This won’t be the last t-shirt quilt you all see. They are sort of my bread and butter. I do more t-shirt quilt commissions than I do anything else, and they help out with a lot around here. Graduation season is picking up, and I’m starting to see inquiries and am getting orders. I’ve completed two already and am meeting someone for a 3rd.
In honor of graduation season coming upon us (a time that is often busier than Christmas for me), I’m doing a post on one of the senior quilts I made last year. This one was interesting because the school colors were black and silver. You would think this makes for a boring or “ugly” combination. But I realized as we looked through the fabric that it was also a combination that was hard to get wrong. In fact, it made for a nice contrast to the shirts!
So I’ll show you guys a bit of my process. For starters, I make a draft. This was for a basic layout – no sashing or borders. The name was about the only frill. I’ve gotten rather good at drafting layouts far more complicated on Microsoft Word.
I use fusible interfacing to make sure that jersey knit stays put. It’s stretchy and likes to bunch up without a stabilizer. The shirts themselves were quick since I wasn’t doing a border. There was one spot open, and I made a quick 9-patch to match the backing. This is a great example of why I tell folks not to stress about how many shirts I’ll need. I usually tell them to send me what they want included, and I’ll try to figure out a way to make them all fit.
This one was made of the senior’s cheerleading shirts. There were plenty to be had and a generous amount of glitter! I liked the traces of pink in the shirts; they “popped” once they were placed beside the black and silver school colors.
For the backing, my client chose an “oil slick” design that was a nice and playful balance for the black and silver school colors. I used the same fabric in the front 9-patch as well as the letters of the name.
This quilt goes down as one of the most emotional quilts I’ve done. For starters, I was asked to complete it by another quilter, so I felt like it needed to be perfect. Another consideration was the fact that it was a memory quilt in memory of a younger person. I’d done memory quilts before, and it wasn’t the first one I’d made for a mother. But this one felt different, and I wanted more than anything to do the lady’s memory justice. After all, I remembered her memorial service because I volunteered to help in the church nursery while it was going on.
Some things that stood out, however, were that my normal medium was gone. This was not a standard t-shirt quilt. In fact, there wasn’t a single t-shirt in any of the bags of clothes I was given! But what I DID have was dress clothes. Clothes with cool textures. Clothes with beautiful embroidery. Clothes with unique colors. So I sat on the quilt idea and wondered what to do.
The mother, being a quilter, had suggested something akin to a “crazy quilt” style, but none of the patterns or images I found online seemed to be exactly right. I looked around and must have seen 100 different ideas on how a crazy quilt can look. And then one morning during my shower, where I do my best thinking, I thought of the 101st crazy quilt pattern!
Here’s the premise. The lady was an artist. Artists are all about color and balance and placement. So I would make a sort of art gallery out of her clothes. I would help to emphasize the “gallery” part by adding a shadowbox element to each of the sections. This would also allow all her different colors, textures, and details to be featured.
I started by going through the clothes. I’d just gotten a new/old dining table to use as a craft table. It was in my garage, so I stood there that night, listening to the chirping of crickets, at peace, sorting the clothes into the different color stacks. I had enough for eight different color panels. That left one empty block. Then I had an idea I hoped would work for the last block.
Since she was an artist, and this was her gallery, I went through her old Facebook posts until I found exactly what I’d hoped to find – her artwork! There’s some debate on whether the picture is a self-portrait or Tori Amos. She wasn’t exactly distant comparison. It was one of the few pieces I found, and I downloaded it immediately.
Now that I knew how many stacks I had and how many blocks I could make, I sent the mother a draft layout. We worked and switched a couple of color sections, and then I got the green light to start cutting.
One of the first ones I did was red. I’d been told she loved red; it was her favorite color. So it seemed natural to begin here. After that, I got better at my blocks and was able to knock out the other seven faster than I anticipated.
A close up of the pink square.
After that, I enlarged the artwork and used two pieces of fabric paper to print it out. It was still smaller than I needed, so I added a red border to make it the same size as the other panels and began piecing the top together.
I added the shadow boxes and was happy to see them coming together. It wasn’t long before I was able to send her a picture of the completed top.
Now the next challenge was with the quilting. I thought long and hard about doing a simple stipple pattern, but then I had another idea. I decided to revive the circle-swirl quilting pattern because I wanted to add some whimsy to it. I also didn’t want to distract from the clothing panels, so I kept the main part of the quilting to the white area. I used the dreaded “invisible thread” to reinforce the clothing panels and make sure they didn’t shift or bubble up. (Imagine trying to sew with fishing line and you’ll understand why this kind of thread is a last resort.)
We went back and forth on the backing and finally settled on a black, white, and red pattern. From there, I had to complete the last element – but maybe the most important. I had to make the label. That took some thinking because I didn’t want it to be a let down. I remembered that the mother was happy I’d chosen to focus on colors because her daughter’s memorial service featured a homily from a friend who described her in terms of color. I loved it and was startled because, as said before, I wasn’t at the actual service. I was in the nursery.
Keeping that in mind, I asked for a copy of the friend’s homily. I used phrases and created a label based on that. Now the lady’s sister deals in graphics, so she worked her magic and made my original label look far better.
I printed the label on fabric and sewed it to the back corner.
This quilt was a long journey, filled with emotion. But it was also filled with creativity and pushed me to new limits. In many ways, the artist from whom it was made inspired it, and I feel like she had a hand in its making. In the end, it was and remains an honor to have been tasked with making this. It is one of my favorite and proudest works.
Related Blogs and Posts – these are different memory quilts:
This quilt is made from a pattern called Seattle Streets. I found it online at the Caritas Quilts blog. A friend’s daughter was married, and for the wedding reception, they had all these different green and neutral combinations. I have used the Seattle Streets pattern for other projects as well, and I used it to make a quilt for my son and a quilt for my friend’s baby. I like it, and it’s a great pattern when you have a lot of fabric to showcase, especially fabric with little patterns.
The pattern itself does take time, but it isn’t nearly the amount of time that it looks like it takes. The tutorial is excellent! The secret I learned the hard way, and you can see it in the featured picture, is to remember to “square up” your blocks as this pattern can curve easily. I forgot to do this, and with anything bigger than a baby blanket it shows a LOT.
To quilt it, I decided that swirls would balance out all the blocks and such.
I used it again on my friend’s baby quilt – using a pink line between the fabric instead of the black.
A Seattle Streets baby quilt for a friend.
The first time I used this was for my son’s quilt. I loved the fabrics I’d bought and wanted something that would look like stained glass. This did the trick perfectly.
One day I’m going to make one of these bad boys using batiks!
Confession time: I am afraid of triangles. Specifically, I’m afraid of using triangles in quilt tops. My past experiences with them have been less than pleasant and have included prying stuck corners out of my sewing machine feed, cutting-trimming-recutting, and getting aggravated because my corners didn’t line up. It’s been a long time since I’ve even bothered to try them. I’ve done paper piecing plenty, and I had resigned myself to that being the only way a dreaded triangle will ever enter my work. However, I love a challenge and hate being defeated, especially by my own self. So I decided recently to give the half-square triangle (referred to in quilting lingo as “HST”) another go. Luckily, I stumbled upon this little tutorial. It was perfect! No cloth corners getting stuck, and the angles were assured!
After testing it out and making one lap quilt and some test squares, I decided to use one of my pre-made kits and go for it.
That green and gold pinwheel is so much more than just a square. It’s a refusal to be defeated!
I found a cute unicorn fabric in the remnants bin at JoAnn’s a while back, and I thought it would be cute with some pinwheels. It was at this point I decided to make the absolute, most over-the-top girly girl lap quilt impossible could! I made pink and green pinwheels, and I used light pink sparkly fabric for the borders.
When I went to look at the fabric for backing, I thought I might find a cute flannel, but I saw something I thought was much better. I ended up picking a bright pink flannel-backed satin, and it’ll be added warmth as well as a nice, sleek feel.
For quilting, I decided to forego my default “loops and swirls” and add another layer of “girly”. I drew a meandering pattern of hearts, stars, and flowers all over. The end result was rather cute.
This is the last episode to compliment episodes 1, 2, and 3. Thanks for sticking with me!
At this point, both the Luke and Darth Vader quilt and the Rey and Kylo Ren quilt were ready for my mid-arm quilting machine. On the original one I made, I had quilted a very close pattern because of the different fabrics I’d used. The quilt has a nice “hand” (the weight and how it hangs) and works wonderfully, so I decided to keep a good thing going.
You can see here the details and tight horizontal swirls pattern I used.
On the original quilt, my son chose the backing and picked a blue mottled stars and sky fabric. It looked awesome but was among the more expensive fabrics. For these, I went with a simple black to help tie together the silhouettes themselves to the overall look of the quilt. With so many blue variations, the black was needed. I also liked how you could see the impressions of the characters on the back.
Here are the final results.
I had originally wanted to wait and begin selling these at my next craft show, but I decided to go ahead and place them on Etsy.
With Luke and Darth Vader taken care of, it was now time for Rey and Kylo Ren. They presented a unique challenge because, while there were lots of images from which to choose, I couldn’t find many that translated into a silhouette well. One would have a good profile, but the body wasn’t in a good position; another would be missing the feet but everything else was perfect. In the end, I picked a couple of pictures where everything was right except the head, and I imposed a different picture’s head onto it, adjusting for size, etc. I really wanted Rey’s specific hairdo included, and I did NOT want a silhouette of Kylo Ren’s hood up.
Just like the other one, I traced the images from a projector onto paper, and then I traced them again onto the Pellon 805 fusible interfacing.
These figures had a lot more detail than Luke and Darth Vader, and they took longer to cut out. Not to mention Kylo Ren’s interfacing did NOT want to peel off properly.
If you look carefully, you can see where I’ve used a lot of pins on Kylo Ren. I decided Kylo Ren in fabric form was just as aggravating as Kylo Ren in the cinema form. *But we all love and adore Adam Driver in this house!
After this, there’s lots of ironing and sewing with the zigzag stitch as I attached them to the blue strip background. Somewhere in here I added lightsabers and had a needle break on my sewing machine. A piece of it flew towards my eye, and I’m grateful for such trivial things as eyelids. Mine worked just as it ought and kept my actual eye from being hit. Yikes!
Almost there! Stay tuned tomorrow for the final episode.
After sewing all the strips together for two twin-sized quilts, I had to get to work on the silhouettes. The Luke and Darth Vader ones were easy because I still had the silhouettes from the original quilt.
The key to making these quilts is to use the 805 Pellon fusible web interfacing. I traced the images onto the interfacing, pinned them to the quilt, and then I ironed away.
It’s strange. When the 805 works like it’s supposed to and peels off properly, you get fabric with an entire side of glue that’s ready to be ironed onto another piece of fabric. For these, some of the spots worked correctly, but I had a lot of areas that simply didn’t want to cooperate. This is where I had to go back and pin again. The fusible interfacing to there to ensure everything stays put and doesn’t shift while being sewn down.
The next step was the cut out the figures.
I like to use gray for the lightsaber handle and satin for the lightsaber blades. I had considered several other options before settling on satin, including glow-in-the-dark fabric. But I couldn’t resist the sheen of the satin and liked how it “popped”. I ironed the lightsabers on right after the figures were situated.
I used the close-set zigzag stitch and my duel-feed foot to trace around my figures and make sure they were secure. After Luke and Darth Vader were ready, I moved on to my newer silhouettes: Rey and Kylo Ren.