Someone contacted me with a stash of old t-shirts that their significant other hesitantly parted with. The shirts were secretly stockpiled over time, with the intent of preserving them as a quilt. They originally took on the project by themself, sewing the quilt with a needle and thread by hand in hopes of finishing as a Christmas gift. I was more than happy to help expedite this process and, more importantly, make this idea a reality! I learned so much with my first upcycled quilt and discovered a newfound sense of purpose from a practical use of my sewing skills. There was no way I’d pass on a chance to make another.
Since I was resuming a work in progress, I received 15 fabric squares trimmed from various shirts. The limited fabric narrowed my color blocking choices but, in reality, it also kept me from overthinking a color story. I took photos of each t-shirt to sort out a color scheme digitally, where I could quickly shift and find the right layout. I realized there were 7 matching colors with 1 leftover, so I aligned the squares in a 3 x 5 grid and centered the unmatched color. The remaining colors were arranged into a mirrored layout, alternating between light and dark colors. I wanted the shirts to remain the focal point, so I decided on black cotton quilting in a simple border to frame each shirt. I hoped the black borders would magnify each shirt square, despite any color loss form years of wash cycles.
With the design finalized, I prepped fabrics for sewing. The shirts needed trimming to form perfect squares and I repaired a few holes from general wear and tear over time. Once the squares were a uniform size, I reinforced the thin cotton with a middle weight, heat-activated interfacing. After a quick trip to a craft store for black cotton quilting, I cut 54 rectangles and 40 squares for the quilt blocking borders. Next I tackled one row at a time, alternating between sewing rows of black squares and rectangles together and sewing rows of shirt squares and black rectangles together. I pressed all my seams open with an iron and moved onto sewing rows together until I had the completed quilt topper.
I was pleased with substituting a fleece blanket in favor of quilt batting and backing in my first quilt, so I did it again with a modification. Using the black cotton quilting, I gave the fleece blanket a border that matched the quilt topper’s border. This provided substance to the quilt’s edges and gave the fleece bottom a remarkably clean, finished look. After sewing together the quilt topper and fleece bottom, I top stitched the border layers (where the fleece met the quilt border) to help lock the fleece panel in place. Once the two layers were sewn together, I hand sewed quilt knots using black embroidery floss on every black cotton square. I used yarn last time but I’m hoping the thick embroidery floss will survive the test of time and various wash cycles.
The feeling of finishing a project with sentimental value is unparalleled. The satisfaction of completing a project is amplified by the anticipation of someone receiving something you poured time, energy, and care into. I didn’t see their reaction when they received this quilt, but I spoke to them in person and I can tell it meant a lot to them. It’s so rewarding to be part of something so impactful. In an odd way, it feels like I’m upcycling more than just fabric; I’m upcycling memories. The memories tied to these shirts have taken a new form and are ready to help create a new set of memories.