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What can you use in a T-shirt quilt?

Using Photographs in T-shirt Quilts

September 25th, 2017

3 min. read

By Andrea Funk

Photo Quilt Definition:

A quilt which uses photographs transferred onto fabric as the focal point of the quilt.

A photo quilt by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Although the definition of a photo quilt states that the photos should be the focal point, photographs can be used in T-shirt quilts in a supporting role too.

We have been using photo in our T-shirt quilts for years. We can make a true photo quilt or use photos as part of a broader story told in T-shirts.

How Many Photographs Should I Included?

Some of our quilts have just one photograph while other quilts have been made exclusively from photographs. It’s your quilt; choose the photographs that you love and that further the story that your T-shirts are telling.

What Types of Quilts Include Photographs?

photo on clothing memeorial quilt cpWe typically see photographs used in memorial and graduation quilts. We have also seen them used in family quilts and athletic quilts showing the winning move.

If a photograph can help further the story that the T-shirts tell, it’s appropriate to use them.

We have made memorial quilts using a photograph of the person who has died wearing the clothing that we use in the quilt. So, a photo of the person wearing a shirt or other clothing item is placed on that some clothing items. This use of photographs can make a very strong impression. See the quilt below for an example.

photo on clothing memorial quilt by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts


Planning a T-shirt quilt?
Here are step-by-step directions for ordering your Too Cool T-shirt quilt.

How to Order a T-shirt Quilt


How Do Photographs Look in T-shirt Quilts?

Family_quilt_2This depends on the transfer. Not all transfers are created equally. Although over the past 30 years, photographic transfers have dramatically improved.  There are two basic types of transfers:

  1. The first is a plastic film that is heat set onto the T-shirt. These style looks very sharp and colorful because the ink is on the plastic that is on top of the T-shirt material. With this method, the image stays sharp because the ink is not diffused when it wicks into the fibers of the fabric. 

    But, the flip side is that they are not very durable. Over time the plastic deteriorates and peals or flakes off.
  1. The second type of transfer involves ink that is printed onto the fabric. The ink is in the fibers of the T-shirts and not on top. These transfers are less colorful but tend to be more durable. They will fade over time with repeated washings. The type of fabric that they are transferred onto will also determine how sharp the image is.

Does a Photograph Transfer Have to be onto T-shirt Material for a Quilt?

Africa photo quilt by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Although we would prefer that your photographs be transferred onto T-shirt material, any washable material is fine.

What Color Fabric is Best for a Photo Transfer?

White! Especially for printed transfers. If a white shirt is not used, the colors in the photo will not look right! If you have to use colored material, then you will need to have a great printer who will know to print a white background first.

Stick with white material and you will be all set.

What Size Should Photos Used in a Quilt Be?

Photographs used in a Harley quilt by Too Cool T-shirt QuiltsThis will depend on a number of things.

  1. If you have a digital photo, the amount you can enlarge the image will depend on the file size. If you blow up a small image, it will look pixelated and blurry. So, in this case, you will make it as large as the file size will let you.
  2. If you have a printed photo, your ability to scan the image and enlarge it will depend on your equipment.
  3. If you have great images and the ability to enlarge it to any size you would like, your decisions will then turn to choosing a hierarchical order for the photographs. The more important photographs should be larger and the supporting photographs should be smaller. 

Actual size… I would suggest the largest size be no larger than 15” x 15” in the smallest be no smaller than 3” x 3”. If you’re mixing photographs in with T-shirts and I would suggest the photos be in the 4 x 6 or 5 x 7 range. 

Who Can Do Photograph Transfers for a Quilt? 

T-shirt quilt with photos and pieced borderToo Cool T-shirt Quilts does not do photo transfers. It is way outside our skill set.

To find someone to do your transfers, search “photo to T-shirt transfer.” You will find many options. Remember, many of the DYI method may not have the longevity of a professional printed transfer.  

Most professional printing shops you contact on the web will work exclusive with digital images. You might try to find someone local if you have printed photographs.

What Else Can be Transferred onto Fabric to Include in a Quilt?

  • Letters
  • Certificates
  • Newspaper article
  • Photographs of awards such as ribbons, plaques, trophies and medals
  • Artwork or drawings

Art quilt by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Steps-by-step for Including Photographs in Your Quilt

  1. Choose your favorite photographs that will support and advance the story that your T-shirts tell. Don’t just use photos because you can.
  2. Choose a method of doing your transfers. My first choice would be professional printed transfers.
  3. Have your photographs transferred onto fabric.
  4. Send the resulting photographs on fabric with your T-shirts to have your quilt made.

Other Considerations

  • Make sure that the photographs run with the grain of the fabric.
  • Be sure to leave at least 4” around each photograph. If there is not enough fabric around a photograph, we will mount it onto another piece of fabric.
  • Any fabric used for photographs should be washed/preshrunk before the photograph is transferred.


Adding photographs to a T-shirt might not be for everyone. But if you have a photo that helps tell or support the story you are telling with your T-shirts, then photos in your quilt might be something to consider. 

Want to learn more about T-shirt quilts? Visit our Learning Center.
We have over 200 articles about all aspects of T-shirt quilts.

memorial quilt includes photos by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Back to: What can you use in a T-shirt quilt?

Memorial quilt that included transferred photographs by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

quilt that included transferred photographs by Too Cool T-shirt Quilts

Quilt that included transferred photographs 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.