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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tutorial - How to Sew a T-Shirt Quilt Pillow

I make t-shirt quilts for my nieces and nephews as they graduate high school.  My son will be graduating this year so I will finally get a chance to clear out a few of the 40 or so t-shirts in his closet!  When I'm making the quilts, I use 12 t-shirt sides.  Sometimes the kids can't narrow down their favorites, so I make a pillow (or two) with the extras.  Today, I'll share with you how to make a pillow based on my t-shirt quilt "block".

• 2 t-shirt sides, washed
• 1 yard of fusible interfacing (Pellon 906F, 911FF)
• 1/2 yard of fabric for border, washed
• 18” pillow form

Notes on Materials:

• Use a t-shirt front and back or two separate t-shirts.
• The border fabric can be a contrast or coordinating fabric. I have used polka-dots, tie-dye, and anything that does not have a directional pattern.  My pillow fabric is Oxygen.

• Prewash the t-shirts and border fabric to preshrink them, especially if they are brand new.
• It isn’t necessary to use an interfacing specifically designed for knits. The t-shirts will not need stretch for the pillow. The interfacing is added for stability and ease of sewing.
• Pillow forms are available in many sizes. If you decide to make another size, you will want your completed square to be one inch larger than the pillow form. So if you want to make a 16” pillow, then you will design the square to be 17” before sewing the two sides together.
• When cutting the t-shirt into a square, I use an Omnigrid that has been custom cut to a 13 ¼” square template. You can make a cardboard template or simply measure and mark a square.


1. Rough cut square: The application of interfacing can cause the shirt to shrink so I cut a larger square than needed. Place template over the desired area of the t-shirt. Cut the t-shirt out with an extra inch around the edges.

2. Cut Border Fabric Strips:

              Cut 4 strips 3 ½ x 13 ¼
              Cut 4 strips 3 ½ x 19 ¼

3. Apply interfacing: Apply the interfacing per the manufacturer’s instructions to the back side of the t-shirt.
When I have large areas to fuse, I take an old plastic tub and fill it with water so that I can quickly dampen the hanky I use as my press cloth.

Place the t-shirt on your ironing board with the logo side down. Then place the interfacing on, covered by a damp hanky. Fuse using a dry iron. When the hanky stops steaming, the fusing is typically complete.

4. Cut the T-Shirts to 13 1/4" Square:  I use my Omnigrid to center the t-shirt design and cut using a rotary cutter.

5. Assemble and Sew Pillow Top and Bottom: Pin the shorter border pieces to the top and bottom of the t-shirt.

Sew or serge using a ¼” seam. Press the stitching line and then press seams toward the border. When pressing, especially from the right side, avoid pressing the t-shirt logo. It can melt!

Now pin the longer border pieces to the sides of the t-shirt. Sew and press.

You now have a completed t-shirt block.  Repeat for other t-shirt.

5. Prepare the Squares for Sewing:  I use a handy tip from "Singer Sewing Step by Step" (what a steal that was!  I can't believe I left the price tag on.)

I modify the pillow squares to remove excess fabric in the corners. Fold the fabric into fourths. Mark a point halfway between the corner and the fold on each open side.  t the corner, mark a point 1/2" from each raw edge.

Trim from the corner to the center marks.

6. Sew the Top to the Bottom: Pin and sew the two squares together using a ¼” seam allowance. Leave an opening in the bottom to insert the pillow form. I usually leave about 10” open.

7. Turn Inside Out, Press Seams and Press Under 1/4" on open edge.

8. Insert Pillow Form and Hand Sew Opening: Pin the opening closed and sew closed using a slip stitch.

Enjoy your pillow!

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