Can you add T-shirts to my quilt after it’s finished?
Periodically we are asked, “Can you add T-shirts to my quilt after it’s finished?” Our answer generally is, “It’s not a good idea.”
Theoretically, I see three ways to add onto a T-shirt quilt.
- Make the quilt larger by adding a row or column of T-shirts.
- Replacing a T-shirt that is already in the quilt with another T-shirt.
- Adding T-shirts to the back of the quilt.
I strongly believe that doing any of these will not make a T-shirt quilt better. I think it will make a T-shirt quilt look poor. Below I will look at why each of these ways to add onto a T-shirt quilt is not a good idea.
1. Make the quilt larger by adding a row or column of T-shirts.
A quilt maker could add an additional row to the side and/or the bottom of the quilt. It may seem straightforward. Unless you are a quilter, you might not see the technical issues and how they will affect the look and feel of your quilt.
To add onto a T-shirt quilt, you would first remove the binding. That is not an issue. The problem is when you put the addition on. You need to connect the new T-shirts, new batting and new backing material to the current quilt. When you do this, the result is a very thick seam.
Most places in a quilt, you have one layer of batting, backing and T-shirt material. Based on the method used to sew on the addition, you would have three layers of batting, backing material and T-shirt material. The resulting seam is 3 times as thick as the rest of the quilt. This means a lumpy intersection between the new and old sections of the quilt. The intersection will also be stiffer than the rest of the quilt. This means the quilt will not drape the same throughout the quilt.
Faded Backing Material
The backing fabric of the addition will not match the backing material of the quilt. Fabric fades in the light. Even if you save some of the original backing fabric, the colors will not match – there will be a color shift from fading.
I know this because I have removed binding from quilts. You can see the color difference between the backing and the backing that was hidden by the binding. The result would be a two-tone back to the quilt.
The photo to the left show much fabric can fade over a number of years hanging in the sun. Just a year in normal use will result in slight fading. But it will be enough to see the difference between the original fabric and new fabric.
The addition to the quilt would also need to be quilted. It’s difficult, although not impossible, to put a quilt back on the quilting machine. The exact color of thread would need to be found. And if the quilter is a different person than who originally quilted the quilt, the quilting style will look noticeably different.
Our biggest issue is in the design of the quilt. When you look at our quilts, you will notice that they are not built with rows or columns. Our quilts are puzzled together. If you were to add onto our style quilt, you would not be able to integrate the new T-shirts with the old T-shirts.
The new T-shirts would just have to be stacked on the sides or across the top or bottom. This would mean that all the new blocks would need to be cut the same width or length. Chances are that your new T-shirts will not be either the same width or height. This means that the addition might look silly. Some blocks will need to be cut with a lot of blank material around the design. Or, you may have to cut off some of the images on your T-shirts to make them fit.
The result of adding T-shirts to an already completed T-shirt quilt is an addition that is obvious. It will look like an addition and not a cohesive quilt. It will look wonky.
2. Replacing a T-shirt that is already in the quilt with another T-shirt.
Replacing one T-shirt with another T-shirt is not quite the right way to think about this. What you would be doing is appliquéing or sewing another T-shirt block over an existing block.
Appliqué is a technique where a smaller piece of fabric is stitched onto a larger piece of fabric. The stitching can be done with a machine or by hand. To look good; the raw edges of the fabric need to be turned under.
In the photo here, You can see the stitching on the red and blue blocks. The stitches are tiny, but you can still see them.
What We Do
We cut a new block to match the size block we are replacing. We turn the raw edges of the T-shirt under. We then hand appliqué or sew the block onto the face of the quilt. This involves carefully stitching so the little stitches are hidden. At least hidden as best as possible. It’s difficult work. I have been sewing over 50 years and it is difficult to do well – especially with T-shirt material.
You will be able to tell that something has been sewn on top of the existing quilt. It will never look as nice as the original quilt.
After the block is sewn on top of the block it is replacing, the block needs to be quilted. On the front of the quilt, that new block is not quilted. But on the back of the quilt, the previous block quilting can still be seen. We don’t remove the old quilting because you will see where the quilting has been removed.
When the new block is quilted, the new quilting and old quilting will both been seen. We try to do a quilting pattern that complements the existing pattern. We don’t try to match the same pattern because there is no way to match it stitch for stitch. Read more about our quilting here.
In the photos here, the first photo shows the stitching on the front of the quilt. You see one line of stitching. The second photo here shows the back of that block. You see two lines of quilting on the back.
Adding a block over an existing block is neither quick nor easy. It takes one to three hours to complete. We charge an hourly rate for this work.
Should you replace a block in an existing quilt?
You can. But it won’t look good and it will cost. You will have to determine if this is worth it to you.
3. Adding T-shirts to the back of the quilt.
A block can be added to the back of a T-shirt quilt. This option might be chosen if you don’t want to cover up any blocks on the front. For example, you found a T-shirt after the quilt has been completed.
The process would be very similar to covering a block on the front of the quilt. The new block would be appliquéd onto the back of the quilt by hand. The raw edges would be turned under.
Like adding a block to the front of a quilt, the new block would need to be quilted. This time, the stitches will be seen on the front of the quilt. It could look odd.
Like replacing a block on the front of a quilt, you need to weigh the benefits of having that block included with the quilt with the cost and look of the solution
The better solution to adding onto a quilt is better planning and just waiting.
If you think that there will be other T-shirts to add to your completed quilt, it’s not time to have a quilt made.
A T-shirt quilt tells a story. If that story is not complete, it’s not time to have a quilt made.
On the other hand, if you are getting a ton of T-shirts and need or want a quilt now, consider having more than one quilt made. Break your story into chapters or books. Everyone loves a great sequel!
We typically see people wanting to replace blocks in a quilt after they see their final quilt. They discovered that either a T-shirt is missing or that they included a T-shirt they didn’t want. This is why planning your quilt is so important.
Take your time and go through all your T-shirts one by one. Make sure you want the front and back of each T-shirt included. If there is a graphic you do not want included, you need to X-out that graphic so it’s not included. Read more about how to mark your T-shirts here.
If you find T-shirts that could be added onto an existing quilt, we would suggest having a pillow made instead of adding them onto a quilt. It will look better. And you can use a pillow with your quilt. A matched pair! Here's more about having a pillow made.
Yes, a quilt can be added onto after it is completed. But, it will look bad. We suggest you avoid it if at all possible! Plan you quilt with care!
In this example, you can see through the white T-shirt to the orange jersey that is behind it. The number on the T-shirt should had X'd out before it was sent to us. We did cover up the number, but you can tell that it was repaired.