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Quilts from Old Clothing
(and other unexpected textiles)

 
There are a lot of reasons to use clothing, neckties, and vintage fabric of many different kinds,  into quilts. Tee shirts with logos make a great quilt, especially for a social teen, a runner, or anyone else who has an extensive  tee shirt collection. A pillow, lap quilt or bed quilt from meaningful clothing  also makes a wonderful, biographical bar or bat mitzvah present, or a graduation present, huppa, or retirement present . Outgrown baby clothes, neckties, and even old denim are great for quilts. 
    However, working with  fabrics that may not be naturally inclined to cooperate with the mandates of quilting, can present challenges But with just a few tricks---this isn't brain surgery,  though it does take longer---it's very doable.
 


T-SHIRT QUILTS


Shhhh: Here's the big secret: Diligent application of iron-on fusible interfacing.
Cable tv also helps a lot here.
This secret, and the directions below,  apply not just to tees---it works with all kinds of strange knits and synthetics, including  pajamas, baby clothing, etc. It's also good for ravelly woven fabrics  and extremely thin fabrics (like a cotton men's shirt that's been worn and laundered a lot). It's one way to approach necktie fabrics (for more approaches, see Kippot).  

You will need:
A good iron with either a capacity for steam---or your own spray bottle which mists water.
A thin cotton press cloth  (any clean piece of muslin will do).
A teflon press cloth (available from the notions department of many fabric stores, and  from clotilde.com), or a stack of blank newsprint or other scrap paper (which is clean).. 
Lotsa tee shirts or other used clothing.
Many yards of light or medium-weight fusible interfacing (explained below).
Quilting cotton fabric in your choice of colors or designs, for sashing (between pieces of clothing)  and borders.

  
Here's the general  procedure I use to make a t shirt or clothing quilt:

1. Collect all the garments you want to use in your project. Wash and dry them.  Survey them. If any of them are really old (like from the '80s or before),  and/or have a particularly  intense background color---especially  yellow or red---color bleeding may be a problem (I learned this the hard way).  To test,  soak a corner of that shirt in water, place the dripping wet corner on a paper towel, place a weight on top (tuna cans work great) and leave it alone for a half hour. Come back and see if the color has run onto the paper towel. If it has, either leave that tee shirt out of the quilt, or treat the shirt with Retayne (a chemical available from dharma.com or clotilde.com,  and from many other dyeing, craft, and quilting stores), which stabilizes dyes in most cases. Test again before using the garment, to make sure the Retayne worked. .If it didn't, leave that item out of this project.
  Don't worry too much about holes or permanent stains. I think they add charm to this kind of quilt, and holes will be backed by interfacing, or you can embellish over them with a patch.
  If it is a dry-clean only fabric, you can either set it aside, to put into a dry-clean only quilt with other dry-clean only quilts; or, if you are brave, throw it (or a piece of it)  in the washing machine (warm/gentle cycle) and see if it survives. If it does (and most things do), you can use it in the same quilt as other machine-washable fabrics.

2. Buy a lot of yards of medium or light-weight fusible interfacing. It's usually carried by the chain fabric stores (rarely found in fine quilt stores). It is sold in packages, but it's simpler to buy by the yard, off of bolts, and it's quite inexpensive.   I would buy at least 1 yard for every 5  tee shirts you plan to use (not exact, because it depends how much of the tee  you use).  If  in doubt, buy extra.

3. Using a scissors,  roughly cut up one side seam of each tee; then use a scissors or rotary cutter to cut out the part of the tee shirt that you want to show in your quilt, adding plenty of extra space---at least a half inch, and ideally 2-3 inches, all the way around  the picture and.or words that you want intact. If you use a rotary cutter, use a ruler to guide your cut. If you use a scissors, you can draw lines first if you want, but this isn't a precise cut, so it's okay if your lines aren't perfect.   You will probably want the main logo. You might also want an image from a sleeve or the back.    Cut these out in a roughly rectangular or square shape, trying to avoid including seams (but if you must include a seam in  in order to maintain space around your featured motif that's okay too.). When cutting, always err on the side of including too much fabric, rather than too little. If you crop too near the logo, you may end up losing part of it.

4.Repeat step #3 for all the tee shirts. Don't discard the unused portions of the tee shirts yet---stuff them in a bag in your closet. You may need them down the road to extend  one of your tees, or to scour for more logos.

5. Preheat your iron to the setting specified on the instructions that come with the fusible interfacing. If the fusible specifies steam, fill your iron with water or prepare a spray bottle.
  If you're not certain of the fabric content of your garment (or even if you are, and the fabric isn't cotton), test a tiny corner of it with your iron first, to make sure the iron set at the temperature specified by the fusible doesn't melt the fabric. If the iron DOES melt the fabric, try lowering the heat on the iron, and adhering a little sample of fusible interfacing. Select the highest possible heat which will still get the fusible interfacing to stick on, without melting your garment. This requires trial and error. It's true that, at a lower temperature, the fusible interfacing may not be as permanent as it should be, but it will stay on long enough to allow you to piece the garment into the quilt, which is the most important thing here.

6. Pile your tees on your ironing board. Unroll one end of your fusible interfacing so that the bumpy-plasticy feeling side faces up, and the soft fuzzy side   is facing down. Lay your first tee shirt square or rectangle, right side up, on top of a corner of y our interfacing. If the print on the tee shirt does not look thick, silkscreened, fuzzy, or glittery, you may not need a press cloth. If in doubt, always use a thin cotton press cloth between the iron and the lettering on the tee. Iron to tee firmly to the interfacing, holding it down in place for the count specified by the directions, starting at the center of the tee  and moving out. Be very careful to keep the face of your iron from touching the fusible interfacing where the press cloth and tee fabric ends. If this is a threat, use your teflon press sheet as a barrier, or a clean sheet of newsprint or other unmarked scrap paper. They transmit heat but block and collect the glue, preventing it from smearing all over  your iron and your  project. After each use of the teflon sheet, scrape it clean with a crunched up piece of tulle over a wastebasket. Or, discard the   paper (in your recycling pile ) and get a new piece.  Try to avoid pressing wrinkles into the tee shirt----but if you do, you can often peel it away while it it is still warm and fix it. (And be reassured that small wrinkles are usually not noticeable in the finished product.)
   I warned you this was going to be tedious. You will develop a rhythm eventually.

8. Place your next t shirt piece butted up against the first, arrange it so it is completely backed by interfacing, and press again. Keep doing this until you are through your pile of squares and rectangles. Don't worry if a few corners here and there aren't fused---you will still have another chance to cut  and fuse. Roughly cut out the tees.

9. Take all your rough-cut interfaced tee squares to your floor, or your design wall, and start laying them out.  You may want a chronological order, or use themes or colors as a guideline . You may want to highlight some shirts in a central medallion, with other shirts circling around it.
A few years ago I made a tee shirt quilt from a 10 years of race shirts collected by a champion runner---that was 75 shirts. I arranged them chronologically, in vertical rows.  That is, I arranged them more or less chronologically, with the earliest shirt in the upper left hand corner, and the most recent on the lower right.
    Since all these squares are not the same size, you are going to need to make some of them larger, and some smaller. Now's the time to do final, exact cutting and measuring (and re-iron if any of your fusible is starting to come off). You'll enlarge some of the pieces by adding 'sashing strips,' from any fabric of your choosing. You can use one fabric, or a variety if you like (but using just one will make your quilt faster, simpler, easier on the eyes---the tees  themselves usually provide enough color diversity). Using a dark sashing faric will make the t colors "pop" and not distract attention from the clothes themselves. .
      For the pieces which need to be smaller, take them to the cutting board and cut.
      For the marathon shirt, I laid out  7 columns of tees.  Then I knew that every tee which appeared in that particular vertical column would have to have the exact same width as the other tee's in its column.   All the other tees, which were all narrower, had to be increased, using either a  background 'sashing'  fabric, or from another  tee .
   By laying them out, I also established an approximate overall maximum vertical length for my column . Sashing strips had to be added to the tops and bottoms of some columns to make them as long as the longest one.    In some cases, I went back to my pile of cut up tee shirts to search for more logos that I could add to make a row longer.
       In other cases, I combined vertical and horizontal groupings, building each one out and combining them as I went. I might make a grouping of four tees, sew them together, measure them, then add two tees stacked on top of each other next to them, making sure the height is the same.
Once you have a rough arrangement and a construction plan, you may want to trim some of the shirts a little more, as needed.

10. Sew your tees together, as you would any quilt top.

11. For finishing, be sure you use a strong, sturdy fabric as a backing, and a sturdy batting. These quilts are quite a bit heavier than the average quilt, so machine quilting is a good idea.  Quilt liberally, for maximum durability.

 

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