Thursday, September 22, 2016

5 Essential (and surprising) tools for making a T-shirt Quilt

I have been making t-shirt quilts since 1998.  That's when I started making my first one for my daughter for her high school graduation gift.  I thought I'd give myself a year to make it since I had never made a quilt before.  I think she finally received her quilt in 2000 since I was so intimidated by the whole process it took me that long.

Here's a picture of it now.  It's held up pretty well over the years. 

I've made well over 50 quilts since then and I can make them in less than a week.  (For me that's pretty good).  I've learned a lot about making them since that first quilt and I wanted to share what I think are the 5 essential tools for making t-shirt quilts. You might be surprised.

1.  My first tool I can't do without is bubble wrap.  

This is my piece of bubble wrap.  I cut it to 14" x 14" and I use it to make the first cut of my t-shirts.  The bubble wrap allows me to see the design and make my cut centered on the part of the shirt that I want to include in my quilt.  I know there are  probably 14" plastic quilting templates but this is a very cheap alternative, especially if you are making just one quilt.  (I do use a template when I'm making the final cut.)

2.  My second tool I use is a black sharpie. 

I used to use the Mark-B-Gone type of pen, the kind that the ink will disappear when wet.  I switched to a sharpie after going through so many of those disappearing ink pens.  I realized that the sharpie marks would only be on the part of the t-shirt that I wasn't going to use. The disappearing ink pen always seemed to dry out or run out of ink.  Plus I could see the sharpie line so much better than the disappearing ink pen line.

3. My third essential tool I use are gloves. 

I thought this was my idea for a long time.  I needed something to help me "push" and smooth the quilt through the machine as I was quilting the top.  I grabbed my dishwashing gloves to give me a better grip on the fabrics.  They worked so well.  The only drawback was that my hands would get too warm after a while.  I was happy to learn there are actually quilters gloves.  If you are just making one quilt and you don't want to invest in real quilting gloves, dishwashing gloves work great.

4.  My fourth essential tool for t-shirt quilts and any quilt for that matter is a walking foot.

When I first started making t-shirt quilts I had never heard of a walking foot.  An experienced quilter told me it would make a big difference in the quilting.  A walking foot helps to guide all 3 layers of fabric through the machine without them shifting.  You don't get that bump in the fabrics, everything is smooth and even.

5.  My fifth essential tool for making t-shirt quilts is parchment paper

When you make a t-shirt quilt you have to do a lot of ironing but t-shirt logos are not iron friendly.  If you iron over a shiny logo you will melt it and you get an unremovable, ugly streak on your shirt.  I use a piece of parchment paper about 14" x 14" and lay it over the entire shirt square.  I can iron any shirt logo without it melting -no streaks whatsoever. You can use that square of parchment paper over and over and over.

So there you have my 5 essential tools for making a T-shirt quilt.  I make everyone of mine using these tools.  Can you make a t-shirt quilt without these?  Sure but for me these all have simplified the whole process.

Here are some of my favorite t-shirt quilts I've made:

If you'd like your own t-shirt quilt but don't want to try it on your own, we can get started here: