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"). 


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. 


  • 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


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).


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!

Bold Colors


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.


(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


  • 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.


  • 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.


Modern Zig Zag Baby Quilt


Once the wheels touched down from our honeymoon, it apparently made it officially okay to ask when kids will come. Not for a long time, people. Until we decide that sleep is for the weak and disposable income is for the shallow, other people's kids will do just fine.

A lot of living can be done vicariously. I highly recommend it as a time management technique. Scratch the baby itch by snuggling with a nephew or listening to the sleepless horror stories of a new mom. Travel with no threat of food poisoning by flipping through your high school nemesis' Facebook pics. Enjoy an amazing career with none of the late hours by watching any of the  new entrepreneur reality shows.

Vicarious living is all upside without all that pesky hard work and failure.

So, here's a new quilt to welcome a new little one to one of the cutest families I know. May he bring joy and delight to your lives, and to the lives of all those living vicariously through you. And, uh, please don't hold it against me that I posted this on the internet before giving it to you. I have no patience.


Zig Zags for Baby


1.25 yards white 44" quilting fabric

.5 yards of each of four different solid or semi-solid 44" quilting fabric. I used Thomas Knauer's  Twirl in Red, Gold, Green and Blue from the Frippery collection

1 5/8 yards 44" backing fabric

3/8 yards binding fabric

Sewing thread and other notions

Finished size: 40" x 55"

Making the Main Blocks

Block A

From each of the colored fabrics:

  • Cut two strips that are 5" x the length of the fabric
  • Cut each strip down to twelve 3.5" x 5" rectangles

Block B

  • From the white fabric, cut sixteen strips that are 2" by the length of fabric
  • From each of the colored fabrics, cut two strips that are 2" by the length of fabric
  • Sew each colored strip to a white strip
  • Press seams toward the colored fabric
  • Cut each created strip down in 3.5" pieces, creating blocks that are 3" x 3.5"
  • Cut the remaining 2" white strips down to 2" x 3.5" pieces
  • Sew 2" x 3.5" white piece to the top of the 3" x 3.5" white and colored pieces, making sure the colored portion is on the bottom left
  • Press seams
Block B Finished
Block B Finished

Sew block A to the matching color block B, so that the colored portions are touching.


Lay out Top

Lay out the blocks to create the zig zag pattern. Starting at the top left of the quilt, create a column of six blocks. Keep an eye toward making sure you use each color before repeating. If you want to have the color ordered differently, it will likely alter the number of blocks needed of each color.

Lay out the second column while keeping the colors in order and lining up the white zig zags. There will be gaps at the top and bottom of every second and third column.


Go back through and fill in the gaps with the remaining blocks. You will trim off the excess, so this is a good place to use mistakes, or only partially completed blocks.

Sew the blocks into the strips. Press the seams very well.

Pin the strips so that the white zig zags line up, with the bottom of the horizontal white strip aligning with the bottom of the vertical white strip to its left. This can be a bit tricky, so double check that it looks right before sewing.

Press all seams very well.

Trim the top and bottom of the quilt, so you have a straight edge.


Back, quilt and bind your piece.

quilt back
quilt back

Baby Season


I'm waiting for science to prove that children, like tomatoes and trashy television, come in seasons. Friends, family and coworkers are bringing home bundles of joy left and right, and here is another welcome quilt.  Despite doing more quilting in the last few months than in the prior year, this officially puts the baby gift stockpile at one quilt. It's possible my friends like each other too much. I tend to be more attracted to color and texture, rather than than cute prints. If anyone asks, it's because I'm too classy for the cutesy prints, and not at all because my brain shorts out when I look at a pile of combating colors, shapes, and sizes.

But Ed Emberley's "Happy Drawings" collection is too ridiculously little boy to pass on. Alligators, elephants and dragons. Random, sure, but so are boys. The patterns cover a range of sizes and tones, so putting together a design that would let each fabric sing was a bit of a challenge.

The end result is below. I'm pretty pumped. I think it's nephew-worthy.

Boy baby quilt

You will notice that this quilt is hopelessly nameless. A girl only has so much creativity, people. "Sapphires and Rubies" depleted my already parched well. So the good people over at FaveQuilts.com are having a little fun with it, and asking their readers to come up with name in their next newsletter. Have a clever suggestion to add? Leave it in the comments below.  

Edit 7/23: We have a name! Thanks everyone for voting.

Off to the Zoo Baby Quilt

Finished size: 32"x54"


  • 1 yard sashing fabric
  • Fat Quarters or scrap fabrics. At minimum, you need five fat quarters, but you can use as many fabrics as you would like.
  • Backing fabric (I pieced my back from scraps)
  • 3/8 yard binding fabric
  • Batting and other quilting notions


From the fat quarters or scrap fabric, cut the following:

  • 12 - 6.5" squares
  • 12 - 2.5"x6.5"
  • 24 - 3.5"x6.5"
  • 12 - 2.5"x3.5"
  • 12 - 2.5" squares

From the sashing fabric, cut the following:

  • 67 - 1.5"x6.5"
  • 12 - 1.5"x2.5"
  • 8 - 1.5"x49" (if you are using 40" width fabric, you will need to piece these)

Piece Blocks

Sew 12 of each block type. You should have one left over when you layout the quilt top.

Block A

  • Sew the 1.5"x6.5" sashing to the top of the 6.5" squares
  • Press seam toward darker fabric

Block B

For blocks B and C, you can change the orientation of the rectangles in order to accommodate the pattern direction and to add more variety.

block B

  •  Sew the 1.5"x6.5" sashing to the side of the 3.5"x6.5" rectangle
  • Press seam toward darker fabric
  • Sew the 2.5"x6.5" rectangle to the other side of the sashing
  • Sew the 1.5"x6.5" sashing to the side of the block

Block C

Block C

  •  Sew the 1.5"x6.5" sashing to the side of the 3.5"x6.5" rectangle
  • Press seam toward darker fabric
  • Sew the 1.5"x2.5" sashing to the bottom of the 2.5"x3.5" rectangle
  • Press seam to the darker fabric
  • Sew the 2.5" square to the other side of the sashing on the 2.5"x3.5"
  • Press seam toward darker fabric
  • Sew this piece to the other side of the sashing on the 3.5"x6.5" piece
  • Press seam toward darker fabric
  • Sew the 1.5"x6.5" sashing to the side of the block

Piecing Top

Overview of boy's quilt

Randomly layout the finished blocks into 5 rows by 7 columns.

Sew the blocks in each column together so you have five columns of seven blocks.

Press the seams.

Sew sashing fabric to the side of each column, and sew the columns together.

Sew sashing to the final side.

Press all seams and sew sashing across the bottom.

Press seams.


Back, bind and quilt your baby quilt.

I pieced the back, using the fabric provided in the packet of fat quarters which was intended as a draft dodger. I totally planned to have beige on either side of the green - I didn't just make a horrible measuring mistake that I had to cover up. I would never make such an rookie mistake.

Back of the fat quarter quilt

Sapphires and Rubies Baby Quilt Pattern

Just a few days officially into summer, and I'm reminded of all the reasons this is my least favorite season. Sure, winter is dark and cold, but it's a game of endurance and mental distraction. There is absolutely nothing enjoyable about the outdoors in winter, so hunker down, put on a sweater, and keep yourself busy. It is the seasonal equivalent of a graduation ceremony - no one wants to be there, but here we are and there's no point in whining. Summer, on the hand, puts forth a plethora of delights.  The sun stays up later than I do, there are things to grow, bodies of water to jump in, sports to play, carnivals to entertain. All of these things sound so wonderful. But then Summer layers heat on humidity on bug bites on sunburns and then screams right in your face, "ARE YOU HAVING FUN YET!?". No, Summer, I am not, and you're kind of an idiot. Summer is that guy that thinks a concert isn't hopping unless people are suffering permanent hearing loss.

Baby quilt pattern

So, while everyone else is outside pretending like feeding chiggers is SO MUCH FUN, I finished a quilt, holing myself up in where my air conditioner was barely keeping up. I'm really hoping that is due to the giant pot of wort (for beer), the washing machine, dishwasher and baking pan of brownies (if they're Paleo, it's okay to eat a fourth of the pan!*), and not the AC giving up hope.

It's for the sister of the owner of this quilt, who should be arriving any day. I suppose this pattern could have worked just fine as a two-color quilt, but I liked the idea of toying with a contrast color, just to make things more interesting. And, since baby makes four, I settled on this.

*this is not true, but I won't judge.

Sapphires and Rubies Baby Quilt

Finished size: 37" x 54" to fit a crib


  • 1 yard main color (blue)
  • .25 yard contrast color (pink)
  • 1 yard background color (beige) - 1 yard gives you no room for error, so you might consider buying a little extra.
  • 1.75 yards backing fabric
  • 3/8 yards for binding - if you are using the main color for the binding, you need 1.25 yards total of the main color
  • Batting and typical quilting notions


From the main fabric, cut:

  • 28 - 5" squares
  • 14 - 5  3/4" squares

From the secondary fabric, cut:

  • 4 - 5" squares
  • 2 - 5  3/4" squares

From the background fabric, cut:

  • 32 - 5" squares
  • 64 - 3 1/8" squares

Piece Blocks

With the 5 3/4" squares and the 3 1/8" squares, create 64 flying geese following this 4-at-a-time tutorial. Quilting chalk will make it much easier to get .25" seams.

Sew your well pressed flying geese to the top and bottom of 5" square in the corresponding colors.

Press seams toward the center. You will have 32 total 'gems' - 28 in your main color and 4 in the contrast color.

Sew a 5" background square to each gem, and press seams.

Piecing Top

Each piece has a background side where the background square was sewn and a gem-side where the point of a flying geese block is. The gems are sewn into four rows of 8, alternating having the gem on the left and the gem on the right.

quilt top

Starting each row with the gem on the left, sew:

  • Two rows of all main color gems.
  • One row that is 2 main, 3 contrast, 3 main.
  • One row that is 3 main, 1 contrast, 4 main.

Press all seams well.

Sew the rows together in the same order they are listed.

Press all seams well.


Back, bind and quilt your new baby quilt.