June 21, 2012

T-shirt Quilt

Kludging goal: A comfy quilt made from screenprinted t-shirts
Kludging skill level: Advanced
Permanence: Permanent
Starting materials: As many t-shirts as you can round up, batting, blanket binding, thread
Required tools:  Sewing machine, ruler, pinking shears, tons of pins

Throughout the years we somehow accumulate an incredible number of screenprinted t-shirts. I go through a major purge when the dresser drawer no longer closes, but I always find a few that I don't wear, but I don't really want to trash or donate. The stack of frat party tees may have sentimental value, but they don't need to be in the wardrobe rotation these days.

A number of years ago, I got the idea to cut up our old shirts and sew them together into a quilt, preserving the memory, but feeing up drawer space. I recently made another quilt for a friend who will be moving cross-country and wanted to condense her sentimental shirts into something functional and easy to move.

**Kludging Disclaimer: I am in no way "a quilter". My lack of attention to detail, precise measurement, and well-honed skill is pretty much an insult to the longstanding artistic tradition of quilting. I apologize in advance for the slapdashery to follow.

I started with about 20 of my friend's shirts with front and back designs. I separated the shirts into stacks of similar colors,

then used pinking shears to cut out the screenprinted areas.

Cutting out large front design

Cutting out small chest design
Be sure to leave as much extra fabric around the design as you can. You'll need at least an inch of space on each side for seam allowance and you can always cut the square down later if it's too big.

I then cut the remaining fabric from the t-shirts into rectangles of the same size. I used an arbitrary number (6" x 12") and made a template. These plain pieces will be used to make the back of the quilt. (If you have enough shirts, you could use screenprints on both sides.)

Left- Cut out screenprints...Right- Cut out plain rectangles

Next, I arranged all the screenprinted pieces into a relatively even rectangle. This took forever. Because the screenprints aren't all the same size or shape, it's tricky to get it symmetrical. You'll notice that the arrangement in this photo isn't the same one I ended up with, either. As I began sewing the pieces, I kept rearranging them to make a more even shape. I also tried to distribute the colors evenly.

First attempt at layout.

Through trial and error, I've found that the easiest way to get the layout right is to arrange pieces of similar size and shape into strips, then sew the strips together later. 

Strip of large squares.

Once you have a strip laid out, pin the good sides together leaving a seam allowance of about an inch. Make sure the pinned seams are as straight as possible or you'll regret it later!

When you have a strip pinned together, fold it and trim the edges to make them even.

Folded strip, ready to be trimmed.

Bottom strip, trimmed.
 (Additional support by my kitty, Motörhead , who makes sure that the squares don't float away.)
Continue pinning sections of squares together, then sew the larger sections to each other. Make sure that you don't sew over the seam allowance when sewing sections together. You'll need to stop sewing before you hit the seam allowance or you won't be able to get right angles between the four pieces. (This is probably one of those things that you won't understand in writing, but you'll know when you mess it up!)

Don't sew over that seam allowance!
I also added a "surprise" square-- a blank piece of fabric on which I wrote a message to my friend.

When you've finished sewing together your front sections, measure the whole front of the quilt and then lay out the pieces to make up the back. For this quilt, it worked out to be 5 1/2 of the rectangles I'd cut out in each row, with 11 rows (9 are shown below). I tried to arrange the rectangles to spread out the colors evenly.

Back of quilt laid out.
The sewing on the back is quick and easy, just sew the pieces together into strips, then sew the strips together. You can play around with this, lining up the vertical and horizontal seams, or offsetting them like I did above-- whatever you think looks best!

When you've finished sewing the back of the quilt, it's time to add the batting. Lay the front piece of the quilt face-down, then cover it with the batting, then the back piece face-up. Pin the edges the whole way around, then trim any excess batting or fabric.
Pinned front, batting, and back pieces.
I did a quick stitch around the edge of the quilt to keep it all together before adding the blanket binding. You could do it all in one step if you're brave.

Right edge pinned, top edged sewn.
Front and back with quick stitch.

The last step is to attach the blanket binding. This covers the ugly edges of the quilt and makes it look "finished". I used a 1" tri-fold binding which worked nicely. Open the binding and slip the edge of the quilt into the fold, then pin. Be sure to leave an extra inch or so at each end so you can tuck the raw ends under and hand-sew the corners into a neat point.

Adding the binding.

And, voila! A memory-filled quilt at little cost, plus room in that t-shirt drawer to grow into!