My first sewing and upcycling project was born of a friend’s request. My friend’s uncle passed away and they wanted to surprise their cousin with a sentimental gift. While brainstorming, I mentioned t-shirt quilts and absentmindedly said they were easy to make – despite not having actual sewing experience. Before I knew it, I’d volunteered to turn eight large button-down shirts and into two small shirt quilts.

I wanted to keep the quilt’s design simple and stick to squares – after all, this was my first real project. After sorting out the dimensions of the quilt (45″x33″) and its pieces (9″x8.25″), I snatched up a Stranger magazine and cut out patterns. These patterns would pin to each shirts so I could quickly cut pieces.

Some of the shirts were pretty thin, as if worn and washed often, so I stiffened the pieces with head-bond interfacing. This even helped blend pieces from shirts made of thicker materials. If I had skipped the interfacing, I likely would have flimsy sections in the quilt. I’m pretty impressed that my amateur self thought ahead about this potential hazard.

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I struggled with designing the quilt, which isn’t surprising since I’m still warming up to using color in my designs. Eventually, I cut small swatches from each shirt and shifted them on a grid until I landed on a design I could tolerate. Once I committed to a color story, I took the plunge and sewed my first row.

After much trial and error (learning to properly thread a machine, the perils of sewing the wrong pieces together, and the magic of a seam ripper) I had all the squares sewn into rows as planned. After even more trial and error (sewing the wrong rows together, learning about thread tension, and troubleshooting why the thread wouldn’t catch fabric) the rows were sewn into the finished design.

With the design complete, I only had to attach the quilt design to the quilt backing. Given all of the practice I had sewing small pieces, I was happy to combine two large pieces. The moment I finished this quilt, I remember being overcome with emotion. I was proud of how well it turned out, I was honored to be trusted with such sentimental materials, and I was happy to help provide such a beautiful gift to someone.

I was fortunate enough to upcycle a button-down shirt for another loved one who passed away. My significant other’s cousin asked that I make a pillow out of their father’s shirt. If I can find the photos, I’ll be sure to share them here. It’s such a rewarding experience that I hope I have the privilege to sew upcycle more sentimental items in the near future.