Upcycled T-Shirt Quilt: A Blanket Statement

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.

The assortment of tees included band shirts, graphic tees, shirts with puns, and graphic pun shirts.

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.

After landing on a color scheme, I laid the shirts out on the fleece blanket to estimate quilt border lengths.

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.

Framing the fleece bottom with a quilt border gave an extra level of finish that I wasn’t expecting. I love a happy accident!

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.

Each shirt’s colors really popped after adding black borders around each panel, especially the solid colors.

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.

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