Andrea Funk

By: Andrea Funk on September 18th, 2017

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5 Styles of T-shirt Quilts

Styles & Types of T-shirt Quilts

There are many different styles of T-shirt quilts. Each style can result in a different look and feel. And each style also comes with it’s own issues. Here is a look at the types of T-shirt quilts. You can click on each style or read from top to bottom.

More About: Finding a Quilt Maker

Traditional Block Style With Sashing
Traditional Block Style Without Sashing
Unequal Rows or Columns
More About: General Information About T-shirt QuiltsThe Too Cool Style AKA: Variable Style
Crazy Quilt Style
The Pros and Cons of Variable Size Block T-shirt Quilts
The Pros and Cons of Traditional Style Block T-shirt Quilts

Traditional T-shirt quilt style with sashing, columns and rowsTraditional Block Style With Sashing

What: This is the first type of T-shirt quilt made. All the blocks were cut the same size. Interfacing was applied to the back of the T-shirt block to make it stiff and easy to work with. The blocks are laid out in columns and rows divided by cotton fabric. 

Look: This style of quilt is very simplistic because it is laid out in a checkered board pattern. You look at it and your brain easily recognizes the pattern and you go on. There is nothing there to grab you attention and keep you looking at the quilt. The style is very regimented.

Feel: Stiff! The iron-on backing that is applied to the backs of the T-shirts to stiffen them enough so they can be sewn to cotton fabric makes this style of quilt stiff and heavy.

Issues: This style does not take into consideration that T-shirt designs are different sizes. If a design is larger than the blocks size, the area outside the block gets cut off. If the design is a lot smaller than the block, there will be a lot of blank space around the design. 

traditional style T-shirt quilt without sashing laid out in columns and rowsTraditional Block Style Without Sashing

What: This style is the same traditional block style, but it omits the sashing – the fabric dividing the rows and columns.  All the blocks are cut the same size and are sewn together in rows and columns.

Look: Again, this is a very simple style of T-shirt quilt. It’s easy to quickly look at and move on.

Feel: The feel of this quilt will depend on how it is made. If iron on backing is used, it will be stiff. It will be less stiff if this step is skipped.

Issues: Since this type of quilt is made with just one size block, T-shirts with large designs will have the designs cut off and small designs will have too much black area around them.

To learn more about having a quilt made from your T-shirts, download our free T-shirt Quilt Buyer's Guide. 
It's a great place to learn about the different styles and quality of T-shirt quilt. 

T-shirt Quilt Buying Guide

T-shirt quilt with unequal columns and rows

Unequal Rows or Columns

What: Quilters began to recognize that T-shirts have different size designs. To compensate for the size differences, a quilter would choose two or three width of blocks and cut the designs out with a width that fits and cut the blocks whatever length is needed. When the blocks are sewn together, they are sewn in columns of matching widths. So you would have a wide column, then a narrow column and then a wide column and so on. This style also could be made with same height rows.

Look: This will make for a more interesting quilt than a traditional block style, but the quilt is still made with columns or row. Your brain still can quickly pick up on the row or columns and thus it will not hold your interest for very long.

Feel: This will depend on the quilt maker’s decision to iron-on backing or not.  If they choose to use iron-on backing to make their job easier, then the quilt will be stiff.

Issues: If the design on a T-shirt is still wider than their largest block width, the design will still be cut off. 

The Too Cool Style AKA: Variable Style

Variable style T-shirt quiltWhat:  This style of T-shirt quilt was created by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts in the early 1990’s. All the blocks are different sizes and the blocks are puzzled together so that there are neither column nor rows.  Since Too Cool T-shirt Quilts is trademarked, other companies making this style of quilts must call them something else – most will use the term variable.

Look: Awesome! None of the designs are cut off or left hanging with too much blank T-shirt around them. The puzzle style also makes you work to figure out the pattern. But since the design is random, you end up spending time looking at and appreciating the quilt.

Feel: This style of T-shirt quilt should be made without iron-on backing – so it should be soft.

Issues: Because this type of quilt is difficult to make, an inexperienced quilter can make a mess of it! For example, the layout might be simplified into columns and rows because it is tough to puzzle all the blocks together.  Another issue an inexperienced sewer may have is sewing the blocks together so they are fit together well. For example, a 4"block might be stretched to 5" or gathered to 3". Either way, it will look wrong.   

Note: at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, we only make this style of quilt.

Crazy Quilt Style

crazy quilt style T-shirt quiltWhat: All the designs on the T-shirts are cut out willy-nilly. The blocks are then glued to one piece of fabric or bed sheet. The blocks are then zigzagged down.

Look: This will make for an interesting quilt that will hold your attention and make you spend some time looking at the quilt.

Feel: This type of quilt will be heavier due to the added layer of the sheet or fabric. It also might be stiffer depending on what type of glue is used.

Issues: A possible issue is that part of a T-shirt design may be covered up with another design. If this type of quilt is made by an inexperienced sewer or with a machine with poor tension, the durability of the sewn down pieces of T-shirt material might become an issue.

The Pros and Cons of Variable Size Block T-shirt Quilts

Positive Attributes of a Variable Block Style T-shirt Quilt

1. Dynamic and Interesting

colorful-1.jpgA Too Cool style or variable size block style T-shirt quilt is interesting to look at because there is not a discernible pattern that your brain readily picks up on.  Because of this, you have to spend a longer time looking at the quilt to figure it out. As a result, you will spend time looking at the quilt over all and its particulars. This means that you will look at, see, and think about the T-shirts. And this ultimately is what the quilt is about.

You will know that you have an interesting T-shirt quilt, when someone says to you, “If you don’t want it, I’ll take it.”

2. Block Sizes

One of the key features of this style of T-shirt quilt is the use of multiple sizes and shape blocks. I developed this style of quilt because the first stack of T-shirts I was given had designs of all different sizes and shapes. Cropping off a designed just to fit in a uniform size block was not an option. So I developed a method that puzzle together blocks of many sizes and shapes. 

The result is that each T-shirt is cut with a block that fits the design on the T-shirt.  No graphics are cut-off and the margin around each graphic is similar. This makes for a smarter looking quilt because cropped off graphics and wonky margins on small graphics look like mistakes. And I didn’t have to sacrifice the integrity of a graphic just to fit a predetermined block size.

Negative Attributes of a Variable Block Size Style T-shirt Quilt:

1. You can’t know exactly how many T-shirts you can use.

Way to many T-shirtsBecause all the blocks in a variable size style quilt are cut to fit the design on a T-shirt, you can’t know exactly what size quilt a particular stack of T-shirts will make. You won’t know what size the quilt is until all the T-shirts have been cut. This can make planning this style T-shirt quilt difficult.  Click here to read more about how to plan a variable size block quilt.

2. It can be difficult to locate a particular blocks.

If you want to be able to find a particular block quickly in a variable size block T-shirt quilt, it may take a minute. This is because all the shirts are puzzled together and there are no rows or columns. You have to spend time looking at the quilt to find a particular T-shirt. But most of the time this can be fun because when you look for one particular T-shirt, you end up seeing three or four other T-shirts you hadn’t thought about. It can become like a "Where's Waldo?" puzzle.

3. Variable style T-shirt quilts are tricky to make and will cost more than a traditional style quilt.

Making a variable style T-shirt quilt takes expertise, planning, math and puzzle skills. This is not a project that a first-time quilt maker can easily do. Even experienced quilt makers can find these quilts difficult to make. The results? These quilts take a lot of time and will cost a lot more than a traditional style quilt. You can expect to pay anywhere from 3 to 10 times more than the traditional style T-shirt quilt. Read about the factors that effect cost here. 

Pros and Cons of Traditional Style Block T-shirt Quilts

Positive Attributes of a Traditional Style T-shirt Quilt:

1. You know exactly how many blocks you will need.

What Style - Traditional with sashing.jpegFiguring out how many blocks are needed for a traditional style T-shirt quilt is as easy as simple multiplication. If a quilt is three blocks wide and five blocks tall then you simply multiply 3×5 = 15. You would need just 15 blocks for this quilt. This does not mean you can put 15 T-shirts in the quilt, only that you can put 15 sides or parts of the T-shirt in this quilt.
To figure out the size of the quilt you simply multiply block size by the number of blocks in the width and in the length. So using a 16-inch square block, a quilt that is three blocks wide would measure 48 inches wide. The length of the quilt would be 5×16" = 80" inches long.

2. It’s easy to locate a particular block.

If you have a favorite block it will be easy to find. You just have to remember that it’s in the second column third block down. You will go to that block every single time you look. Since you know where the block is, you can avoid having to look at other blocks as you look for your favorite.

3. Traditional style T-shirt quilts are easy to make and won’t cost very much.

Because all the blocks are the same size and are lined up in rows and columns, this style of T-shirt quilt is very easy to make. Somebody with no sewing experience probably could muddle through the project. It’s because of this simplicity that this style of T-shirt quilt is inexpensive. An average sized traditional style T-shirt quilt that is tied or not quilted at all can probably be made in about an hour.

Negative Attributes of a Traditional Style T-shirt Quilt:

1. Not Interesting

traditional style T-shirt quiltA pattern of rows and columns is very easy for our brains to discern.  As a result we don’t have to spend very much time looking at the quilt. This style of quilt is great if they are your T-shirts. But nobody else will be very interested in your quilt because there will be little to hold their attention. Again rows and columns are simple and once we’ve detected the pattern, our brains will be onto something else.

2. Uniform block size

One standard block size in a quilt is great if all the T-shirts have the same size designs on them. But 999 out of 1000 stacks of T-shirts will have many different sized designs within the stack. The problem with a one-size-fits-all block size is that some of the designs on your T-shirts will be too large for the block. Those designs will have to be cropped to fit the block size.

Other designs on your T-shirts will be much smaller than the block. The design won’t get cut off; rather it will be left with too much margin around it. But due to the nature where small designs are printed on a T-shirt, this small design will have too much margin and the design will be in the upper right-hand corner of the block. This will look like a mistake.


More About: Finding a Quilt MakerThere are 5 styles of T-shirt quilts. Each has it's advantages and disadvantage. Which style do you like best? Once you know that, you can begin figuring out who can transform your T-shirts into a quilt. 

To learn more about having a quilt made from your T-shirts, download our free T-shirt Quilt Buyer's Guide. 
It's a great place to learn about the different styles and quality of T-shirt quilt. 

T-shirt Quilt Buying Guide


Back to Finding a Quilt Maker 
Back to General Information About T-shirt Quilts
Back to: Making Your Own T-shirt Quilt

About Andrea Funk

Andrea Funk is the inventor of T-shirt quilts made with multiple blocks sizes. The modern method of making T-shirt quilts. In 1992 she founded Too Cool T-shirt Quilts. Her life has been immersed in T-shirt quilts ever since.