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Planning a T-shirt Quilt

Runners: What You Need to Know About T-shirt Quilts

March 28th, 2022

By Andrea Funk

Why do you have too many T-shirts?

A True Disney princess wrapped up in her Too Cool T-shirt QuiltBecause you love to race. Racing lets you challenge yourself. You can race for the gold. You can race as a training goal.  Some runners race for the T-shirts!

Some runners only do one race a year. Others race once or twice a weekend. It’s this racing that causes you to end up with too many T-shirts. 

Traditionally, you receive a T-shirt as part of your race entry fee. For the race organizers, the T-shirt is advertisement. It advertises the race for next year. If the race is for a cause, the T-shirt is an advertisement for that organization.  And if the T-shirt is cool enough, it will bring you back to that same race next year.

Runners value T-shirts that have cool designs, unique colors, and the prestige of the event.  Marathon T-shirts trump 5K race T-shirts any time. And some 5Ks are more important than others.

Whether in a year or in 5 years, you may end up with a drawer full of T-shirts. You know that you don’t have enough days to wear them all. But you can’t give them up. They tell your story.

Don’t worry about too many T-shirts! There is a solution. 

First, a very brief history of T-shirt quilts.

Sewing a T-shirt quilt is a time honored tradition. But it does take experience. It was probably runners, with their too many T-shirts, that sparked the T-shirt quilt evolution sometime in the 1980’s. Somehow, somewhere, someone with too many T-shirts hooked up with a quilt maker. Together, they invented the T-shirt quilt.  And I thank them for it every day!

The T-shirt quilt is one of those inventions that happened many times, in many locations. Remember, back in the 1980’s, there was no such thing as the Internet. The sharing of ideas and innovations was slow.

Early T-shirt Quilt Solution

Initially, quilters made T-shirt quilts based on what they knew from traditional quilting.  They used sashing between the T-shirt blocks. It’s what they knew. At this time, quilters were making traditional sampler quilts. These are comprised of many different blocks put together with sashing in rows and columns.  

This is a traditional style T-shirt quilt. The blocks don't fit the graphics on the shirts. They used this same cotton material to sash T-shirt quilts because that is what they had. But they ran into difficulties sewing T-shirt material to cotton material. T-shirt material stretched much more than the cotton sashing material.

Again, they turned to what they knew. They ironed a stiffing product onto the T-shirts to make them stiff. Then they were able to sew the two different materials without issue.

In 1992, my sister asked me to make a T-shirt quilt for her from her running and Triathlon T-shirts.  I had been making quilts since I was 5. I had never had a lesson or a lot of contact with other quilters. So, when I approached the problem, I ended up creating a solution that had not been seen before. This is now known as the puzzle style quilt. All the blocks are different sizes and puzzled together to create a new style of T-shirt quilt.  

The designs on your T-shirts are not all the same size.

A runner and her T-shirt quilt

The designs on your race T-shirts come in many different sizes. This was the first thing I noticed about my sister’s T-shirts. It’s why I designed a quilt with different block sizes. A one-size fit’s all is not a solution for a runner’s T-shirts quilt.

A set block size may be too small and cut off part of the design extending beyond the block. Or the block might be too large and leave small designs floating with huge margins. There will be some designs that will fit nicely on the “one size block.” But, all your T-shirts deserve to be cut to their correct size. Read more about different styles of T-shirt quilts here.

A Too Cool T-shirt quilt is different from traditional T-shirt quilts! No cotton sashing. No iron-on interfacing to stiffen up the T-shirts. No one-size blocks.

To learn more about the different types, styles and qualities of T-shirts, download our T-shirt Quilt Buyer’s Guide. 
It’s a great place to begin your journey to finding a quilt maker.

T-shirt Quilt Buying Guide

What can you use in your T-shirt quilt?

Spoiler, you can include any machine washable fabrics! Here are some things you might not have considered including.

Microtech Fabric or Tech Fabrics

tech fabric can be used in a T-shirt quiltTech fabrics are perfect for wicking sweat away from your body while you exercise. They are very soft and feel nice to touch.  Tech fabric is challenging to work with because it is lightweight and stretches more than traditional T-shirt material. It takes accomplished seamstress to sew a block of tech material into a quilt without it being distorted or misshaped.

Although Tech fabrics are lightweight and soft, they are neither wimpy nor delicate.  In fact, Tech material is very tough. In a quilt, it will last as well as, or better than, traditional T-shirt materials. Unlike traditional cotton material, Tech fabrics will not fade overtime. 

Once in a quilt, you have to study the quilt carefully to figure out if a block is traditional T-shirt material or tech material. The difference is the texture.

Race Bibs

This quilt was made just with running race bibs.Have you ever searched the Internet to figure out what to do with race bib numbers? If so, you have probably run across many different amusing and ridiculous uses. From wrapping gifts to papering your walls, the ideas are out there. 

Consider having a pillow or quilt made with your race bib numbers. That’s right, with the actual Tyvek race number.

Tyvek is incredible stuff! It doesn’t like to rip. It’s machine washable. It gets softer in every wash. So yes, you can use the actual race number in your quilt.

Here are three ways to consider how to use race numbers in a quilt or pillow:

  1. Have a quilt made with just the race bib numbers. The bibs are not sewn directly to one another; rather they are sewn to and “framed” on pieces of T-shirt material.
  1. Use your race numbers and your race T-shirts mixed together. The bib numbers can be backed with materials that match your T-shirts, or just one color family – such as blue. Putting the race numbers on bright colored material will liven up your quilt. 
  1. Mount the race number on its race T-shirt. If you ran the Boston Marathon in 2018, that race bib would be sewn directly onto that particular T-shirt.

Runner’s Outfits

Running outfits used whole in a quiltHigh-level runners many times are given outfits to race in with their corporate sponsors logos. Getting to this level of running is a big achievement and the outfits represent that realization. It’s difficult to want to let go of those sets.

One solution is to put them into a quilt. You can make an entire quilt from them, or just use one in your quilt. Keeping the singlet and shorts together helps preserve the entirety of the experience. 

Other things you can use in your quilt.

Don’t let your imagination keep you from putting something important in your quilt. If it’s machine washable, we can use it. Here are some other items you may consider:

  • Sweatshirts
  • Fleece jackets
  • Nylon jackets
  • Shoelaces
  • Socks
  • Headbands
  • Logo bags/gear bags

Consider your T-shirts when you are planning a quilt.


A runners T-shirt quilt that includes both T-shirts and race bibs.Race T-shirts are distinctive in that they are a canvas for advertisement for the events sponsors. Sometimes the advertisements are mixed with the graphic in on the front of the T-shirt. Other times they are on the back or sleeves of the T-shirt.

We know that you don’t want your quilt to be an advertising tool. Yet some ads cannot be removed from the graphics without ruining them. Experience has taught us to know when to leave the ads and when not to use them. For example, consider a T-shirt with a list of ads on the back and the name of the race is over on top of the list. We can remove the ads while retaining the race information.

If you want the ads used, please tell us! You or your company might be a sponsor of the event. We won’t know unless you tell us.

Race Hierarchy

An all white rock n roll marathon T-shirt quiltThere is a hierarchy to the races you run. We know that a half is more important than a 5K. That an ultra is better than a marathon. We know that the Boston Marathon is king of all races.

We do our best to place races in prominent spots on the quilt based on this hierarchy. Although sometimes a 5K T-shirt just has an awesome design.

If you have a special T-shirt you would like centered, please let us know. 

Read more about choosing T-shirts to include or exclude from your quilt here. 


It’s ok that you have too many T-shirts. You are in great company. It’s what you will do with your T-shirts that counts.

If you are planning a quilt, do your research before you hand over your T-shirts to just anyone. Here are some articles that will help you in your planning.

Back to: Athletic T-shirt Quilts

To learn more about the different types, styles and qualities of T-shirts, download our T-shirt Quilt Buyer’s Guide. 
It’s a great place to begin your journey to finding a quilt maker.

T-shirt Quilt Buying Guide

Disney marathon T-shirt quilt by Too Cool T-shirt quilts

Disney marathon T-shirt quilt by Too Cool T-shirt quilts

Andrea Funk

Andrea Funk is the inventor of T-shirt quilts made with multiple blocks sizes. The modern method of making T-shirt quilts. In 1992 she founded Too Cool T-shirt Quilts. Her life has been immersed in T-shirt quilts ever since.