threadless t-shirt quilt in progress
I’ve been a Threadless fan from the very beginning. I bought my first shirt when the site had a total of seven shirts available: a tiny start to what has become an impressive enterprise. I was captivated by the idea of artist-made shirts: the contest format gives everyone an equal chance to become a t-shirt designer, and the best designs win, regardless of the popularity of the artist. People from all over the country – and now the world – had the opportunity to make art and money, and I got to wear a clever, unique shirt. Wins for everyone.
But even the most beloved shirts wear thin after a million wears and washes. Tiny holes in the armpits and hems meant they weren’t giveaway worthy, and I couldn’t bear to throw the art in the trash. So, I embarked on my first t-shirt quilt. What’s a seamstress to do?
I’m not a big fan of the standard t-shirt quilt. Giant rectangles and sorority slogans do not a quilt make. I’m determined to make my Threadless quilt as art-focused as the shirts themselves.
My first goal is to avoid the standard 8.5×11″ squares that come together to form most t-shirt quilts. I played carefully with the tee designs, taking advantage of the fact that each print has a different shape. I then drew out small pencil sketches on graph paper to see what I had to work with. I’m lucky that the majority of this t-shirt collection is color-coordinated: blues and grays with a touch of red and yellow. My pale pink shirt and my bright turquoise shirt had to sit out this round, but it’s worth it.
Prepping the t-shirts is simple. I cut off the sleeves, then the neck hem, then cut the front away from the back.
Laying flat, suddenly the t-shirt isn’t a shirt anymore: it’s just a piece of fabric, waiting to become something new. I left each shirt piece as big as possible at this stage, because I was still working out where everything would go, and it’s far easier to cut fabric away than to magically add it back later.
I then ironed a thin fusible interfacing to the back of each shirt. Many t-shirt quilts use a knit interfacing, but I chose regular interfacing for 3 reasons:
These shirts are nicer than the standard t-shirt, and aren’t too stretchy to begin with;
I have a huge supply of lightweight fusible interfacing;
It’s a quilt. I don’t want it to be stretchy.
After ironing on the interfacing, I trimmed the top and bottom of the design, still leaving plenty of fabric for future decision making.
As I shifted and rearranged the designs, I made an important realization: the heights of the designs may vary, but the widths of the majority of the designs were the same. Yes, obviously: the width of each shirt is my width! In the end I decided on this three-column approach. The two side columns are the same, full-shirt width. The center column shows off the tall, skinny designs, highlighting my favorite: the ants appeasing the anteater with an ice cream cone.
The columns have been stitched together, but no further progress than that yet. I’m hoping to make this quilt a bit larger than a lap quilt, but we’ll see what I end up with. I want to avoid sashing as much as possible because I like the way the colors of the shirts and their designs play off one another, and, again, I want this to stand apart from the standard t-shirt quilt. I also want to incorporate the “tags” from each shirt, where the name of the shirt and the name of the artist are screenprinted at the inside back neck of each shirt. Those will work well for adding character to the back of the quilt.
Next, another quilt-back saga. Am I the only one who takes years to find an appropriate backing fabric for a quilt? Luckily with this one I have an idea in mind… sweatshirt fleece would be unbearably cozy. But what color? That decision alone could take months…