Bill's T-Shirt Quilt Completed

I finally completed this t-shirt quilt. I had the most difficult time working on this project because it's for someone else.  The whole responsibility of cutting up someone else's shirts was a little intimidating.  I had such a fear of making a mistake that it took me a lot of planning to even get started.

When I did start, I cut all the shirt logos out with the maximum fabric allowed to be sure to have plenty to work with. Then I backed all the pieces with Pellon 911F, a heavy duty iron-on stabilizer.  After that I was stuck on where to begin to start placement.  So I grouped the shirts by subjects. That didn't quite work.  Then I spread them out to try to vary the colors to get variety. That didn't work very well either.

Unfortunately, some of these shirts were pretty worn. Working around that was a little challenging. I stacked, sorted, restacked and laid out these "block" over and over without getting anywhere.  For inspiration I googled the subject and searched for photos of completed t-shirt quilts.  Some were framed in fabric, which I did not want to do because I had so many shirts. That idea would only work if I had maybe 12 shirts but I had a lot more than that (30 to be exact).  So I knew I wanted to stitch the shirts together somehow. I started looking at tutorials and finally found the right one. The tutorial I used was more about making calculations than anything else so I followed the directions to a tee (no pun intended).

As is turns out, the secret was making columns of blocks and I was trying to make rows. All I had to do was measure the width of each logo, then sort the blocks by that width. Obviously since I cut them a lot larger, maximizing the amount of fabric available around each logo, that gave me lots of wiggle room.  I ended up with 4 piles, one with 16-inch widths, one with 14-inch widths, one with 10 to 12-inch widths and one that had 8-inch widths. Then from each pile I determined with block had the least amount of width of fabric around it, squared it up, then cut all the rest the same width, leaving lots of length to work around after the columns are sewn together.

After I went through that process with all the piles, I had 4 very neat columns of quilt blocks. Now for the fun part, I laid them out in 4 rows.  Amazingly, some of the subject matter fell in groups - I had an entire column of UW-Madison blocks! In retrospect, that makes sense since the words, University of Wisconsin Badgers or University of Wisconsin Madison, had lots of letters in them. I rearranged each column into categories/colors to compliment the neighboring columns.  It was going together like a jigsaw puzzle, each piece seem to fit naturally.  That is until I got to the smallest column.  I bent the rules here. I turned some of the squares sideways to make them fit nicely and I actually pieced a block with sections from the same shirt, cutting away the worn parts and then putting the rest back together. I thought that was  important because the graphic on this shirt contained the owner's name. I really wanted that incorporated in the quilt no matter how many holes I had to work around!

Once laid out, it was easy to adjust the lengths of the blocks by cutting off some of the extra fabric I left in each block. So away I went, stitching the columns together.  Unfortunately I ran into another snag.  My machine broke down.  Here I was ready with my new ball-point needle designed for jersey knit fabrics and I couldn't sew.  I took machine in for repair. I was so excited that I was finally going to get this thing together and I lost a week to the repair shop.  Once back, I started stitching.  Then the bobbin winder on my machine broke.  I felt defeated and started to wonder. Should I be looking at a new machine? After all, mine is over 20 years old and this will be the third time the machine is in the shop over the course of this summer and fall.

I started looking and picked out a new one that I liked. As I got ready to put a deal together I got a case of buyer's remorse.  I love when that happens BEFORE spending $4K instead of after. So I got my old girl fixed again and as it turns out it was very minor so she should be humming along for a very long time now.

Once the top was finally done, I had to choose the backing fabric.  I knew I wanted it to be gray but I didn't realize how hard it would be to find that color. Most fabric stores were out of gray and the ones who did have it didn't have the necessary 3 and a half yards that I needed. After a few weeks of searching/waiting for sales I picked up the backing. This darn quilt is taking forever. I feel terrible.

I finally layered the quilt, batting and backing together and did some straight line quilting on it.  I made the stitching in rows 2 inches apart.  I originally wanted to put them closer together but the stretchiness of the t-shirt knit made it impossible without a lot of stretchy puckers.  After a few rows of quilting, I decided it looked OK with the 2 inch gaps.  Another problem occurred. Some of this fabric was worn pretty thin, a sign of a very loved shirt. I thought by backing it all with the heavy duty 911F I would be saving the fabric from more wear.  However, from stretching it to pin the layers together, some of the fabric split into a tiny little hole right in the center of the quilt. Taking this thing apart to fix it would have been an enormous job. After consulting with quilty friends, we decided to mend the hole later.

Once the quilt was done and the mending was finished, I picked out some awesome fabric for the bias binding and quickly attached it and completed the finish work. I added a label with a rustic look, to match the worn shirts.

I popped the quilt in the wash machine and my machine had a little trouble with the weight of all those heavy quilt blocks from all those t-shirts. It's like the spin cycle could not wring out all the water so I wrung it out by hand before putting it in the dryer. And now after a 5-month journey of worry, stress, and 3 trips to the shop for machine repairs, it's finally done. And even after all that, I've waited a few days to get ready to deliver it because today is the first day the sun is shining for a photo opportunity - insert heavy sigh here.

This project gave me more confidence (block assembly calculations) and  a new skill (working with jersey knits in the quilting process) and I really did have fun learning and completing the project.  I sure hope Bill thinks it was worth the wait.

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