Saturday, June 15, 2013

The T-Shirt Quilt

One of consequences of losing a significant amount of weight is that you get a whole new wardrobe!  This is fun and exciting, but also means that you have to part with favorite items of clothing.  This is especially hard for me because many of my t-shirts that no longer fit were also souvenirs from some of my favorite places.  Pinterest provided me with the solution to this dilemna – The T-Shirt Quilt!

Back in March, over Spring Break, I decided to start this daunting project.  Prior to starting this I had a very limited knowledge of how to use my sewing machine.  I’d sewn a few things, but I still needed to look up directions for basic stuff like threading and winding the bobbin.  Advanced stuff like adjusting stitch length and tension or troubleshooting why it jammed every other second were totally out of my league.  In my head my quilt was perfect, but I was seriously doubting my ability to make it come out nice. 

I started the planning process by locating some directions online that looked good:  I also browsed pictures of other finished t-shirt quilts to get an idea of what I wanted mine to look like and in the process decided that I didn’t like the look of the t-shirts right next to each other and decided to add sashing.  I then had to find directions on how to add sashing: This pictoral makes it SUPER easy to see how to do it!

The next step was figuring out what fabric to use for the sashing.  This was harder than I expected because all the t-shirts were different colors and didn’t exactly go together.  No one buys t-shirts because they will look nice all together!


I spent a whole day going to every fabric store in the area looking for the “just right” fabric and couldn’t find it.  I had some ideas but none really worked.  Finally I decided to use a solid color for the long strips and a print for the setting squares.  I decided on brown because it went with all the colors of the t-shirts and reminded me of a nursery rhyme quilt that my great-grandmother had made for me when I was a baby.  I’d found an old flat sheet that I was going to use for the quilt back and it was a lavender-ish color so that’s why I picked the purple for the middles.  That and purple is my favorite color and I didn’t have much purple otherwise. 


After the supplies were purchased and the t-shirts were washed, I began the cutting process.  I’d purchased some quilting templates – they are heavy clear plastic that you can cut, but it’s hard.  I decided I’d start with 16 inch squares.  I was unsure of how precise I’d be able to get my seams and it seemed like a lot of math to caluculate a 1/4 in seam vs a 1/2 in seam.  I decided to just go with “bigger is better”.   Using my handy rotary cutter I cut 16 x 16 in squares out of the backs of all the shirts and then cut the interfacing into 16 x 16 squares and ironed the interfacing on. 


It took me a few tries to get the procedure down for the interfacing.  At first I was ironing in the hall and was worried about setting off the smoke alarm with the steam so was keeping the iron low and ironing directly on the interfacing – this was a bad idea because a few times the interfacing melted!  I finally moved the ironing board so it wasn’t directly under the smoke alarm and used steam and the interfacing went on much easier.  I used a very lightweight interfacing and it worked great.  I’m so thankful the lady at Joann’s Fabrics knew what I was doing better than I did!

After the squares all had interfacing it was time to cut the sashing.  This went quickly thanks to the rotary cutter!  My measurement wasn’t quite as precise as it could have been, but it was good enough!

Finally, it was time to sew!  The sewing actually went quickly and easily and soon I had a completed quilt top! 


As you can see, the quilt top is HUGE.  It barely fits in the open space in the basement. It’s laying on a king size flat sheet (just to protect it from the floor) and it barely fits.  I had to move the couch into the hall in order to have room to spread it out.  This was not good.

I thought about it for a little while and decided that it was just too big and I needed to fix it. 

I decided that I could cut the squares down to 12x12 and make it 4 squares by 4 squares instead of 5x5.   This would mean removing 9 squares from the quilt.  I decided that 8 of those squares I would make into a giant floor pillow to use in the RV. 

At this point it was very late so I went to bed and the next morning started in cutting the squares out and making them 12x12.  I made a new template and was able to quickly cut them down to a more manageable size.  I also needed to cut new sashing.  This meant that I had to go back to Joann’s to buy more fabric. 

Cutting the sashing was much easier the 2nd time – I was better with the rotary cutter and the edges were cleaner and straighter the 2nd time around. 

Once again sewing all the parts together went quickly (by now though I was a pro at threading the machine and winding bobbins and had spent a few hours trouble shooting why it was jamming and wouldn’t sew!) and soon I had a new and improved quilt top:


You can see how much smaller it is! I was also able to take out the pastel squares and the squares that has smaller designs to use for the pillow. 

The next step was to add the backing.  There are lots of ways to finish a quilt and I chose to use one that most people don’t use… I cut the batting and the back, then I made a sandwich – the quilt top, then the backing (right sides together) and put the batting on top and sewed around the edge then turned it all inside out – just like a pillowcase.  The advantage here was that all 3 layers were sewn together without binding it.  The disadvantage is that all 3 layers were sewn together on the edges, but not quilted or otherwise held together in the middle. 

The quilting part looked easy so I started sewing around the edge.  It went well at first but soon the fabric started bunching up and wasn’t laying flat.  I forged ahead.  The more I forged ahead the more the fabric bunched and the tighter the stitches got.  Finally after stitching around the outside edge and then the inside edge of the sashing and attempting to go down the middle I realized that I’d really messed up.  It looked terrible and there was no way to fix it. 

I was very frustrated at this point.  Almost a whole weeks worth of work ruined in a matter of minutes.  And, I didn’t know how to fix it or do it better.  So I started researching machine quilting and determined that I needed a walking foot for my sewing machine.  I ordered one and when it arrived I figure out to get it on my machine (remember back at the beginning I didn’t even know how to thread the machine! Now I’m changing the feet!)  and tried to finish off the quilting.  It still didn’t look right.  I decided that my problem was the quilting I’d already done.  It had to get ripped out. 

This was enormously tedious and boring so it took me awhile to do it.  

While I was procrastinating about pulling out the stitching in the quilt, I finished the pillow:





It’s HUGE, but I love it!  It’s great in the RV!  It’s also very lumpy – a huge box of filling wasn’t quite enough!  And it’s not sewn very well, but it’s ok!

Finally I got up the motivation to finish pulling out the stitching and re-quilt the blanket. 

This continued to be an exercise in frustration as even with the old stitching pulled out, pinned like crazy, starting in the middle, using a walking foot, I still couldn’t get it to lay flat and quilt nicely!  In addition the sewing machine was acting up and I didn’t know why (I suspect that it was because I was using the wrong size needle…). 

I eventually gave up and decided to just quilt around the setting squares and call it good. 

After I finished the setting squares I realized that now the back was attached throughout the whole quilt and that sewing along the edges of the sashing would likely be easy, I just needed to do it in small chunks rather than trying to sew whole rows, so I decided to try it.  It mostly worked.  It seemed to work best when I wasn’t going directly down each row.  It seemed to take forever to get all the rows quilted around and I eventually gave up and didn’t quilt the outer edge of sashing. 

Soooo….finally…after weeks and months of trying and trying again….the quilt is DONE:


From a distance it looks great!  Up close…not so much:


In the picture above – the fabric started bunching up as a sewed down the row so I stopped sewing.  No idea why it was bunching up, but it wasn’t going to lay flat.


This joint actually looks good – the edges are smooth and not bunched up, but there are threads everywhere and the sewing isn’t straight.


Another spot where the fabric was all bunched up!


But from a distance you can’t really see all that!  It may not be pretty, but it’s mine and I made it myself!  I’m ultimately ok with it – not entirely happy with it, but given the amount of frustration, work and learning, I believe that it came out great! :-)

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