11 Questions to Ask Your T-shirt Quilt Maker
When you are planning a T-shirt quilt, first learn as much as you can about T-shirt quilts – there is a lot to know. Next find a quilt maker. When you think that you have found someone, take time to either interview her and/or get the answers to these questions from her website.
If you know ahead of time what you can expect, you won't end up with a T-shirt quilt that will break your heart.
Here are the questions if you want to jump to a specific one:
- What style of quilt do you make?
- Are you making quilts or blankets?
- Are your quilts long-arm machine quilted?
- What quality materials are you using in your quilts?
- What is your turn around time?
- How many quilts have you made in the style I want?
- Are you making the entire quilt?
- Are you a smoker?
- Are you a professional quilt maker or a hobbyist?
- Can I see your work and/or can I see photos of your quilt?
- Skills to look for in a T-shirt Quilt Maker
There are 5 major styles of T-shirt quilts. Here’s a brief explanation of each:
Traditional Block Style with Sashing: All the square blocks are cut the same size. This block size is typically 12” x 12” or 14” x 14”. These blocks are laid out in columns and rows which are divided by vertical and horizontal strips of fabric
Traditional Block Style without Sashing: Again, all the blocks are cut the same size. These square blocks are also usually 12” x 12” or 14” x 14”. The blocks are again lined up in rows and columns, but the sashing (the fabric dividing the rows and columns) is omitted.
Unequal Rows or Columns: This style of T-shirt quilt is typically built with columns of blocks, but the columns are different widths. This type of quilt might have a column that is 16”, followed by a 6” wide column followed by a 12” column and so on. The style was developed to help quilters compensate for the different size graphics on T-shirts.
Crazy Quilt: The designs on the T-shirts are cut out randomly around the graphics. These blocks are glued to a single piece of fabric or bed sheet and then zigzagged down.
The Too Cool Style AKA: Variable or Puzzle Style: The graphics on the T-shirts are cut into different block sizes and shapes based on the size of the design on the T-shirts. The blocks are puzzled together so that there are neither columns nor rows.
Don't assume that a quilt maker can or will make your quilt in the style you want. Ask for the style by name. If you don’t know what style of quilt you want, you can read more about the 5 styles of T-shirt quilts here.
Some quilters offer a number of different styles of T-shirt quilts. As non-traditional styles are growing in popularity, a quilt maker may add different styles to their repertoire. How experienced is this quilt maker in making the type of quilt you want? Anything less than 100 probably represents less than a year or two of making quilts in the style. You can easily find quilters with more experience.
These are your favorite T-shirts – find an experienced professional to make your quilt. There’s no going back.
This question will help distinguish between the very cheap and better quality. A T-shirt blanket is made up of two layers – the top, which is the T-shirts and the back, which is another type of material. In T-shirt blankets the backing may be fleece or flannel. The two layers are not connected.
Someone making blankets generally is not a seasoned professional quilter. Very few quilters will choose to make blankets. They are not what quilters are about.
Typically, someone making blankets does not have the equipment and perhaps the skills to be making quilts. A blanket can be well made, but it is not a quilt. If you want a T-shirt quilt, don’t settle for a T-shirt blanket.
Quilts are made from three layers; the quilt top which is made from T-shirts, the batting which is in the middle and the backing material. Quilting holds these three layers together. There are a few different quilting methods:
Tying: This is a technique that uses thread or embroidery floss to make a single large stitch through the three layers of the quilt. The thread is knotted on the top of the quilt. These ties are placed about every 4 inches.
Some quilters feel that tying a quilt with a series of ties is good enough. And it is good enough to hold the three layers of a quilt together. But a tied quilt is a step or two down from one quilted by a long-arm. If a quilt is not long-arm quilted, you probably should continue your search for a quilter elsewhere.
Stitch in the Ditch: This method is usually done on a home sewing machine. The three layers of the quilt are pinned and then stitched together. The stitches are placed in the ditch, which is where the seams of the pieces come together. This is not an optimal method for finishing a T-shirt quilt.
Hand Quilted: This is the traditional method for making a quilt. But hand quilting a T-shirt quilt is insane.
Long-arm Quilted: This is the industry standard for quality T-shirt quilts. Read more about this below.
Discover more about having a quilt made with your T-shirts. Consider downloading our T-shirt Quilt Buyers Guide.
It's will help you know what you want your quilt to look like and what to look for in a quilt maker.
A long-arm quilting machine moves over the stationary three layers of a quilt. A computer or a human can control a long-arm quilting machine. There are a number of different ways a long-arm quilting machine can be used. Here is a definition of each technique:
Computerized Long Arm Quilting: When the quilting is computerized, the T-shirt quilt is stitched with an overall quilting pattern. The same design is repeated over and over on the quilt.
Non-Computerized Long Arm Quilting: This method uses the same long-arm quilting machine but a human operates it from either the front or back of the machine.
Operated from the Back of the Machine –The operator works from the back of the machine following a printed paper pattern on the bed of the sewing machine with a laser pointer.
Operated from the Front of the Machine – The machine is operated from the front the machine and the artist “draws” with the machine. The designs being quilted can be exclusively tailored to the particular block that is being worked on rather than in an overall pattern.
The best T-shirt quilts are those in which each block is quilted with a unique pattern.
The quality of materials a quilter uses sets a baseline quality level for her quilts. A quilt can be expertly made, but if it is made with low quality materials, the materials may speak louder than the craft. It will feel like a less quality item.
There are three major materials used in a T-shirt quilt: fabric, batting & thread.
There are so many different fabrics available for quilters to choose from. Fabric ranges from very inexpensive, thin polyester fabrics that feel awful to high quality 100% cotton fabrics that feel great. The higher the quality material a quilter uses, the higher the quilt will cost. The higher quality fabrics cost more. At the minimum, you want your quilters to be using a high quality 100% cotton fabric.
As with fabric, there are many different options for a quilter to choose from. Here are some typical types that are being used:
100% Polyester This is a low-quality product that experienced quilters prefer not to use. It has many issues and should be avoided. A quilter will use polyester batting to save money. Good for her, bad for you.
50% Polyester/50% Cotton This is a little better than 100% polyester.
100% Cotton This is OK for a T-shirt quilt. But the batting is more likely to rip and tear and thus more difficult to work with.
100% Wool A wool batting is OK for a T-shirt quilt. It has a higher loft and is much lighter weight than a cotton batting. It doesn’t wash up as well as cotton.
20% polyester/80% cotton –needle punched This is the preferred batting for a T-shirt quilt.
You can’t tell if a low-quality thread has been used to make your quilt until perhaps your quilt falls apart. There are some very cheap threads out there that will not stand the test of time! Ask your quilter if she uses a high-quality thread.
4 to 6 weeks is industry standard. It may take a little longer around spring graduation and Christmas. A quilter that says 3 months or more might have more quilts than she can get to or have other obligations. Try to find a professional quilter that can balance her time and workload.
The more quilts that someone has made in the style you want, the better. You probably want to shy away from a novice and perhaps an intermediate quilter. I still run into hurdles and I have made over 6,000 quilts!
- Novice Quilter: 1 – 15
- Intermediate Quilter: 15 to 200
- The Advanced Quilter: 200 to 600
- The Expert Quilter: Over 600
Some quilters will only make the quilt top and send the completed top out for someone else to finish. This means that you will have no idea who is working on your quilt or where it will be sent. If someone is only making part of your quilt, this is a sign that the quilter is not a professional because she does not have all the equipment needed to make your quilt or the skill to use rented equipment.
You may want to avoid a quilter who sends her quilts out to be long-arm quilted by someone else. You should know where your T-shirts are and who has them when they are out of your hands.
Also, a quilter who sends her quilts out to be quilted by someone else is typically a hobbyist and not a professional. A professional has the right equipment and makes quilts full time. She also relies on her business for her livelihood and as a result, it really matters if you are happy with your quilt or not.
If you are not a smoker, you won’t want to send your T-shirts to a smoker. Smelly!
A professional earns a living making quilts. They are devoted to making T-shirt quilts full time. And most importantly, she has a reputation at stake with every quilt she makes. The outcome of your quilt is important to her and her livelihood.
The hobbyist on the other hand, makes quilts because she likes to make quilts. But it’s not her livelihood. And if your quilt doesn’t go well, it doesn’t impact her income. A hobbyist also is not making as many quilts as a professional.
These are your T-shirts and it’s your quilt. You need to decide whether a professional or hobbyist is the way you want to go.
The answer should be yes. If you can’t see the quilts in person, study the photographs of a number of different quilts. If you are not sure what to look for in a photograph of a quilt, click here to read about how to judge a quilt from a photograph.
This might not be a direct question you would want to ask a quilt maker. But know this information is very important nevertheless. Below are the skills you want your quilt maker to have and how to tell if a quilter has these skills.
This is number one on the list because a T-shirt quilt is sewn! You want to hire someone who is an experienced sewer, yes. But this person needs to be an accurate sewer. You can hire a person who has been sewing for 50 years, but if they are a sloppy sewer, the experience counts for nothing.
Don’t take someone’s word that they are a good sewer, look at their work with a critical eye.
- Look for seams that are coming apart. This is a sign that they are not starting and stopping correctly.
- Look at the intersection of four corners. Do they come together perfectly? If not, this is a sign of sloppy work that could have been easily fixed.
- Check to see if you see the stitching on the front. This means their sewing machine is not properly set. Those seams will continue to widen over time.
- Look carefully at the binding from the back of the quilt. This is a great place to check a sewer’s skill. The binding needs to be the same width along the entire quilt. The sewing needs to be parallel with the binding and even. See example. If you see the batting sticking out from the binding this is also a sign of poor skills.
A quilt should be a work of art and not paint by numbers. Look at photos of a lot of different quilts. Know what you like, and then make sure your quilter can make a quilt like you want.
Long Arm Quilting can be done one of three ways – by a computer, by tracing a pattern or by hand. When a computer quilts a quilt, there is little imagination involved. Press a button and walk away. A quilt that is quilted by tracing a pattern also involves minimum imagination – just follow the line. But a quilt that is quilted by an artist is interesting and the quilting is unique to the quilt. Know what style you want and make sure the quilter will be doing it how you want.
How long will you have to wait until your quilt is returned? Some quilters have a lot of quilts in their queue while other quilters work full time and quilt in her spare time. Ask how long it will take to make your quilt. 4 to 6 weeks is industry average. But in the spring for graduation and for Christmas, wait times might be longer.
This is huge! Is your quilter organized enough to keep your quilt separated from other quilts? How is your quilt stored when it is not being worked on? Ask. You don’t want someone else’s T-shirt to end up in your quilt! Ask!
A T-shirt quilt shop is a linty place! We have to vacuum every day. But there are other areas of cleanliness that you need to consider : smoking, pets and mold. If you drop off your T-shirts, take a whiff before you let go of your T-shirts. Are you OK with the smell? If you are mailing your T-shirts to the quilter, you can also ask if the quilt is made in a smoke free location.
You can have your T-shirts transformed into a quilt or blanket that will break your heart. Before you let go of your T-shirts do your homework and find the right quilt maker for your needs.
If you have any questions, we are happy to help out! Email or call us at 517-541-8225