A quilt, huh? I guess you could say that I interpreted the word “refashion” a little bit differently than what Portia intended for this challenge! Even when I first received the email inviting me to participate (which still surprises me, given the fact I have ruthlessly abandoned my poor blog), I couldn’t imagine myself turning a shirt into another kind of garment. I immediately pictured a fun modern quilt in my head and I stubbornly refused to attempt anything else. I used multiple men’s shirts but I completely stripped them of their garment identities and forced them into funky triangle shapes and stitched the shirtiness right out of them. Let’s hope they’re enjoying their new life.
I know that shirt quilts are not new concepts; people have been creating memorial quilts and t-shirt quilts for, I dunno, eons. If you search for them online, there are photos a-plenty. But I didn’t want to make a “shirt quilt,” I wanted to make a quilt that just happened to reuse secondhand shirts. Being set on this idea meant that the hardest and most time-consuming part of this project was not sewing the quilt, though I did suffer major procrastination on that. It was finding appropriate shirts that weren’t too “shirty” and that coordinated well and would also match my home decor. Big challenge! The majority of men’s shirts seem to come in muted neutrals or pastel colors, which aren’t really my cuppa tea. I love striped and plaid shirts but I don’t love that on quilts, so that was another issue.
Luckily on my fourth (!!) trip to the thrift store, I found some bold solid shirts that matched the color story of my home — which features a lot of blue, gray, red and yellow. You can see my obnoxiously yellow chair patiently modeling the quilt in many of these photos. That’s the kind of thing I’m drawn to.
I used five shirts total — four solids and one checked shirt — and supplemented with some white quilting cotton. The quilt back is admittedly a bedsheet, but at least it’s still repurposing, yea?
I used a quilt pattern because I’ve only sewn a couple quilts in my life and am not skilled enough to think of my own designs and figure out the math of it all. I chose the Go West quilt pattern by Bonjour Quilts, which is relatively new. I essentially copied her color combo in the sample pattern, keeping the bright blue, red, white and gold in the same spots. This made it much easier to follow the instructions and not get confused about what sews to what. I still did a lot of labeling just in case. The blocks are made up of squares, rectangles and half-square triangles that are arranged in a way to create the interesting geometric pattern. It’s pretty simple.
The pattern comes with instructions for three sizes — baby mat (48” x 42”), lap quilt (48” x 63”) and twin size (64” x 84”). I went with the baby size because I didn’t know how much fabric these shirts would yield and, well, I was quilting on a deadline! Surprisingly, I got a lot of fabric out the shirts I bought, and some of them were merely size medium. For most of the colors, I was able to cut them from the fronts and one sleeve of each shirt, leaving a full back and a second sleeve. I definitely could have made the lap quilt size from just these five shirts.
For all my other quilts I’ve used natural cotton batting. For this one I went with the wispy polyester kind to save a couple bucks, and now I know the struggles of quilting with a loftier batting. It was more difficult to smooth the gritty batting out when basting the layers together, and I’m always SO impatient with the basting process anyway, so my quilt is puffier than I’d like and there are some areas where the fabric definitely needed to be pulled more taut before quilting.
My sewing machine has great box feed technology and my walking foot is a champ, though, so getting it quilted through my machine was okay. I did straight line quilting that echoed the angles of the piecing. I used white thread for the top and bobbin so the design is mimicked on the contrasting red quilt back.
Making a quilt out of shirts is a great way to save the lives of many donated or unwanted garments at once (and nab a TON of “free” buttons for your button stash), but it has its downsides because you’re at the mercy of your limited local thrift store inventory or your lover’s closet, versus the wide, wide world of quilting fabrics online, and it’s tricky to plan how many shirts are needed. It’s also a little more time-consuming to cut because unlike cutting from regular yardage, I had to cut in a single layer and cut one square at a time, but luckily since this is a small quilt it only took a couple evenings of labor for the cutting.
I have some tips on types of shirts to look for if you decide to make a shirt quilt. The closer the match in weight for all the shirts you use, the better your piecing will look. Look for shirts that are medium-weight and 100% cotton if at all possible. Some poly is okay but it may be more difficult to press flat. Avoid shirts with lycra, or drapey rayon or silk shirts. Linen seems like it would make a yummy quilt, but the looser weave is shifty and can make it harder to cut perfect squares/rectangles. Some of these issues can be resolved by using interfacing or fabric starch. And of course, prewash your shirts to get the thrift store out of them!
Thanks for hosting this fun series, Portia! Hope all you folks have been inspired to think of new ways to use old shirts.
Those COLOURS! It was seriously worth persevering to find this colour combo Andrea! I would love this draped over my armchair! So, after Wendy’s quilt blocked bib in yesterday’s post here we have Andrea’s modern take on a traditional “memory” quilt. ( I must direct you also to Handmade Jane’s very moving version of one of these quilts.) Not only is it a great way of using up scraps from all the shirt refashions you’ll be doing in future 😉 it’s also a wonderful way of giving new purpose to those shirts that you just can’t bring yourself to get rid of. In terms of scale you can use this technique from something as small as a make up bag , bag, cushion…and from a baby quilt right through to a full size quilt. Cotton shirt fabric is perfect for quilting!!
You can find Andrea here and here. Are you inspired to get a shirt and get refashioning yet? Take a look at ALL the amazing prizes to be won as part of The Refashioners 2015 Community Challenge. Just get involved for a chance to win!!! Grab a shirt and get refashioning! You have until Sunday 27th Sept to enter! Stay tuned for more inspiration throughout the WHOLE of August!