An Exceptional T-shirt Quilt is...
There are a 1000's and 1000's of T-shirt quilt makers. How do you find one that will make you an awesome quilt from your T-shirts? Begin by looking at a lot of photographs of T-shirt quilts. Compare the different quilts by looking at a few key details in the design of the quilt, the construction of the quilt top, the quilting and how the quilt is bound.
You can read the sections in order or jump to the section you are most interested in learning about.
If you are not an artist, or don't have a lot of experience with quilts, you might not know the difference between a well-designed T-shirt quilt and one that is not so well designed. Here are three design elements to look for when judging the design of a T-shirt quilt:
1. No Rows Or Columns
A T-shirt quilt needs to be interesting to keep you interested in looking at it. If the quilt is boring, it’s only worth is just to keep you warm. If the T-shirt blocks are lined up in rows and/or columns, the quilt is uninteresting. You pick up on the predictable pattern and your brain says, “I know that pattern, what’s next?”
In the photo on the below, the quilt on the right is laid out using a puzzled method. There are no rows and no columns. Your brain does not know the pattern and has to spend more time to figure it out. Read more about this here. The quilt on the left is set up in rows and columns. There is not much to keep your attention.
2. Colors are balanced throughout the quilt.
Unless all the T-shirts in the quilt are the same color, the different blocks of color will need to be balanced throughout the quilt. This takes a good eye and experience. One way to check for this balance is to squint at a photo of the quilt. An unbalanced quilt will have blobs of color.
This said, some groupings of T-shirts are more successfully balanced than others. Look at a number of quilts by one maker to determine the over all success of their ability to balance colors.
3. The movement/action in the T-shirt graphics is placed with direction in mind.
The action in an image can draw your eye one way or the other. Look at this Mickey Mouse T-shirt block. Mickey is looking right and his body is angled right. When you look at this image, your eyes will look at what Mickey is looking at. Your eyes will follow his eyes. So your eyes will track to the right. If this image is placed on the right side of the quilt, as it is here, your eyes will track right off the edge of the quilt.
If you place the block of Mickey on the left side of the quilt, your eyes will still track to the right. And when you look right, you will still be looking at the quilt.
Understanding this and applying it to the placement of the blocks is very important. It’s subtle, but it’s important. The example of Mickey is an easy one to figure out. Every T-shirt needs to be studied to see what direction the image directs the eye. Even letters and numbers direct your eyes.
If you are looking for someone to make a T-shirt quilt for you, begin by learning everything you can about T-shirt quilts.
Consider downloading our T-shirt Quilt Buyer’s guide.
It has great information about styles of T-shirt quilts, materials and what to look for in a quilt maker.
If you are not a quilter, you might not know the difference between a well made T-shirt quilt and one that is not so well made. Here are three things to look for in the construction of the quilt top:
1. If four blocks come together, they should come together perfectly.
The photo on the left shows 4 corners coming together perfectly. This is what you should be looking for in a T-shirt quilt. Sewing 4 corners together correctly is not that difficult. If we don’t get the seam perfect, we take the time to take it out and do it right.
The photo on the right shows that same seam not sewn well. This should have been taken out and put in again to make it right. As seam like this is a tip off that the person who made that quilt either is not highly skilled or just doesn’t care enough to fix a problem.
2. Seams should lie flat and smooth.
The photo on the left shows what a smooth seam looks like. The fabric lies smooth on both sides of the seam and there are not any tucks or puckers. We take time to look at our work to ensure that it is sewn correctly before we complete the quilt.
The photo on the right shows that same seam with a pucker. A pucker like this should have been removed and sewn again. If you see a pucker in a seam, the quilter did not take time to put the seam in right and then did not proof her work to catch easily correctable issues like this.
3. Seams should not have any holes in them.
Seeing a hole in a seam in a photo can be difficult because it might look like the seam is complete, but when the seam is moved, the hole will appear. A hole can be the result of a seam that was not sewn all the way, but more likely it is a result of the two pieces of fabric not being sewn evenly. This happens when the bottom piece of material is not caught in the seam allowance.
The photo on the left shows a seam with a hole it in. The photo on the right shows the backside of the seam and you see that one piece of material was not caught in the seam.
If one block in a seam is not caught, you will see the hole. But it is also a clue to poor sewing skills. Because if one block is not caught, there will probably be others that are just caught. It looks OK on the front of the quilt, but it will jeopardize the life of the quilt. This just caught seam will eventually pull open. The result? Another hole.
When you are looking for someone to make a quilt from your T-shirts, ask to see a quilt they have made or photographs of a number of quilts they have made. Look for four corners to match, look for seams to lie flat without puckers and watch for holes. Here is more about how to judge a quilt from a photograph.
If you are not a quilter, you may not know to look at the quilting on a T-shirt quilt, let alone what to look for in that quilting. Here are things to look for in the quilting on a T-shirt quilt.
1. A T-shirt quilt should be quilted.
You can tell if a quilt has quilting on it from both the front and the back of the quilt.
Of the two quilts below, the one on the right is fully quilted. You can see on the front that the T-shirts aren’t smooth and flat looking. They look like they have texture. The one on the left is not quilted at all. It is actually a blanket. On the face of the blanket, the T-shirt blocks look flat and smooth.
In the photograph below, the quilt on the right is the quilted quilt. You can see the quilting. The thread color contrasts with the backing material and emphasizes the stitching. The blanket on the left is not quilted. On the back the backing material is flat. There is nothing holding the back to the face of this blanket. Over time, the front of the quilt will droop and stretch out. The longevity of a quilt or blanket without quilting is much shorter than a quilt that is fully quilted.
2. The quilting should spaced close enough.
Some quilts are quilted, but the spacing of the quilting is too far apart. Most quality batting should have quilting that is no more than 4" apart. This means that if there is any 4" x 4" area not quilted, the quilting is too spread apart.
The photo on the left shows a quilt that is well quilted. The quilting is spaced well and covers the entire quilt. The quilt in the photo on the right shows a quilt that is under quilted. There are just a five rows of quilting. There is more quilting in a one-foot square area in the quilt on the left than there is in the entire on the right. The two quilts are the same width.
3. The stitch length is correct.
In order to speed up construction; some T-shirt quilt companies will increase the length of the quilting stitches. If you quilt using 10 to 12 stitches per inch, it will take twice as long to quilt a quilt than if you use 5 to 6 stitches per inch. Cutting production in half saves a lot of money for the quilting company, but it’s bad for your quilt. The longer the stitches, the greater the chances the stitches will come out.
The photo on the left shows a 1" square on a well-quilted quilt with 10" stitches per inch.
The quilt in the photo on the right also shows a 1" square, but here there are only 4 stitches in that inch.
4. Over-all quilting pattern vs. unique quilting
There are two general types of quilting done on T-shirts quilts. The first is done in an over-all repeating pattern. This is fast to do and it does not require any special artistic talent. It’s not very interesting and does not make for an attention-grabbing quilt. The other style is the Too Cool T-shirt Quilt style where each block is quilted in an individual pattern. There are also a number of designs on the front of the quilt that have been traced and show up on the back of the quilt. The difference in the two styles can make for a very different quilt.
The quilt in the close up photo on the left is quilted in the Too Cool T-shirt Quilt style. It’s interesting and fun to look at. On the right is a quilt that is quilted in an over-all pattern. It’s works ok, but it’s not very interesting.
If you have not seen 100’s of T-shirt quilts, you might not know what to consider when looking at a quilt to determine if it’s great or not. One thing you can look at is the type of binding that is used on the quilt you are looking at.
The binding is used to finish the raw edges of a quilt. There are three major types of binding. Here is a list from bad to good.
1. AVOID: No Binding AKA - Birthing Type “Bindings”
This method for finishing the raw edges of a quilt or blanket is predominantly used for finishing blankets. In this technique, the quilt top is laid face down on the right side of the backing material. A simple seam is sewn around the edge of the entire quilt top except for a 6" opening. Then the blanket is turned inside out through the 6" opening. Once turned right side out, the edge may or may not be sewn flat from the front of the quilt. This is a very simple and the least desired method of finishing a blanket or quilt.
A quilt or blanket made this way cannot be quilted because the quilting would deform the shape of the quilt. So the maker will either use a decorative stitch, embroidery floss ties, or buttons to attach the front of the quilt to the back. Many commercial makers will not even attach the back to the front!
This way of finishing a blanket is great for teaching grade school kids how to make a blanket because they can do it themselves.
The big advantage of this method is that it does not require a skilled sewer. Additionally, extra fabric is not required. The disadvantages include not being able to use a contrasting binding color.
2. Okay: Half Binding
Another technique for finishing a quilt is called a half binding. With this technique, the fabric on the back of the quilt is folded around to the front and sewn down. This style of binding can only be seen from the front of the quilt. This is not an ideal method of binding.
The technique is fast and relatively easy to do. Also, no extra fabric is needed for the project.
One the other hand, the binding is only one layer thick and will not be as durable as the true binding.
3. The Best Choice: Strip Binding AKA Traditional True Binding
This is the classiest way to finish the raw edges of a quilt. This binding is sewn onto the quilt in a two-step process. First, a long skinny strip of binding is folded in half and sewn on the edge of quilt from the face of the quilt. In the second step, the binding is folded over to the back of the quilt and then sewn down in one of two ways.
In the first method, the strip of binding is sewn to the back of the quilt by hand. The quilter works from the back of the quilt and focuses on indiscernible even stitches. The other method is to machine stitch the strip to the back by sewing from the front of the quilt. This is called a blind seam and takes years of practice to do flawlessly.
The advantage of this type of binding is that it is two layers thick and is the most durable. Also, this style of binding gives you the advantage of being able to add a contrasting binding color.
The disadvantage of a true binding is that it takes a lot of practice. Someone who is not a quilter and decides to make a T-shirt quilt will typically not choose this style of binding.
As you are looking for a quilter, take a look at how they finish their quilts. Look for a quilter that uses the strip binding method on her quilts. Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, all our quilts are bound using the strip binding method by highly skilled and experienced quilters.
There is more that goes into the design and construction of a T-shirt quilt than you might have expected.
- Design is the first thing to consider. Make sure you like the way your quilt maker's quilts look. Design
- Next, consider the physical construction of a quilt. Some quilt makers are just better sewers than others. Look at examples of her quilts and look for tell-tail signs of poor construction. Construction
- Then decided what style of quilting you want on your quilt. Make sure the quilt maker you choose regularly does this type of work. Quilting
- There are three typical types of bindings that quilters use on a T-shirt quilt. Know what style you want and then ask any potential quilt maker you are planning on working with, what style of binding they use.
To learn even more about having a quilt made from your T-shirts, download our T-shirt Quilt Buyer’s Guide.
It has more information about styles and quality of T-shirt quilts.