Sunday, August 4, 2013

T-Shirt Quilts--a great way to "scrapbook" with fabric!

My T-shirt quilt circa 1992
      I can't believe it. My daughter Emma has graduated from high school and is headed off to college in less than a month! For her graduation gift I made her a quilt with every t-shirt she had worn for her whole life. I saved them all! I started making t-shirt quilts a long time ago when I made one for myself. As you can see from the picture I do not go with the traditional method. I had lots of different sizes of t-shirt pictures and wanted each one to have the same look as far as negative space around the picture so I ended up with a more "crazy quilt" thing going on which is very ME. I reached into my scraps and added leftover pieces from quilts along with different strips and squares. I didn't border it and instead of quilting traditionally I bar-tacked wherever it was a good place to do it.
    At the time I was a nanny for 3 kids, Rob, Sam, and Laura Rokoff in Wellesley Mass. Their mom, June, and I decided it would be fun to make one for Rob for his graduation gift so we dug out as many of his old shirts as we could find on short notice and I made his. Quillows were very popular at the time so his is a quillow. As you can see, most of his shirts were similar colors so it was easy to border with reds and blacks to tie it all together.

Rob's t-shirt quilt
    A couple years later it was time to do Sam's. June had saved up lots more shirts and threw in some boxer shorts I had made for him as a kid and even went out and found the "Sam I Am" shirt! This was a bigger challenge and I finally decided he needed a 2-sided quilt. When I looked at his from a distance I saw lots of green so his borders are a green/black print fabric.

      Well, a couple years later it was time for Laura's. June had had several years to save up shirts for her so this one was a BIG challenge. So once again I did 2-sided and used a  batik for borders.
Rob's t-shirt quilt

      So I knew I had to do a quilt for Emma when she graduated. I saved all her shirts and periodically would cut them up to save up space. Then a couple years ago I figured I had better start on them or I would never finish. People have asked me several times through the years how I did them so I will try to list the steps I use in order and will give any tips and hints I have come up with. If anyone wants more info just ask--no problem.
1. Wash shirts (duh!)
2. Cut out the design logos  leaving a couple inches on all sides. Save any interesting tags. They add a touch of whimsy.
Sam's T-shirt quilt
3. Save up your money cuz here is where you will need it--buy woven fusible interfacing to fuse to the backs. You will need a LOT of it so I suggest using those JoAnn coupons for this. Woven is the only way to go. The shirts are stretchy and a non-woven interfacing will rip if stretched at all and just doesn't do the job. (You can, however, get away with it if you have any sweatshirts as they are not as stretchy and don't need as much stabilizing.) The interfacing comes in black or white and is only about 18" wide so you don't get much in a yard which runs around $5-6 a yard! This is an investment!
4. Cut interfacing a little smaller than each shirt logo.
5. Press each shirt. I recommend covering the ironing board with a cloth as some of the designs may transfer off a little when pressed. Always press with the design against the board. Make sure the logos are pressed square and have not gotten lopsided.
6. Fuse the interfacing to the backs of each piece.
7. Another investment that is well worth it is a 12" square ruler. Use your ruler and rotary cutter to cut the logos about 1 1/2" to 2" bigger than the design.
8. Now is the fun part--designing the quilt. If you have a big design wall, just lay them out in a nice design leaving space between them for the connecting sashings and whatever fabrics you want to use. You can do all the sashing with the same fabric, giving a look like each logo is floating on the same background or you can go totally scrappy. Whatever you like...
9. Because everything is so many different sizes I put them together in "units". Each unit is 2-5 logos depending on their sizes. Then the units are sewn together using more sashings.
10. At this point it is your choice to add borders or not. A 2-sided quilt should have some sort of borders because it is hard to make the 2 sides exactly the same size.
11. Now it is time to decide how you want to put the layers together. I decided early on that I wanted to use polyester batting with a bit of a loft. I don't use the mid to high loft polyester as a general rule but for this I wanted a lightweight batting with some depth to it.
Sam's t-shirt quilt side 2
12. Do you want binding or not? That will determine the next step. I prefer no binding because the quilt is puffy and the binding makes the edge kind of "sharp" or stiff or something. But that is up to you.
13. Do you plan to tie, machine quilt, bar-tack? Your layering method will be different for each method and will be different if you use binding
14. From her on I will tell you how I do mine and if you want ideas for other methods I will be glad to help. If the quilt is 2 sided I think this is the only way to go. I use the old fashioned turn inside out method.
Pin the 2 sides together all around the quilt. I've found it works best to use a walking foot and stitch all around before adding the batting, leaving an opening about 18-25" long to turn the quilt. I found it is easier to do it this way than doing all 3 layers at once because the darn pins get tangled up in the batting and it is frustrating to keep it all together so I do it in 2 steps. After checking to be sure there are no puckers and it fits well I lay it on the batting, pin it down and sew on the same line again. When I get to the opening I sew the batting to just 1 layer because it makes it easier to keep the layers smooth. I came up with this with trial and error (lots of error) and you are always welcome to do whatever works for you.
15. Turn the quilt right side out through the opening. The easiest way is to reach into the opening, get a good hold on the opposite side and pull through--easy peasy.
Laura's t-shirt quilt
16. Now it is  time to put the layers together. I don't have a lot of space so I layer in section about 18-24" square.. I use straight pins and put the pin where I want to bar-tack.  After I pin and before I sew, I check the back to make sure no tacks will be going through somewhere it will look bad.
17. I use a stitch about medium width and 0 length with a neutral cream colored thread. I bar-tack where the pins are and after the section is done,I cut all trailing threads on both sides and check for any puckers or errors and correct as I go along.  Then I do another section. If you wait to do this checking/cutting step you will regret it. The trailing threads on the back get caught and cause puckering so it is best to keep up and do it as you go along.
18. Hand stitch the opening closed and you are done.

     On Emma's quilt I went a few steps beyond the t-shirts. Because this is like a scrapbook quilt I got the idea to add pictures of her wearing the shirts. So here are those additional instructions.
1. Scan each picture into the computer. Arrange as many pictures as you can onto a page leaving at least 3/4" between pictures for cutting and seam allowances.
Emma's t-shirt quilt
2. Print onto fabric. You can buy prepared fabrics for this purpose or can make your own. To make your own, take good quality washed muslin (can you believe I wash it?) The ink will last better on fabric with no sizing. Press fabric perfectly smooth and then iron on to freezer paper. The wax from the freezer paper will stick to the fabric. Cut the paper 8 1/2" x 13" which is the size of regular paper and print with your regular printer. (Make sure to do a test print with regular paper to see which side of the paper it prints on.) Experiment with your printer. I had one printer that had trouble catching the fabric sheet and it would jam which wasted the piece so I came up with a solution which I use all the time now. I use tape folded over the edge to stablize and strengthen and it almost never jams any more.
3. Let printed fabric sit for a day to set, then press with dry iron to help the ink set more before cutting apart. Do not remove freezer paper until ready to sew. After I had done half the quilt I realized that it might have been better to interface the photos before using because they are quite a bit lighter/thinner than the shirts, but since I used small pictures I think they will be ok.

Emma's t- shirt quilt side 2
I then got the idea to add patches. We had lots of Girl Scout patches that were not sewn to her vest ( I just couldn't bring myself to cut up her sash or vest) so I put a few on. Be careful if the patch has corners as these are kind of sharp so it is a good idea to sew down with a small zigzag stitch around the edge. I also had some archery patches so I put them next to her senior picture which is her holding her bow.

I used LOTS and LOTS of interesting novelty fabrics to represent things she enjoys doing and after a while it was obvious I had the makings of an "I Spy" Quilt. So I wrote up a poem and put it on one side. (The next blog is dedicated to the I Spy quilt so stay tuned!)

Emma's I Spy
When I started sewing the units together 2  1/2 years ago I used lots of black/whites for sashings and when it was time to sew the units together she informed me she wanted BLUE in her dorm so I dug up all my blues and used them wherever I could to get blue all over! Figures, doesn't it!

I've probably left out something important and if anyone notices please let me know and I will add it in!

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