What the Tee-Shirt Tutorials Don’t Tell You

Today is the day of my boyfriend’s graduation from College, but he’s been using his gift for a few weeks now: a tee shirt quilt made by yours truly. Is it gorgeous? Hell no. Is it functional? Mostly. Was it a pain in my rear? Absolutely. So before any of you go attempting those cute little tee shirt quilts you see on Pinterest, let me fill you in on some of the details.

Too many tutorials expect you to actually know something about the subject- as an engineer with a pair of kitchen scissors and a bottom-of-the-line sewing machine, I was a n00b at the whole quilting thing, and most of the tutorials I found were directed at people with at least minimal experience. So, like any good engineer, I set about gathering data and techniques from various sources to compile for you a more complete tutorial.

The first thing that they should have told you, but didn’t: use tee shirts of the same size. If like me, you are an S woman trying to make a quilt for an L man, DO NOT, for the love of the sewing gods, try to include your own tee shirts. Use tee shirts of the same size for this project, or the cutting and piecing steps will take so long that you might just give up on the whole damn quilt, at which point you will be left with tee shirt scraps and a disappointed boyfriend. I came close to this myself, but managed to make do with some clever rearranging of the pieces towards the end. Cut all the tee shirt blocks to the SAME SIZE, so that maybe your seams will line up at the end if you’re lucky.

The second thing they don’t tell you: iron the tee shirts beforehand so that you don’t get wrinkles in your fusible interlining.

The third thing: what the hell is a “fusible interlining”? Well, aside from the actual tee shirts, it’s the most critical part of this whole project. Fusible interlining is available at any quilting store, and it’s basically a synthetic fiber mesh with stuff on one side that sticks to fabric when ironed. Why is this necessary? Because sewing with tee shirts by themselves is a biotch. They stretch and squirm and deform and the whole thing is just miserable. So, after you’ve cut your tee shirts into pieces, cut the interlining into pieces of the same size and iron it on. It will make the tee shirts stiffer so that you can sew with them without hassle.

Now arrange your tee shirt tiles on the floor in an arrangement that you like, and start sewing- easier said than done. I suggest starting with the lower left corner and sewing it to the lower second-from-the-left, and then after that seam is done, sewing the lower third-from-the-left onto your now forming row. After you’ve completed all your rows, which should just be strips, pin your bottom row to the second-from-the-bottom row and sew. Continue in this fashion until you have something that looks like a reasonably attractive blanket on the front, and a mess of thread and seams on the back. At this point, the majority of the work is out of the way, and it will actually start to look like a quilt.

The fourth thing they don’t tell you: how to piece together the back of your quilt. I used flannel for the back of mine, which makes it quite soft and cozy. My suggestion to avoid unnecessary measuring and cutting would be to make the backing out of two huge strips of fabric by sewing them together, and then folding that whole thing in half and sewing a little fake seam in the middle to make it look like you sewed four pieces together instead of two. Here’s the tricky part: you need to make sure that the dimensions of your backing are 2″ on each side BIGGER than your tee shirt cluster. Lay the backing on the ground, ugly side up, and move on to the batting.

The fifth thing: what is this “batting” stuff and does it mean baseball? Batting, apparently, is the fluffy stuff they put in the middle of quilts to make them warmer and puffier. You can buy it at quilting stores (also where you get that fusible weirdness) in big rolls.

Lay your fluffy stuff out on top of your backing so that it’s relatively flat-ish, and then lay your tee shirt cluster on top of that, making sure the cluster is CENTERED inside the backing, pretty side up.

Now, because I’m lazy and in a hurry, I will lead you to this woman’s excellent tutorial on “cheater binding”, which is how you finish your lovely quilt.

Well, you’ve almost finished it, anyway. The final step is to sew, by hand, little “tacks” at each of the tee shirt junctures. You sew all the way through the layers, which keeps them from shifting around.

Good luck, my fellow n00bs!



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