What I Learned from My First T-shirt Quilt
May 9th, 2022
By Andrea Funk
My First T-shirt Quilt Sucked
There, I said it. I’m not going to deny it; the first T-shirt quilt I made was awful. Why am I sharing this with you?
You can learn a few things from my first quilt.
Since 1992, I have made thousands of T-shirt quilts. Instead of cringing at my first attempt, I am going to share with you what I learned from it
Lesson 1 - Don’t give your T-shirts to an amateur who's never made a T-shirt quilt before.
I was lucky that my sister didn’t know anything about quilt making. And even more fortunate, she felt free to give me a boatload of feedback upon the completion of her quilt.
It also helped her that she did not have to pay for it!
The number one complaint was that a lot of the blocks were in upside down. Duh! I should have figured that out without having to have been told. The second complaint was that I used too many ads.
Pro-Tip: Provide your T-shirt quilt maker with feedback. Without it, there is no way for them to improve.
Lesson 2 – Where’s the puzzle?
When I made this first quilt, I did cut the blocks to fit the design on the T-shirts, but I just laid them out into columns. After this first quilt, I was more careful to work on puzzling the blocks together. A quilt with the blocks puzzled together is much more interesting than one with rows or columns.
The quilt here was made a few years after that first quilt. It was machine quilted, puzzled together and the color was balanced.
Pro-Tip: When looking for a quilter who makes puzzle style quilts, look at photographs of their quilts and see for yourself how well they can puzzle together odd sizes. Here's how to judge a quilt from a photograph.
Lesson 3 – Balance the colors!
In my first quilt, the colors were not balanced. I did a very poor job in spacing out all the color on that first quilt. Now, we spend a lot of time making sure that the colors are balanced throughout the quilt and that everything ties together well on the quilt face.
Pro-Tip: Make sure your quilter knows that balanced color is important to you. Again, turn to photos of their work and see if you like how they balanced the colored blocks throughout the quilt.
Lesson 4 – A T-shirt quilt that is machine quilted is much nicer than a quilt that is tied.
This first quilt was tied because I did not have access to a long-arm quilting machine. In 1992, long-arm quilting machines were just coming on the market and very few people had access to them.
Today, a tied T-shirt quilt is a lower quality product than a long-arm machined quilt. T-shirt quilts that aren’t quilted don’t last as long, the batting often falls apart, and the shirts stretch creating a bubble-like portion between the ties.
The quilt here is a recent quilt that I made for myself.
Pro-Tip: When looking into having a T-shirt quilt made, make sure your quilter will either long-arm machine quilt your quilt themselves or have someone else long-arm machine quilt your quilt. Read more about long-arm machine quilting here.
Lesson 5 – Garbage in, garbage out (GIGO)
When I made my first quilt, I searched around the fabric store for the cheapest backing material I could find. After all, I wasn’t getting paid for the quilt and I did not have a lot of money.
I would never do that now. Now, I want the best fabric, batting and thread I can find. I am no longer making my first T-shirt quilt. I am making memories for my customers. And that is very important to me.
Pro-Tip: When interviewing quilters, ask about the quality of the materials they use. Look for something that will last lifetimes versus something that will only last a few years. Read more about the types of materials used in a T-shirt quilt here.
The first T-shirt quilt I made was less than spectacular.
But your first T-shirt quilt does not have to be!
Are you planning on making your own T-shirt quilt? If so, we have directions to help!
Compare my first T-shirt quilt with a recent T-shirt quilt. What a difference 30 years can make! I also think that we have more colorful and interesting T-shirts now than in the early 1990's.
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.