By: Milie Funk on January 19th, 2017

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Quilting a T-shirt Quilt

long arm quilting milie

A Quick Explanation of Quilting T-shirt Quilts

Long-arm machine quilting the way most quilt makers finish the T-shirt quilts they make. There are a two basic style a quilter can choose from. These are:

  • An over-all quilting pattern over the entire quilt. This is done with either with a computerized machine that runs  by itself  or by a quilter tracing a repetitive design by hand.

  • A unique pattern for each block.  This can be drawn by an artist standing at the front of a quilting machine - see the photo on the right. Or this can be quilted by a computerized long-arm quilting machine - the quilter just presses the go button.

Unique Pattern In Depth

Here at Too Cool T-shirt Quilts, all of our quilts are quilted with a unique design for each block. Some blocks will be quilted with a design and other blocks will have what's on the front traced so it can be seen from the back. 

On every quilt we trace number of designs. Some quilts end up with more traced items than others. It depends what’s on the quilt.  As a quilter, here is a quick breakdown of what goes though my mind when I am deciding what to trace, or what not to trace.

Pooh T-shirtDesign Size

The design may be the coolest image ever been printed on a T-shirt, but it is not worth tracing if its so small the quilting won’t look like anything on the back. I shy away tracing anything on blocks smaller than eight inches by eight inches. And if there is a really huge shirt with a good design on it I almost always trace it.


One rule that I tend to follow is ‘keep it simple’. If the design has so many details that are really small I try to avoid it. But if there is great line drawing I can replicate well and is big enough I always go for it. A great example of this is Tigger and Pooh T-shirt. They are simply drawn, don't have tiny little details and is on a large block.

back of poohPlacement 

Continuing with our example of Tigger and Pooh, if there is something that is right next to them that is pretty cool to trace I usually trace that as well. But if there is a third or a fourth image also right next to Tigger and Pooh and that look good to trace, its time to weigh my options and pick two. Having too many things traced in one place becomes distracting.

Things We Usually Trace

There are a few things that I almost always trace: Greek letters, huge letters and numbers on jerseys, and last names, just to name a few. Also there are some shirts that don’t really give me any other option than to trace what is on it – again our Pooh example. 

Things We Rarely Trace 

If there is a very thick embroidery or layering of fabrics on a block, I will avoid doing a tracing on that block. For example, some hockey jerseys are really thick and have many different layers and embroidery. Many times my machine can’t quilt on the design at all because it’s just too thick. In these cases we do as little quilting as we can get away with on the block.  

Bay City HD 4Words

Sometimes a quilt will have lack of images that have been traced because the designs on the shirts don’t lend themselves well to tracing. In this case we turn to words. Many shirts have a large grouping of words that can be traced easily enough to make up for the lack of other designs within the quilt.  But note, the words will show up backwards on the back of the quilt!


When I first started quilting I had to think about what I wanted to trace and what I didn’t. As time went along I became better and faster at making these choices. Now I rarely have to stop and think about what I’m going to trace, it has become an unconscious act.

I hope this quick breakdown has helped you understand why some things on your quilt were traced and others were not. 

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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 quilts. 

T-shirt Quilt Buying Guide

back of harley quilt

Tee shirt quilt back

back blue



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