Using old shirts to make a new quilt

Shirt fabric

The piles of fabric on top is all the fabric one can get out of eight generous man’s shirts. Shirts are wonderful to work with because of the nice patterns and usually, when a shirt is too old to wear, there is still enough good fabric for a quilt. How nice shirt fabric is to sew with depends on the kind of fabric though. Some shirts have wonderful fabric to work with, but others are woven so tightly pinning the fabric leaves little holes. The result is beautiful no matter what though, which makes it worth the trial. Also, I like the idea of using shirts from someone you to give extra meaning to a quilt.

The shirts used for this quilt I got from someone via the internet though, so no special memories attached to this one. I did enjoy working on this quilt a lot and really like the end result. Below you see the chaos and result that comes from an afternoon of ripping shirts apart.

Materials and pattern of the quilt

As a challenge to myself, I decided that this quilt needed to include all the different eight shirts I got. Also, the only extra fabric I added were old ties I got from my mother. Since she once made a quilt entirely out of ties people know she collects them. Now people appear on her doorstep from time to time with a bag full of old ties for her to use. Enough to share with me as well. Combining old shirt fabric with the ties you could argue that when a man sleeps under this quilt it is almost like he is dressed for a fancy occasion.

To me, the most fun part of making a quilt is experimenting with colour and fabric combinations and to restrict the options I give myself. This helps with creative thinking as well and to get unexpected amazing results. A benefit of using old clothing for that is that the fabric has become soft, which makes the quilt immediately comfortable.

For the pattern, I decided on the pinwheel pattern. It is one of the classics that’s used a lot. I like that the pattern gives the quilt a sense of movement because it looks the block is revolving around. There are many variations possible, such as the pinwheel gone awry in the Dear Jane quilt. A pinwheel block is made with two fabrics. First, you sew triangles of each fabric together, which you join to form the block. For this quilt, I decided to combine each shirt with every other one. This left me with 36 blocks in total.

Dear Jane A-1: pinwheel gone awry

Dear Jane A-1: pinwheel gone awry

Pinwheels are more tricky to make than I anticipated. It is quite vital the points of the pieces meet more or less in the middle. Now I am not too bothered when things go a bit askew, but with patterns like this it stands out. Another challenge is that this pattern creates a lot of bulk at the back of the piece because the seams of eight different pieces meet in the middle. This needs some deft ironing work to deal with. I dealt with this by ironing the seams open, with means that one seam goes at each side of your stitched line. Usually pressing is done with my iron, but I discovered a teaspoon also suffices with shirt fabric.

Quilting the quilt

So when the top was finished, and the batting and back were added, the piece needed to be quilted. My first step was to sew buttons from the shirts into the centre of the pinwheel blocks. This technique is called tying a quilt, which I always wanted to try. However, using buttons was my mother’s idea, so thanks mom! It is a nice idea to use even more recycling in this quilt. The added benefit of using buttons is that it obscures places where the points might not meet in the middle. But don’t tell that to anyone else, it’s our secret.

Button detail pinwheel quilt

After I had sewn the buttons I quilted the borders with three strands of embroidery floss. I wanted the quilting to stand out, especially because embroidery floss has such a nice shine to it. I also used the big stitch technique, because this quilt was already looking very bold. Tiny stitches would just have disappeared in the overall design.

sashing detail pinwheel quilt

To the front, back and around a quilt

And that’s it! After I put the border on the quilt and put it through the washing machine to erase all my markings the quilt is finished. Now the only thing left to do is treasure it and wait for someone to come along who needs this quilt. I made it out of curiosity and the need to experiment, so had no use for it in mind, but I am sure somebody or something will come along eventually. For now, it’s brightening up my room.

Finished front pinwheel quilt

Here is also a picture of the back. For the back, I sewed strips of fabric together of every fabric I’ve used. I think this worked very well. For the border, I sewed pieces of the shirt fabric together to bring the whole quilt together. I had read about this scrappy way of making a border and was looking forward to an opportunity to try it myself. I can recommend this technique when you want to create cohesion in scrappy quilts. When design elements come back in different parts of the quilt it will look like there was more of a plan behind the whole quilt than might actually be true.

Finished back pinwheel quilt

And the quilt is finished!

So that was my post for this week. As is becoming clear in this blog, I love working scrappy. Give me a pile of random fabric and some time and I’ll do my best to create something beautiful and unique out of it. I love the surprise element this creates where you’re not sure the quilt will turn out nice until you’ve finished it. For this one, I only started to love it when I had put the border on and it was finished. For this, the scrappy border did the trick.

I have some questions for you as well:

  • Do you like scrappy quilting?
  • Have you had fabric combinations you were sceptical about until you finished the quilt?

Feel free to drop some links to examples in the commentary section. I love to see the quilts other people make.

Folded finished pinwheel quilt

Would you like to see more?

Here is another example of something you can make with old shirts. This is a tote bag made from old shirts from my father.

Geometric bird tote bag


See my DeviantArt or Instagram (username: bella.g.bear.art) for more artwork and WIPs. You can also follow my blog by clicking on the button on the left or by filling in your email address. There will be a monthly update at the end of every month and a new blogpost every Sunday or Monday.

  7 comments for “Using old shirts to make a new quilt

  1. 13 July 2018 at 18:40

    That is SO COOL!! I need to make a note of this post so I can come back to it and try this out!! I’m such a pack rat and I literally have old clothes from back in highschool that I just won’t get rid of (even after almost 20 years!) my man would be so happy if I did something with it and alleviated some of the hoard!

    Liked by 1 person

    • 13 July 2018 at 19:01

      Haha do it! Im currently also making a quilt for my best friend with her old clothes and it’s so much fun. It’s called ‘the big quilt’ and there are some posts about it left in the menu if you’re interested. And indeed a good idea to ‘get rid of’ old clothes. Thanks 😊

      Liked by 1 person

      • 13 July 2018 at 20:29

        .. Maybe I’ll just send my clothes to you and you can make it for me?? 😂😂 No. I’m gonna do it!! I love crafting and I’ve been following your blog for a while and I want to make a quilt! I believe I can do it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • 13 July 2018 at 21:01

        I would even do it of course! But no, I believe in you as well! It’s really easier than you’d think if you do not go for perfection and choice an easy pattern. You can always email me orso if you want any help! Love helping people out with their craft projects

        Liked by 1 person

      • 13 July 2018 at 21:10

        Well, you may get a contact from me! Ha ha! I have some print t’s that I love and would want to save the stuff on them, so I may not want as much of a pattern and I’ll need some guidance on that! 😅😁

        Liked by 1 person

      • 13 July 2018 at 21:28

        Awesome 😀 Already kinda looking forward to it because I love a challenge. It also doesn’t sound too tricky with some guidance. If you email riannedoller@gmail.com you are most likely to get a speedy response 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      • 13 July 2018 at 21:29

        Done! 😁

        Liked by 1 person

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