How to Make a Keepsake Quilt from Old T-Shirts

As many of you know, I just got a new sewing machine and I'm also interested in developing my quilting skills.  Add to that that I have two kids in their late teens.  One has already flown the coop and is living far away and another who seems overly anxious to do the same.

Both my kids were active in sports and in school activities and they have closets full of old sports uniforms and t-shirts of all kinds.  So it dawned on me, what better gift for a child moving away than a keepsake quilt with all the childhood memories sewn in?

Making a keepsake quilt may give me a chance to do a lot of sewing on my new machine while also creating some fantastic Christmas gifts for the kids that will hopefully help remind them of home.

I don't have a lot of pictures of this project as I'm going to be doing it myself in the lead up to Christmas.  Since I'm relatively new to quilting, I have asked one of our contributors, Kathryn, to write up the process I should use when making this quilt which I'll share this with you now in case you want to begin a similar project.

How to Make a Keepsake Quilt from Old T-Shirts

By Kathryn M. D’Imperio

When your kids are in sports or any activity, countless t-shirts usually end up in their wardrobes over the years. What is one person supposed to do with all of these t-shirts? While some t-shirts may be fast favorites, others may just sit in drawers, or worse, plastic storage boxes, for months, if not years at a time. What is one to do with all of these forgotten t-shirts?

First, let’s think about t-shirts. Very often they are made from preshrunk cotton, making them perfect to toss in the washer and dryer at a moment’s notice. T-shirts usually feature a soft and snuggly jersey cotton type material, making them comfortable and nice to wear even when you aren’t feeling the greatest. The combination of being comfortable and easy to wash make t-shirts a great candidate for creating a keepsake quilt.
The best keepsake quilts usually feature a constant theme running throughout the blanket. You can make your keepsake quilt large enough to fit a twin bed or even a full bed, or you can make it as a simple throw for snuggling on the sofa or in the car on a long trip. Depending on the number of t-shirts you have saved for the occasion, you can make your keepsake t-shirt quilt single-sided with a fleece or flannel backing, or you can make it double-sided with even more t-shirts.

Some of the best t-shirt quilts may feature your child’s involvement in a sport or activity over his or her grade school or high school years. You can handcraft a cross country or track and field quilt, a soccer quilt, a marching band quilt, a Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts quilt, or just about any kind of t-shirt quilt you want, combining memories from your child’s earlier years. A handcrafted keepsake quilt made from t-shirts can be a memorable, cherished high school graduation gift to take to college. Just make sure you don’t cut up any of your child’s favorite t-shirts without asking!

To create your very own keepsake t-shirt quilt, follow these basic steps. You may need to brush up on some sewing and quilting techniques if you are a beginner.

  1.  Gather as many old t-shirts as you can find from your child’s sports and activities.
  2.  Create a pattern on a piece of newspaper or a paper bag in the size and shape you would like each patch to be. Basic squares tend to be a great shape for a starter keepsake quilt.
  3.  Using your pattern and some sewing pins, cut out a square on the front and back of each t-shirt so that you get two pieces of the quilt from each shirt.
  4.  Lay out all the pieces to make sure you have enough patches for two equal squares or rectangles to form your quilt.
  5.  Using a sewing machine or by sewing freehand, stitch together half of the squares into one large square or rectangle.
  6.  If you are making a double-sided keepsake quilt, repeat for the other half of your blanket. If you are using a different fabric for the reverse side of your blanket, make sure you have a piece of fabric that is as long and as wide as the rest of your t-shirt squares once assembled. Some basic math and measuring may be necessary.
  7.   Before stitching your two completed sides together, decide if you would like to add a little batting to your quilt for added warmth and snuggle factor. Read up on quilting techniques to ensure you properly affix the batting inside the quilt.
  8.   After adding quilters’ batting if desired, sew the quilt together one side at a time, with the bad side facing out so that you won’t see your stitches on the finished product.
  9.   For the last little bit of the sewing, very carefully stitch together both sides of the quilt so that your stitches blend nicely with the rest of the sewing.
  10.  Deliver your special keepsake quilt to your child, niece, or nephew as their going away to college gift or a present for any other special occasion.

Once you get the hang of it, this quilting project should be easy enough for even a beginner. Don’t be afraid to experiment and add your own special finishing touches like trim and other adornments. Just be mindful – once you create your first keepsake quilt, your friends and family members may be lining up to request their own special blanket handcrafted by you.

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40 Responses to How to Make a Keepsake Quilt from Old T-Shirts

  1. Gayle Rosey says:

    I just finished my nephews quilt for him. It was fun project from deciding on the pattern of the quilt fabric used to frame each shirt to the placement of each square ( distributing the colors of each shirt artfully throughout.)
    One very painful lesson I learned was to use a rather thick pressing cloth when applying the stabilizer to the back of the T shirt logo . If not careful, the graphics will melt and the shirt will be ruined. Also, to keep the T shirt colors from “bleeding” during washing, it was suggested by my local quilt shop to use “Shout Color Catcher Sheets” which you can purchase at most grocery stores where laundry products are sold.

  2. Jane says:

    I would like to know what stabilizer to use for a t-shirt quilt that is not extremely expensive

  3. Desirea says:

    I’d like to know the rag quilt method. My husband grandpa just passed and he got a lot of shirts that was his we will never wear. I’ve never done anything like this I’m trying to figure it out. I’m only 23 so I’m new to all this. Some of what I’ve read makes since come I don’t understand. HELp!!!

  4. Sherry P. says:

    I recently made a memory quilt for one of my daughter’s high school friends who was going away to college as a gift for her dad. I was originally thinking ‘tshirts’ when she said uniforms – turned out they were all jerseys (think synthetic polyester fabrics that will melt if you iron them!) There were buttons, and sew on letters and numbers, and iron on letters and numbers, and patches – well, you get the picture….;it was way more than I originally thought I was committing to! The hardest part was figuring out how to stabilize everything so it wouldn’t stretch and get wonky. Since everything was made of polyester and some had satin patches or iron on lettering, I didn’t want things to melt. I had an applique pressing sheet that you can use an iron on – I used a very light weight fusible interfacing and carefully placed the applique sheet over each block before ironing – it worked perfectly! Everything was a different size and I even had to add fabric to some of the jerseys that were sleeveless or had v-necks. It was like putting together a giant puzzle! I ended up having it professionally machine quilted because with all of the designs being made of different materials, it needed to be quilted by someone who could go around all of those different elements. The recipient was thrilled and I was pretty proud of myself for the way it came out – I think this will be a one and only of that kind though! lol

  5. Donna Hardin says:

    This post is so helpful and timely. I’m just beginning quilting and already had a friend request a keepsake quilt specifically for the sports shirts his son has accumulated over the years. Thanks to these posts, I have a good start!

  6. Sharon K says:

    using a stabilizer is a MUST… makes your squares more manageable because of the stretch of the T-shirt. And don’t touch an iron to the design on the T-shirt as it will sometimes melt it.

  7. Michele Stevenson says:

    Kathryn did you make the one pictured with Jim Zalesky wrrestling shirt in it? My youngest wrested for Jim at Oregon State University. We have some of his camp shirts. I have been making T-shirt quilts for a while now. My LAQ got me started, we used to make them to raffle off at the end of wrestling season to support our officials going to Nationals. I am in the process right now of making one out of Car t-shirts (queen size)

  8. Lorraine Frederickson says:

    I have made several T-shirt quilts. The BEST iron on stabilizer is Shapeflex. It doesn’t separate from the T-shirt, is very lightweight and drapes well. For the time it takes to press on a stabilizer, I will only use Shapeflex as it is the best quality. I have tried other stabilizers and there is a night and day difference. I use a 12″ or 16″ template ruler and rotary cut the T-shirt. Since these rulers are clear, you can see the design and won’t be cutting away any important lettering or logos. They also have a dot showing the center point so your design won’t end up off center.
    For batting, I suggest Dream Cotton in the lightest weight. I have tried other brands and weights – the quilt becomes suffocating.

  9. Patrice St. Clair says:

    Here’s an idea also you can purchase interfacing to have the t-shirts a little more manageable there is sew in and iron on to choose from or you can use used dryer sheets and simply sew them in like sew in interfacing, I use dryer sheets when embroidering on my machine (small hoop) They are the perfect size, you can also butt them together and make larger pieces. Have fun!! Save money and reuse.

  10. Kathy Rogers says:

    I just finished a king size Harley t-shirt quilt for a client. Use Pellon SF 101, a woven stabilizer, not interfacing, for the back of each t-shirt block. If you do not stabilize it you’ll have loads of difficulty quilting it, even stitching in the ditch. I bordered the quilt with regular quilters cotton, as this helps to stabilize it too. I put an 80/20 batting in and backed it with Minky.

  11. Judy Guyer says:

    I wish that I could download the patterns without having to convert to ASK browser. I like Chrome. Also, there are too many ads for lots of things other than quilting on your website. You have great ideas but it is hard to get to them.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      We do not ask to download anything, it is advertising who pays for your free viewing and for the 1 day, that takes to write an article like this, most tutorials take 4 to 7 days without video.

  12. Annette says:

    When I took a class on making T-shirt classes, the instructor told us to be sure and wash the t-shirts without fabric softener and to dry without softener. Further, press the t-shirts flat and then to position the fusible (soft) stabilizer to the back BEFORE cutting the square. This will keep the t-shirt fabric square. This made sure that you got the stabilizer attached to the complete square. In this class, borders were added to the squares which were then “scattered” and at angles over the fabric for the desired arrangement and stitched to the top fabric – it was one large piece. Soft batting was used and then a large piece of backing to complete the quilt – I had mine machine quilted (some long arm quilters may not want to stitch thru some of the t-shirt designs!).
    In your instructions to use a t-shirt square for the backing, I would apply a light one sided fusible fleece to the back square to get the desired “batting” effect and then joint the squares. and “stitch in the ditch” to join the quilt. It might nice to embellish with a little “free motion” stitching around the design in the t-shirt to further join the front/back together. Hope that this is not confusing – my nephew loved the t-shirt quilt that I made for him! Somewhere I have a picture – Braves t-shirts and I used pieces of the t-shirt to embroider baseball sayings (put on front and back) – took a long time but it was worth it to see his face when he opened that package.

  13. Lorna Campbell says:

    this is what I came up with. It’s 110 x 110, almost bigger than my room!

  14. Margaret Summers says:

    I see in your comments that you bought a new machine. Which one did you get?

  15. Marianne Barber says:

    Great idea and tips thank you for taking the time to share x

  16. Linda says:

    Yes use a VERY LIGHT – NOT for knits iron on interfacing on the tshirts to stabilize them while in construction. In my experience the interfacing will eventually separate and your quilt will become very soft. I have made 2 and plan on making more. The most time consuming part is arranging your blocks. And you can add quilting cottons too … to make your block units equal sized. I’m also planning on trying a rag quilt version… cutting back and front of the tshirt at the same time and sewing them together with flannel in-between just like a rag quilt. No quilting needed. Should be very light weight and soft.

  17. Phyllis says:

    Oh no! I wish this was posted a week earlier. I just tossed out my daughter’s old t shirts from school activities she loved but outgrew.

  18. emma says:

    Hello Mayra,
    I started a few months ago with quilting and with similar projects. It’s a good thing – specially for beginners – to use old clothes (shirts, jeans).
    My experience: start with simple, bigger blocks, use definitely something to stabilize shirts (as Donna said), f.e. ironing fleece, don’t forget the grain, cut a big amount of blocks in advance and start than with mixing and matching.
    Because of the randomness of the prints and materials it turned out to be quite difficult to combine the blocks in a pleasant and matching way.
    But when you’re done there is really nothing more satisfying as a recycled piece of art 😉 Good look and have fun! You will really get hooked on it 😉

    • Barbara L Birdsong says:

      To unify a diverse set of T-Shirt blocks, insert a sashing strip between each of the blocks. Use one color for all of sashing that is a pretty dominant color ( black, navy, red, etc.) You will be surprised at how various colors can work together!

  19. Phyllis says:

    I wish this was posted earlier! I just tossed out my daughter’s old school T-shirt’s from activities she loved ?

  20. Isabel Rodgers says:

    This Is One of my projects for next year.
    thanking you.

  21. Donna Paulson says:

    I believe a very important step has been left out. I have been told while inquiring from seasoned quilters to adhere some kind of stabilizing material to each t-short block before sewing it. This is an iron on product. It will help your quilt have a good shape and keep it from stretching here and there.

  22. Sandy says:

    I have been wanting todo this for years now. Hopefully will be able to do in this coming year. That’s my first resolution for 2018!!!

  23. Barbara Hughes says:

    I have ironed a lightweight stabilizer behind each piece as this helps to hold the shape.

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