Sew long, long-term quilt project!

There is little better than finally completing a (very) long term project, and I could not have wished for a better partner in production. I decided weeks ago that I was going to take off the whole week of my mom’s visit, and I decided almost at the same time to use that time to clear some creative projects off my to-do list. The result was even better than I could have imagined – not only do we have an AWESOME T-shirt quilt for winter, I also have a week’s worth of wonderful new memories with my mom 🙂

Some old T-shirts

The process was not without one or two hiccups (what process is??). My mom and I were almost at loggerheads over the specifics of actually putting the quilt together, but the dispute was resolved amicably (I won). (History is written by those who blog). Anyway, the result is a perfect fusion of my mom’s impeccable sewing and immense experience (she has racked up over 5million stitches) and my outrageous artistic vision (I stole the idea from the Twilight movies). It also has a lot to do with me not being able to throw away T-shirts that I have loved… To be fair, I painted some of them, so I forgive myself.
Enough ramble! Here is the process:
1) I have been gathering old T-shirts for 5 years now. The rules were simple, both Sarah and I had to agree that it is quilt-worthy, and shortly before we started the quilt I reviewed the collection and chucked out some that were no longer all that special. (It happens).
2) I cut all the t’s on both sides from the bottom of the arm, down the side to the bottom hem. I left the shoulders because I wanted to use the backs of the t’s for extra backing, and the shoulders kept it all together neatly.
3) I cut generously sized rectangles of interfacing, also known as fusible backing, or fuse-on (the iron-on one, because its the 21st century). I hadn’t worked out yet what size I wanted for the end-result blocks, so I wanted to make sure there was enough to be flexible.
4) I placed a rectangle of interfacing between the front and back sections of each T-shirt, iron side facing the side I wanted to show on the quilt, and ironed it to the front panel, using the back panel as protection against getting the glue on the iron (so the T-shirt is upside down). In many cases the designs on the T-shirt were very close to the neck. I pushed the interfacing up as high as I could, sometimes over the collar – I figured I could perhaps  deal with sewing it into the quilt if the design really needed it. This is the point where my mom joined me.
5) Between my mom and I we roughly sewed the backs of the T-shirts to the front, all along a wide edge, sandwiching the interfacing between the two T-shirt layers, and cutting off the excess (the sleeves, shoulders and bottom hem).

Cut into rough rectangles and sewed along the edge

The tees laid out on the floor

6) With all the tees in roughly the same shape, it was easier to deliberate on the layout, rotation and colour of each tee. The collection worked well together, because over 5 years we’ve had very distinct tastes in T-shirts. We laid out the blocks on top of the 2m x 1.5m black fleece material I wanted to use for the back of the blanket.

Pinning together each section before sewing

7) Pins are your friends. We pinned everything. I also took photos every time we agreed on the layout, for reference. I used my computer briefly to draw out the blocks on the size of the fleece, to determine how many rows and columns there would be, and what size the final blocks should be to fit the grid.
8) Then we worked row by row, stitching together all the tees in each row, to make 6 rows of 6 tees. I wanted the blocks to adhere to a very rigid grid, with all horizontal and vertical lines matching up. My mom knew that this was a tall order, but agreed to attempt it. I tried to keep everything ordered by measuring out blocks with a transparent hard plastic template and marking it, and while it helped, I still had to work through all the rows at the end and re-stitch some areas to make them line up.

Measuring out and marking with a white pencil

Once we had all the individual rows, I lay them in order, and determined where the column widths were too wide. More pins and some sewing to pinch in some of the width, and there we managed to match everything perfectly.
9) From here on I became pretty useless, as my lack of experience was starting to show, so I stepped back and watched my mom work her magic on the blanket which was becoming bigger by the minute. She stitched the rows all together, cutting off all excess material at the seams. A very useful note here was to alternate the direction in which the seams ran across the columns, to even out the bulkiness of 6 layers of material.

The squanky line is mine

Perfect line-up :)

Stitching the rows together

10) I Discovered see-through thread a few weeks ago, which came in very handy to sew in two lines across the row seams on the front of the blanket, in order to flatten them. Not as easy to work with on the sewing machine, as my old second hand Jones had never encountered something so like fishing gut. Miracle Mom made it work though with sheer persistence.
11) the final part was sewing on the backing fleece inside out, leaving space to turn the blanket the right way in before I hand-stitched it up. My mom was having so much fun with the see-through thread that she did an extra border stitch about 5mm from the edge all around to neaten it.

Neat edging

12) I might still be tempted to do small hand stitches at every T-shirt junction, in order to hold the back fleece in place, but for now it’s holding its own quite nicely! This quilt took 2 days and lots of tea. I would recommend 2 people working on it, or 1 Wonder Woman. Interfacing and fleece material are both relatively cheap,  and old tees are technically free! Pay your mom with some love, and you might get some very skilled expertise on your side too 🙂

Finished product!

Colourful dreams to ensue…

The Quinn sisters have an honorary place amongst the blocks

As do Jimmy, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Ms Heather Nova :)

  1 comment for “Sew long, long-term quilt project!

  1. 2012/11/19 at 19:59

    Oh wow, that is ASEM!!

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