How to make a modern t-shirt memory quilt

You probably have a t-shirt quilt in your stack of blankets. Maybe it was made by a loving aunt for your high school graduation? My guess is that it is a twin-size quilt with the front of 20 t-shirts from activities you participated in held together by sashing in your high school's colors. I'm sure you love this quilt and appreciate the effort which went into it, but let's be real - you're not holding onto it for its beauty.

I'm now knee-deep in babies. With a 3 year old and 1 year old, I'm simultaneously wishing for them to become independent and deeply nostalgic for 6 months ago. And I'm utterly buried in precious, sentimental clothes. There has to be a way to make a beautiful, high-quality keepsake from these cloths.

 Modern quilt top made with baby clothes.

Modern quilt top made with baby clothes.

 

What makes a quilt design "modern"?

There is no one answer to what encapsulates modern quilting, but to me, modern quilt designs share a few characteristics: a lot of white-space, a lack of borders, and fabric selection.

White space: Using a solid-colored back ground gives your quilt blocks room to breath. Don't be afraid to have larger areas of just background color. I, personally, like to use white as my background, which I think gives a crisp, clean look. 

Lack of borders: The quilts of the '90s often have multiple, ornate borders. Modern quilts often repeat their pattern all the way to binding or have a border of the background color. 

Fabric selection: Many modern quilts use brighter colors than traditional quilts, and patterns tend to be simple. When you're making a memory quilt, your fabric selection is predetermined by the clothing you are using. 

Every quilter will tell you different things make quilts modern, so in this and in all of life, you do you.

Skills needed

I'm going to shoot you straight - This should not be your first quilt. Or second. You want to have a firm grasp on the basics of making a quilt before attempting to make something from clothing. The materials used in clothing can be difficult to work with and you will have to do troubleshooting. 


Scared yet?

I recommend having a firm grasp on these skills:

  • Knowledge of your sewing machine, especially adjusting tension
  • Cutting fabric
  • Ripping seams without damaging fabric
  • Piecing
  • Selecting a pattern to match your abilities - I recommend looking at scrap quilt patterns
  • Modifying a pattern - you may need to do this if things don't go to plan

Overall tips

The fabric used to make clothing is far lower quality than quilting cotton. This can make working with it more difficult and effect the longevity of your quilt.

Here are some tricks for a successful project:

  • Plan ahead. Pull out the outfits that are especially special or which have motifs you definitely want to include. Work with these last to make the likelihood of mistakes as small as possible.
  • Expect to have a lot of waste and errors. Make 10% more blocks than you think you need. It is very hard to tear out mistakes on jersey (t-shirt fabric) without stretching and damaging the fabric. It's much easier to replace the blocks.
  • Use quilting cotton as your background. I recommend at least 50% of the fabric of the quilt top being quilting cotton. Not only does this add to the modern look, but the quilting cotton adds strength to your quilt top. It is also much easier to sew jersey to quilting cotton than to another piece of jersey.
  • Use high-quality fabric for the backing. It's tempting to save money on backing fabric, but a t-shirt quilt benefits from the extra stability a good quality backing fabric provides.  
  • A walking foot can reduce stretching. I highly recommend using one, especially if the quilt is not paper pieced.
  • Paper piecing gives your project a lot of reinforcement and precision during the piecing process and is a good option for t-shirt quilts.
  • When quilting the quilt together, make your stitching more dense than you typically would. This is another way to add stability and strength to the quilt so that it lasts.
 Fussy cutting can add a lot of character to your blocks.

Fussy cutting can add a lot of character to your blocks.

Choosing fabrics

How many outfits you need varies widely, based on both the pattern chosen and how much of the clothing is usable. As a rule of thumb, I have found that a paper grocery bag full of outfits is enough to make a throw quilt (~60 x 60"). 

Woven

In children's clothes, I see wovens most often as button up shirts and dresses, especially plaids. You can see thread running perpendicular to each other (the warp and weft). Light-weight cotton, linen, and poly blend woven fabrics are great to work with, but heavier materials, such as would be used for a coat, should be avoided. 

Characteristics:

  • Does not stretch
  • Can be cut without additional prep
  • Cottons and linens can handle a hot iron, test a scrap to check that the fabrics don't melt
     

Jersey

Most children's clothing is jersey - onesies, t-shirts, many dresses. If it's really stretchy, it's probably jersey. 

  • You need to put interfacing on the back of all jersey before cutting. I use Pellon P44F Fusible Interfacing because it's inexpensive and comes on a large roll, but there are plenty of other options out there.
  • Very stretchy - be careful when aligning seams. Pin every seam intersection.
  • Often lower quality - use a lot of other high-quality quilting cotton to add strength to your quilt
  • Work with your most precious items last
  • Highly recommend using walking foot 
 A walking foot is helpful for working with stretchy fabrics and thick seams.

A walking foot is helpful for working with stretchy fabrics and thick seams.

Fabrics to avoid

You want your quilt to have fabrics that are somewhat similar in feel. I recommend avoiding knits, such as sweaters, fleece, very thick or thin materials, corduroy, or fabrics that have a high acrylic content (these are likely to melt).

Decorations

Your clothes might have cute decorative areas that can be incorporated into blocks. These could be very ornate, like ruffles, bows, lace, etc. But don't over look simple things. Buttons, pockets, seams, and other parts of the clothes which would typically be cut away can be used to decorative effect. Experiment by making a few blocks, and if you don't like them, take them out before the final assembly of your quilt. 

Many t-shirts have motifs on them. You might want to fussy cut around these to make sure the best parts end up in your quilt. Also, you need to cautious with an iron around motifs. Test on a scrap or you will end up with a melted image.

In my experience, embroidery can be cut and used without much extra care. The biggest challenge is that the fabric ends up being very thick there, so your machine might have more trouble feeding through your machine (a walking foot helps), and you might not be able to control which direction you press the seam.

 A button on a pocket became a cute quilt detail.

A button on a pocket became a cute quilt detail.

Good luck on your quilt!

Blue Star Beanie Pattern

Today was the pinnacle of Fall. After a walk to the coffee shop under trees ablaze in orange and yellow, there was football and knitting. Acorn squash and apple cider are on the menu for dinner. Politicians are slipping flyers in the door. I might make an apple crisp real quick just to make sure that maximum autumn saturation has been obtained.

Quick! Add pumpkin to something!
Quick! Add pumpkin to something!

The 50 degree weather was the perfect opportunity for the fella to take his new hat on it's maiden journey. It's knit with just under half a skein of fingering weight yarn, which makes it just warm enough for these days when it's just a bit too cold to go hatless, but too warm for the winter hats.

Not feminine yet not boring to make. What more could you ask for in a dude's hat?
Not feminine yet not boring to make. What more could you ask for in a dude's hat?

Named for the restaurant where my knitting group meets, Blue Star is comprised of twisted stitches. It is deceptively stretchy for the amount of texture  going on. The twisted stitches are also quick to work if you get the hang of cabling without a cable needle.

He's cute.
He's cute.

Bold Colors

DSC_04851.jpg

The most exciting time of the year for any nerdy kid is the week before school starts. They spend the days unloading their backpack, loving looking at all school supplies, and reorganizing their crayon box. They reflect on the big questions - Dolphin folders are clearly the best for Science, but should rainbow unicorns be for Math or Social Studies? Oh, kids don't do that? No one else gets that excited about organizing? Angry Birds is ruining our youth.

One of the best things was the brand new packs of crayons and markers. The school supply list only required the basic marker set, but with enough whining  Mom could be swayed to get a second set of markers. Bold colors. The best freaking colors on the planet - raspberry, emerald, azure, goldenrod. You had better recognize, kids who picked on me. There's a new pack of markers in town.

BOLD COLORS!

(at this point, you might have picked up on a few of the factors that contributed to the teasing)

I didn't realize until halfway through this quilt that I had borrowed my 8-year old self's favorite color pallet. I'm sure the next niece, Izzabella, will also love it, because the kids want to be just like yours truly.

Bold Colors Quilt

When it's done, the quilt looks like this.

Finished size: 46″ square

Materials

  • 1.75 yards white background fabric (44" quilters cotton)
  •  1/3 yard each of four different color fabrics (44" quilters cotton)
  • 50" piece of batting
  • 1.5 yards 56" wide backing fabric
  • 3/8 yard binding fabric
  • Sewing thread and other notions

Making the Hourglass Blocks

This tutorial shows you how to make these as fast and easily as possible.

Cut

  • From each of the colored fabrics cut seven 5.5" squares (one strip 5.5" x width of fabric, cut to seven 5.5" squares)
  • From the white, cut twenty-eight 5.5" squares (four strips 5.5" x width of fabric, each cut to seven 5.5" squares)

Follow the linked tutorial to make 56 hourglass blocks. This is 2 more than you will ultimately need. Be sure to square them up to 4.5". This will cut out a lot of bulk and help your corners match up better.

Center square

From the white, cut one 7" square (A), one 4" square (B), and sixteen 5" squares (C). Cut each square in half on the angle.

Layout your central block starting with the hourglass blocks, making sure to turn them so that colored edges touch white edges. The blocks are placed on an angle with the white triangles filling in the edges to make it square.

There are nine rows of hourglass blocks. Starting in the lower left, the rows are:

  • 2 blocks
  • 4 blocks
  • 6 blocks
  • 8 blocks
  • 10 blocks
  • 8 blocks
  • 6 blocks
  • 4 blocks
  • 2 blocks

Triangles A go in the lower left and upper right. Triangles B in the upper left and lower right. Triangles C fill in the sides.

Sew each column of blocks together. Press the seams, and then sew the strips together to create the square. I recommend leaving the blocks laying out on the floor as you do this, because it can be easy to get a triangle rotated incorrectly.

Press the seams like crazy.

Add a white border

From the white, cut two 3.5" x 32" strips and two 3.5" x 38" strips.

Sew the shorter strips to the top and bottom. Press seams.

Sew the longer strips to the sides.

Press seams.

1" squares border

This is where you risk becoming a crazy person. A bunch of 1" blocks sounds like it wouldn't be that bad, but you might go nuts halfway through. Fair warning.

This angle make the border look like it goes on forever? What a coincidence.

Cut 1.5" x length of the fabric

  • 12 from the white fabric
  • 3 from each of the colored fabrics

Sew a white strip to each of the colored strips. Press the seams toward the color.

Sew each of these strips lengthwise to another one, so that you have six pieces of fabric that are striped color - white - different color - white.

Press them very well.

Cut the strips down to 1.5" x 5" rectangles.

Sewing along the 5" side, join 38 of these into a long strip. Do your best to line up seams. Be sure that the blocks always alternate white - color - white - color. Repeat until you have four total border pieces.

Sew an hourglass block to each end of two of these border pieces. Press the borders like crazy.

Pin the borders without the hourglass ends to the top and bottom of the quilt. Sew them on and press. Sew the remaining borders to the other side.

Press the whole quilt top well.

Back, bind and quilt.

I quilted the hourglasses like this.

 

Izmir hat pattern

A buttonless hat.
A buttonless hat.

This hat gets its name from the gorgeous blues of the tiles produced in Izmir, Turkey. The 8,000 year old city was a huge producer of striking Turkish tiles for centuries during the Ottoman Empire.

Or so I was told when I visited Turkey. The internet will only confirm with questionable resources. What I can reliably say is that Turkey remains a huge textile producer. Check your textiles - odds are pretty good they were either Hecho en Mexico or Made in Turkey.

Supplies

  •  36 grams (140 yards) 100% wool heavy fingering weight yarn (440 yards to 113 grams). Mine was knit using Sappho II in Salt Under the Sea.
  • US size 6 (4 mm) double pointed needles
  • Tapestry needle
  • Markers

Notes

  • K - Knit
  • P - Purl
  • PM - Place marker
  • M1 - Make one, using your preferred method (here are some options). I did the raised increase.

Size

23-24" head circumference (average adult female)

Gauge

24 sts per 4 inches (10 cm) in stockinette stitch knit in the round. Row gauge is not critical.

Note: this hat does not have much stretch so stitch gauge is important.

Setup

Cast on 8 sts and join to work in the round.

Next round: M1 in all sts (16 sts total)

Next round: *K2, pm*. Repeat from * to * to end of round.

Crown shaping

  • Round 1: *K to marker, M1, slip marker*. Repeat from * to * to end of round.
  • Round 2: Knit all sts, slipping markers as you come to them

Repeat rounds 1 and 2 until you have 120 sts on your needle (15 sts between each marker). Pro tip: if you don't want to check your gauge (who does?) you can put the hat on a long circ or scrap yarn and try it on. Once it's the size you need, continue on, even if  your stitch count does not match 120.

Knit all sts until work measures 6" from the crown, removing markers as you come to them.

psst. your mullet is showing..
psst. your mullet is showing..

Brim

Note: if you want a clear indicator of where to wrap the yarn later, you can tie a scrap piece of yarn to the first stitch of the round. 

Work the following twice:

  • Purl all sts for 5 rounds
  • Knit all sts for 3 rounds

Purl all sts for 5 more rounds (3 ttl purl ridges).

Knit one round.

Bind off knit wise.

Break yarn leaving a long (~18") tail. Thread the tail onto a needle and wrap the yarn around the purl ridges. If you chose to place the scrap yarn, you will be threading the tail through the stitch marked and then around the bottom of the hat. Wrap about 10-15 times. If you want to add a button or decorative element, use the tail to attach it. If you have a marker, cut it out.

Sew closed the hole from the cast on, and weave in ends. Look like a princess in here most beautiful hat.

Pull tight when wrapping the knot.
Pull tight when wrapping the knot.

Diverging

Many moons ago, I designed these socks to process through a parting of ways. They were my first published pattern. I was really excited. See! I'm dusting them off again. The pattern has been reworked, retested, and reformatted to mark a new divergence in my life - the fella and I are in the process of packing up our lives to follow the American itch to head out West.

A poem, "two roads diverged in the woods.. and I took the road less traveled.." And it hurt, man! Really bad! Rocks! Thorns! and Glass! my… broke! waahh! Not cool, Robert Frost! -Kid President

Why would two people leave all the good they've created for themselves to show up tired and unwanted on the doorstep of Seattle? Well.... we can. And maybe it'll lead to our Space Jam?

That's really the best answer I have. But while I'm selling my life on Craigslist at get-it-now rates, I am offering this pattern for free. Once I make it out West, it will be $3.99. As with all my life at the moment, the specific timing is TBD, so grab it now.

Outside
Outside
Inside
Inside

Finished Size

Women’s medium [Women’s large/Men’s small, Men’s large]

  • Women’s medium: Shoe sizes 6-9; 10” foot
  • Women’s large: Shoe sizes 8-12; 11” foot
  • Men’s small (same size as women’s medium): Shoe sizes 10.5-12; 11” foot
  • Men’s large: Shoe sizes 12.5-14; 11.5” foot

Supplies

  • 100 grams, 420 yards (3.5 oz, 368 m) of finger weight sock yarn of your choice, such as Plymouth Yarn Happy Feet or Blue Fiber Arts Socks that Rock
  • US #1 (2.25 mm) double pointed needles or size needed for gauge
  • US #0 (2 mm) double pointed needles or one size smaller than needed for gauge
  • Cable needle
  • Stitch markers
  • Darning needles

Gauge

16 sts x 24 rows = 2 inches (5 cm) in Stockinette Stitch worked in the round