Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Going-to-College Tee Shirt Quilt, with Tee Shirt Batting Tutorial

Finished in December: A tee-shirt quilt for my college freshman daughter. It's only one semester late!
One of my favorite shirts, because it so sums her up:
And below is the lovely going-to-college tee shirt quilt for my now-23-year-old college graduate son:
Yeah, I haven't made it yet, My son did a lot of sports. Sports bring a tower of tees. He's now in grad school, and probably doesn't realize that he's still waiting for that quilt, which, if I ever make it, may double as a termite tent.

On the other hand, my younger child, bless her heart, loathed sports, no matter how much I nagged lectured encouraged her. Not that I ever want to compare my children, but here's the bottom line: Fewer shirts gave her a huge advantage in the sibling tee shirt quilt race competition.

She loved art, performed alone in her room, or in art class, usually without a special shirt, though she did do a wonderful art camp...

 She was a Girl Scout...
...and performed in school plays.

She also had some great shirts that weren't extracurricular-related  - school spirit shirts, PE shirts, graduating class shirts.

Last summer, after she finished high school, I decided to embark on making her quilt, which I figured would be fast and easy, compared to the hypothetical quilt for her brother.

But in August and September, I was too morose about my empty nest, and abandoned the effort.

As the fall wore on, my sadness was replaced with wonder, then glee, at not having to drive her to school and rehearsals. More time opened up in my schedule! And by late November, I was happily hacking away at her shirts!

For the batting, I used a trick I developed during a previous upcycled clothing project, a memorial quilt for a young man who lost his life at the World Trade Center on 9/11. His wife had given a great many tee shirts, and they smelled wonderful - like him. I wanted to preserve that smell for her, as much as possible.

So for that memory quilt, I sewed together the unprinted rectangles cut from the backs of the tees. (If you have a serger, this process will be even easier and neater. (Update: Load the serger with wooly nylon to make sure the seams stretch, says my friend Deb. Thanks, Deb!)

I used tee pieces as the only batting in the quilt. I did NOT add interfacing of any kind to the rectangles used for batting.

Same thing for my daughter's quilts. I cut large rectangles and squares out of the tees I used, either the back or large areas under the logos.

Overlapped pieces by about a half inch. Remember, no need to interface.
 Pin together on the overlap.
 Do a wide zig-zag stitch, while pulling very slightly on the shirts, to build in a tiny bit of extra stretch.
 After stitching:
The reverse side is below. I just don't worry about that overlapped half inch, as long as its lying flat (iron if necessary.)
Next, here's the tee "batting" laid out on my basting (aka kitchen) table. The backing is underneath it, stretched taut on the table and held by clamps. The top of the quilt, you can see at the very end of the table, just about ready to be unrolled and laid on the top.
OK, now I hear you asking three questions:

#1. What about those little ruffles in the seams? Once the three layers are together, they vanish, as do the overlaps. Maybe someone with extreme fingertip sensitivity could feel the "batting" seams if the quilt were put on a very hard flat surface, but it would take a monumental effort.

#2. Won't the deep colors show through on the finished quilt? No, because there's fusible interfacing behind each tee shirt front. The back - I can't see them from that side, either.  Plus, if they did show through, who cares? Tee shirt quilts are never in the running for quilt show prizes!

#3: Does a tee shirt batting make the quilting less indented? Yes, a little less indented than the quilting on my usual batting choice, Warm'n'Natural cotton batting.  But you can still clearly see the indentations below. My theory: Two layers of tees + 1 layer of fusible interfacing behind the front tees + woven backing fabric = almost the same thickness as 2 layers of woven fabrics + thin commercial batting.

#4. Does a tee batting affect the weight of a quilt? Yes - it makes the quilt lighter than regular batting. The quilt is also not as cushy.

A tee batting also saves money, and helps the environment - you won't have to throw away as many tee leftovers. Whatever large rectangles don't make it into the quilt I use to make tee shirt yarn for crochet projects. Here's a small tee shirt bowl.
My sister-in-law spotted my growing ball of tee yarn and made slippers that double as floor cleaners!
Next installment: The reverse side pointed to my daughter's new life - a New York City college state of mind. Read it here.

PS Shared on Nina-Marie Sayre's Off the Wall Friday compendium of art quilts - find it here.


  1. You continually amaze me with your innovative ideas. I remember that empty nest sadness. It took me 4 weeks and a quilt to get over it.

    1. Thanks, Cheryl, for your understanding! I was very sad for a while....

  2. What a brilliant idea! I was thinking of making t-shirt ribbons to crochet a rug, but I have enough reject t shirts for that. Let me get my mind into this...
    I worry that I will never have an empty nest, but the good news is my 22 year old may have a place to move to. When he was at college for 2 weeks (before being asked to leave) it was really quite nice, especially for his younger brother.

    1. Marla, an empty nest is an emotionally complicated thing. I give thanks that I have one, but am also envious of people who get to keep their kids. Meanwhile - the only problem with tee shirt yarn is it sheds little pieces of thread, I'm not sure why. It is fun to work with except for that mess. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Thanks very much for this post. Great idea about the T-shirt "batting", though if I used the backs of the Ts for batting, my woodworker husband would be so sad not to have perfect wood staining rags....
    That said, I like the idea. Thanks again!

    1. Wood staining rags! Thanks for the comment and the idea, Toni! Leftover tee material does make terrific rags!

  4. Cathy-Thanks for the info on using T-shirt material for the batting. What fabric did you use for the back?
    Great way to recycle? Marge Bresel

  5. Thank you for the info on using T-shirt material for the batting. Great way to recycle.
    What fabric did you use for the back?

    1. Marge, I used quilting cottons on the back. I'll let you know when Part II goes up, hopefully this weekend. If I'd had more shirts, I might have used them on the back. Thanks for the comment!

  6. I'm seriously going to use tshirts as batting!! I cannot throw away and old t shirt even when they're stained! Well now the more durgey tshirts can live inside the quilt :)

  7. Yes, you'll need a CT scan machine to occasionally look inside to see what's there!


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