My parents had a sewing machine collecting dust in their office for years. One day I asked for it and they agreed without question. I excitedly told a coworker about my new machine and they asked if I’d be willing to sew a quilt. I hesitantly agreed and, before I knew it, I was sewing two mini quilts made of my coworker’s deceased relative’s shirts. I never expected my first project to have such high stakes but these quilts gave the push I needed to dive into sewing and upcycling.

While designing the quilts, I wanted to keep things simple. I opted for a square pattern and used a quilting method that swaps quilt batting for a fleece blanket sewn opposite the quilt topper. With the basics ironed out, I took small fabric swatches to determine a color story. This is where I stopped making things easy for myself. I wanted two identical quilts using every shirt, despite clashing patterns and inconsistent color story. Working with color is something seasoned designers struggle with and, in hindsight, I should have approached this differently but I did my best.

After settling on a color scheme, I cut 9” x 8.25” squares from each shirt to fill two 45” x 33” quilts. Some shirts were thin, likely from being washed for years, so I applied a heat activated interfacing to give each square the same general firmness. I was ready to conquer my next hurdle – threading my sewing machine and sewing straight lines. After much trial and error, and a trip to buy a seam ripper, I sewed each square into rows and each row into expanding rectangles. I felt such accomplishment, knowing I executed the original design, but the feeling was temporary since I wasn’t finished.

It was finally time to attach the quilt topper to the fleece blanket base. Not gonna lie, I wasn’t 100% certain this would work but honestly that’s how I’ve approached every successful project since then. I stretched the fleece blanket across a flat surface and laid the quilt topper face down. Luckily the fleece blanket was relatively non-stretch, so I pinned the fleece and topper together, trimmed the excess, and repeated for the second quilt. I sewed the perimeter of the pinned fabrics, leaving a hole to turn the blankets inside out, and sewed them shut.

All that’s left was applying quilt ties to ensure the quilt topper and fleece layers remained intact. I found a durable needle and hand-sewed a thick black yarn where the corners of each square met. With quilt ties securing the layers, I remember feeling an odd sense of relief and accomplishment. I put off starting this project out of fear I’d ruin something so sentimental but my fears were unfounded. Instead I felt such a strong sense of purpose – as if sewing was what I was meant to do and the look on my coworker’s face as I revealed the quilts was reaffirming. I’m still sorting out how to fit sewing and upcycling into the bigger picture of my life but I know I’ll figure it out one stitch at a time.

*This blog post was originally hosted here on August 21, 2018. It has been re-written, with new images as part of a rebranding of What’s Upcycle.

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