to make, check out this site.  They show lots of computerized quilting patterns (which I can't use), but they are great for inspiration if I find myself getting stuck repeating the same designs.

All quilted together....

Almost finished folks!!

Next (last) step: Binding

Sunday, February 19, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 7

You're getting close!  Your t-shirt quilt is starting to look like a quilt now.  Are you getting excited?

Okay, now I do a quick iron (again).  I already ironed the blocks before piecing them, so really all I'm ironing is the seams between the blocks.  I want them to lay nicely together.

Then, I lay out my backing on my guest bed.  (You can use the floor, a large table, etc.  Just make sure it's nice and flat.)

For backing, I like to use a flat sheet.

Smooth it out really well, pulling out the wrinkles.  Then, lay the batting on top.

I always use 100% cotton batting.

Then, you want to pin, pin, pin...

I use basting pins, because they are curved, which makes it easier to pin through the three layers.

This part of the process is called "basting" and there are lots of different techniques (spray adhesive, for instance).  Just google "quilt basting" and you will have tons of tutorials to choose from.  Find the one that works best for you. :)

Next step: Quilting

Saturday, February 18, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 6

The best advice I can give for piecing together the top is....TAKE YOUR TIME!

Make sure when you are sewing that your t-shirts are facing the right direction.

Also, jersey is a very stretchy fabric, so be careful not to pull one side too hard, which will make it longer than the other side.

My advice for piecing together the top can best be said by a modified version of the old wood working adage "Measure twice and cut once".  I line up the pieces how I think I'm going to sew them.  Then do it again.  I always double check that it will sew as I imagine, because while it adds some time, it's less time than having to rip out a wrongly sewn seem.

Then, eventually, you will have this.... a completed quilt top.

Next: Pinning (top, batting, and backing)

Friday, February 17, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 5

After cutting out all of the blocks, I like to iron them (this is a must for the blocks that have had the strips of fabric sewn onto them).  Be careful when ironing: some designs (the really plasticy kind) will melt.  I prefer to play it safe and iron all of my blocks from the back, and only iron the front side where there is no designs.

While ironing, I sort out my blocks according to size, which helps once it's time to start laying them out.

Laying out blocks for t-shirt quilts is just like laying out blocks for any other quilt.  You can visualize in your head how you want it to go, but I highly suggest actually physically laying them out to make sure it actually looks how you imagined (colors go together well, etc).

Many t-shirt quilters just lay out big blocks of tshirts or big blocks of tshirt with borders, but I like the more crazy random look.  This is where I the "How to Make a Too Cool T-Shirt Quilt" book I recommended before is helpful, since she gives an explanation of a fast and easy way to cut and lay out her t-shirts to achieve that look.  I generally use a modified version of her method.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 4

So, let's say someone has asked you to make a t-shirt quilt for you, and you agree. And then they cheerfully add "and I've already cut the t-shirts out for you."

Did you hear that?  That was me groaning.

If at all possible, try to get the t-shirts before they've been cut.  However, since many people try to make their quilt on their own before seeking out an "expert", you will often have to fix badly pre-cut t-shirts.

Remember before when I said I like to hold on to that extra t-shirt material (from the backs and sides, etc)?  Here is where that will come in handy.

Here is an example of a shirt that was cut out with a pair of scissors (not a a rotary cutter).  This person* probably just grabbed any old pair of scissors out of a random junk drawer (I'm cringing!) and started randomly cutting around the designs they wanted to keep.  (*This person is a friend of mine, and I had permission to make fun of her cutting mistakes. :)
Actually, this one was one of the better-bad-cuts of this bunch.  The weird sideways and circle cuts have been the hardest to straighten out!

Overall, these cuts are generally not straight and will be very ragged.  Often they have cut extremely close to the design, meaning in "fixing it" some of the design will even get cut off. :( But the good news matter how bad the cuts are, you can fix them!

First, lay the t-shirt out and determine if you can just cut them down to a good square size.  More often than not, you will not be able to, because people tend to cut within an inch or so of the design, but it's worth a check, because sometimes you get lucky.

First, I cut the crooked ragged edges off to make 4 straight and clean sides.
The block is an odd rectangle now, so to make it square, I will add strips of that extra t-shirt fabric.  Since the quilt it is going in has a lot of white, black, and brown t-shirts, I decide to use orange strips for a pop of color.  Plus, they match the letters on the shirt.

So I cut some strips.
After sewing the strips on, I cut down any extra seam, to make it less bulky.

Then I sewed on strips to the top of the block.

Then trim it down to one neat square size.

Here are some other examples of blocks I've fixed from this batch.  As you can see, you can either use matching/coordinating fabric (like I did with the blue block), contrasting fabric (like the red and white block that I added green strips to), or even multiple colors (like I added the yellow strips, then smaller black frame to the blue Best Buy block).  Also, you don't have to add strips all the way around.  For instance, the green and white block I just added material on top and bottom.
Adding strips help add extra color.  Plus, they make these smaller designs (remember they were already cut before I got them) bigger, which will help if you are trying to stretch fewer t-shirts into a bigger size quilt.

These blocks were the worst!  They were so crooked and cut so close to the designs. Notice on the one block I could not cut it straight and save the design, so I went ahead and sewed the strip on crooked and then cut it straight.  I could tell this shirt had been well worn (read: loved!), so I really wanted to preserve as much of the designs as possible, even if it meant some crooked fabric.

Next step: Ironing & laying out blocks

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 3

You are ready to start cutting!  Yay!  This is the fun part.

The first thing I do is cut off the sleeves, then I cut up the sides, essentially cutting the t-shirt in half.

I do this because:

#1, if there is a design on the front and back, I like to cut each side out separately.

#2 I keep the left over jersey material and put it in my scrap piles for later.  I have used the leftover jersey for extra blocks in my quilt, binding, and many other non-quilting related projects (they are great for making toddler pants!).

Next: Fixing badly pre-cut t-tshirt designs

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 2

You are going to need something to cut on.  I use an 18"x24" Omnigrid Gridded Mat.  Why this one?  Because this is the one my parents bought me for my birthday 6 years ago.  Wish I had a better answer.

You will also need something to cut with.  I use an OFLA rotary cutter.  Why this one?  Again, because this is what my parents bought me.  If you really don't want to spend the $11, because you think you'll never use them again, you could just use scissors I guess, but I think it'd be harder to ensure your cuts were straight.  Plus, if you own a sewing machine (and how else were you planning on sewing this big boy together?), I'm pretty sure you will find this rotary cutter useful at least now and again!

You'll also want some kind of straight edge with a ruler on it.  Again, if you aren't a big sewer/quilter outside of this project, you could just use a regular old ruler, but I would honestly have hated to cut out all of my t-shirts using just a ruler. (I think it would have taken much longer and not been as accurate.)  I just use a 6"x12" Omnigrid Quilter's ruler.  Why this one?  See my answers above.  (So, by now you can guess that I mentioned to my parents that I wanted to learn to quilt, and for my 26th birthday they hooked me UP with quilting supplies!)

I also have handy a good pair of fabric scissors (I have a pair of Fiskars I really like).

And of course if you are new to t-shirt quilting, I highly recommend a copy of "How to Make a Too Cool T-shirt Quilt" by Andrea Funk (ebook $15), since she gives a unique explanation of how to actually piece the quilts together.

However, if you just want to do big fat squares like this, any ol' quilting tutorial will do.  You can go buy/rent a book on quilting basics, or find dozens of free ones online:  Like this one or this one.

Here is a good list of basic quilting supplies, which include more information on the supplies I've listed here, and some additional basics that you might want/need (especially if you want to do other quilting projects in the future).

Next: Cut Out T-shirts

Monday, February 13, 2012

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial: Step 1

So, the first thing you are going to want to do is gather and wash the tshirts you want in the quilt.

This probably isn't an issue, since you've probably been gathering these for a while....

Here's some nice info on washing and preparing material before quilting, for those who have never quilted before.

Next:  Gather the necessary supplies

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Quick and easy homemade Valentines

I've been trying to decide what to do for Valentine's Day cards.  I didn't want to spend a lot of time, but I kind of wanted to make some homemade cards with the kids.  I tried finding some ideas on Pinterest, but everything I saw was pretty complicated, and I really didn't want to invest a lot of time or money.  So I came up with a simple, fast, and inexpensive (I spent $0) card for us to make.

Step 1: I pulled out my Cricut and found a nice fat heart shape on my Tie the Knot cartridge.  Then I cut out (using the "real size" setting) three 3" hearts and three 2.5" hearts out of each 6"x12" piece of paper (I cut out 48 of each in all).  If you don't have a Cricut, you can just cut out the number of hearts you need by hand.
Step 2: I folded down the very top of the 2.5" hearts, using my bone folder (aka creasing tool) to help make the fold cleaner.

Step 3: I printed out some simple phrases to match the paper ("I'm wild about you" to go with the animal print and "I think you're SUPER" to go with the super hero themed print) with each of the children's names.  Then I used one of the 2.5" hearts as a template and cut these phrases out (if you line them up right, you can cut out a few hearts at once).  Then, I glued the 2.5" phrases hearts centered on top of the 3" heart.

Step 4: Then I glued just the top folded portion of the original 2.5" hearts on top (making sure that it lined up on top of the phrases heart).

Step 5: After the top heart dried, the flap was sticking up, so I got out the heaviest book I own, The Complete Shakespeare anthology, and put it on top of the cards to press down the flap.  I left this over night, but 15 minutes would probably be fine.

Step 6: The final product: 42 homemade Valentine's cards.

The whole project took me about an hour and a half including conception of design (of course not counting the overnight squishing down of the flap), and I made it using all materials I had on hand!

I did leave a few undone, so that the boys can help me put a few together this morning, because I want them to feel like they helped make their classmates' Valentine's cards.