How to Get Your T-shirt Quilt to Last a Lifetime
How long will your T-shirt quilt last? Forever, I hope. Okay, I know nothing lasts forever. So then, I hope your quilt lasts a number of generations.
How long a T-shirt quilt lasts depends on a number of factors.
How the Quilt Top is Sewn
The first factor influencing longevity of the T-shirt quilt is the workmanship. This includes how well the quilt top is sewn together.
Sewing a straight stitch, in a straight line, may seem, well, straightforward. But there are two factors with this seam that could shorten the life of the quilt.
- The Stitch Tension
If the tension is not right, the stitches may work themselves free overtime. Quilts made by beginners and others without a complete understanding of how sewing machines work could be suspect. Since you can’t see these stitches, you may never know until your quilt falls apart.
- The second is a seam allowance.
A 1/4" seam allowance is standard for T-shirt quilts. This seam should be a perfect quarter-inch the entire length of the block. Inexperienced sewers tend to wander. This means that their seams may wander anywhere from 3/8" to less than 1/8" of an inch.
This will look bad on the front of the quilt, if you know what to look for. In the spots where the seam allowance is 1/8" or less, there is not enough fabric to hold the seam. These are the spots where over time the quilt may develop holes.
The Quilting Method Used
Quilting holds together the top, the batting and the backing. Read more about quilting methods here.
There are a number of methods used to quilt a quilt.
- A quilt that has no quilting is actually not a quilt. It’s a blanket. And there is a huge difference between the two. Read more about the difference between a quilt and a blanket here.
A blanket will have the shortest lifespan because there is nothing holding the front to the back. The lack of anything holding the front to the back will let the top (the part with your T-shirts) flop around. It will easily stretch out of shape. The floppiness opens up the possibility of the top being snagged or caught on something. Which could lead to a rip or tear.
- A quilt that is tied or tacked will have a longer lifespan than a blanket. The disadvantage of a tied or tacked quilt is that the areas that are not connected with have a tendency of stretching out of shape. Much like a blanket.
Another problem occurs where the ties are fastened. This area around the ties is under stressed. After all, it has to hold the three layers together. This may lead to rips and tears.
- A quilt that is fully quilted will have the longest lifespan. A T-shirt quilt that is quilted close enough will not have the issue of the top being lose and floppy. And there is no focused point of stress that a tied quilts has. The stress is spread over thousands and thousands of stitches.
How The Quilt Is Bound
The binding of a quilt holds the three layers together. The binding on a quilt is touched and used more than any other part of the quilt. The more fabric a binding has, the longer it will last.
There are three major ways to bind quilt. Read more about the binding methods here.
Of the three methods, quilts bound with a true binding will last the longest and will withstand the most wear and tear. Let’s break this down.
- A quilt without a binding is a blanket. The front and back of the blanket are sewn together and then turned inside out. This is called a birthing. It’s not actually a binding. The stress of the edge of the quilt will be on the T-shirts on the edge. This will wear quickly.
- A half binding is when the back of the quilt is brought around to the front of the quilt. This does not provide any extra fabric on the back of the quilt. On the edge of the quilt there is just one layer of fabric. It’s better than no binding, but it has issues.
- A full binding is when a separate piece of material is sewn on to the edge of the quilt. There are at least two layers of fabric everywhere on the binding. The front has four layers. This makes for a longer life.
The Quality of Material Used
or GIGO (garbage in, garbage out)
What is put into a quilt (beyond your T-shirts) counts! It counts a lot! The higher quality materials used, the longer your quilt will last. I am sure you know this from clothing you have purchased. The high quality clothing will out last the cheap clothing every day.
Your quilt will eventually need to be washed. Quality material holds up to washing.
A quilter adds three materials to your quilt – backing fabric, batting and thread.
Think about fabric like you would bed sheet. A high thread count, 100% cotton will out last cheap, low thread count, 100% polyester. If your quilt maker does not advertise on their website what fabric they use, you need to ask! Read more about what to look for in backing fabric here.
100% polyester batting will not hold up over consecutive washes. Polyester batting tends to ball up after washing. The more washes, the more it will ball up. Polyester fibers are also very sharp. They will eventually poke out the back of the quilt. It will give the back of your quilt a fuzzy look.
Look for a quilt maker who uses 100% cotton or 80% cotton/20% poly batting. Read more about batting here.
I learned about thread the hard way in 1989. I had just graduation from college and has just begun my first job. I didn’t have a lot of spare cash to spend. But I loved quilting and I wanted to quilt. (FYI – quilting is a compulsion for some people!)
I went to the cheapest store and purchase the cheapest thread. I thought I was so clever. No. No I wasn’t.
I made this crazy-style quilt that had a lot topstitching. I went through spools and spools of thread. After the quilt was finished, the dog puked on it. Great. I took the quilt to the laundry mat and washed it.
Yep, it did not hold up well in the wash. Another two washes and that quilt was history. I gave it away at a garage sale. The woman thought it would work great for her dog’s house.
I would share a photo of that quilt, but it's been lost! Yeah!
Lesson learned. Quality materials, thread, batting and fabric count!
If you want your quilt to last a long time, find a quilt maker who uses high-quality materials. You might have to ask what they are using. Don’t rely on just looking.
How You Use Your Quilt
Any quilt that is folded up and put away will last a long time. But T-shirt quilts are made to be used. How long they last will be partially determined on how hard you use your quilt.
A quilt that is used on a bed will last longer than a quilt used on a couch. A couch quilt will be handled and used more often.
I had a customer who covered his couch with his T-shirt quilt. I guess the quilt looked better than his couch. A few years later he was concerned that the quilt was wearing out where he sat everyday. There was nothing we could do. Upholstery is a very thick material designed with sitting in mind. A T-shirt quilt, not so much.
You will need to determine how you want to use your quilt and realize that this choice will play into the longevity of your quilt. The harder you use your quilt, the shorter its life.
How You Take Care of Your Quilt
Most T-shirt quilts are can be washed and dried like a T-shirt. Read more about the care of T-shirt quilts here.
The more frequently a quilt is washed, the shorter its lifespan. So before you throw your quilt on the floor and eat a pizza on it, think about how long you want that quilt to be around.
The Number of Dogs You Have
There is an inverse relationship between the life of your quilt and the number of dogs in your home. Dogs are tough on T-shirt quilts. Over the years, we have repaired so many quilts that have been partially destroyed by a dog. Keeping your dog away from your T-shirt quilt will do wonders for the longevity of your quilt. Read more about dogs and quilts here.
If you start with a great quilt and take care of it, your quilt should last a long time.
If you start with a crappy quilt and trash it, you quilt’s life will be limited.