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 quilt was made as a surprise for a friend expecting her first child, a daughter. This friend is a dedicated Disney aficionado, and I knew right away I wanted to do something related to Disney. But focusing on one princess seemed…inaccurate. This friend loved all things Disney, so I decided to go for several at once. I sent her a message asking who were her favorite Disney princesses, and she replied back with several. To her credit, she had to have known I was up to something but didn’t ask any more questions despite my strange messages to her.
I’d seen on Pinterest a quilt with a little boy silhouette holding balloons, and I remembered the balloons being a big part of that Disney World experience. I decided to go that route. I purchased several pink fat quarters and made the balloon shapes. That step was easy enough. The girl and princess silhouettes took some more thought.
I looked around at a LOT of little girl silhouettes before settling in on this one. In the end, I picked this one because you could see the cute, wispy pig tails, and it made me think of some spunky girls I’ve known, but you could also tell she was wearing a pretty fluffy and fancy dress. I liked the balance in there and felt that any daughter my friend had would have a similar dynamic.
The princess profiles were easy to find, but they didn’t want to translate to fabric all that well. To be honest, there were a couple of points where I thought the girl was just going to have to hold regular balloons sans princess. It was the lips and chin that didn’t want to work with the fabric and sewing machine, and in the end I took another friend’s advice and simply smoothed out the lips and chin, letting the hair, brow, and nose do most of the defining. For the most part it worked. If you look closely, you can see another princess added in for Daddy – Disney’s newest acquired princess – Leia Organa.
Funny enough, one part I was having to focus pretty hard on was the strings. I couldn’t, of course, have real strings hanging loose. That wouldn’t be very durable, and this quilt was for a baby, making them a safety hazard. So I decided to use an extra wide stitch and keep it simple. I wanted to make sure the strings looked natural and relaxed like they can with actual balloons. I was relieved when they turned out well.
This quilt was a first for me in another technique as well. I used a pink bobbin and black top thread while quilting the silhouette. The backing was such a pretty pink that anything distracting from it would have been a shame, but the black silhouette also needed to stay clean, so I held my breath and gave it a go. I was so thrilled when I realized I didn’t have to chose between ruining my top or backing!
After all that I quilted it together with a small stipple pattern. I’m happy to report that the quilt gets regular use!
The first thing you need to know about my brother-in-law is that he is a fantastic fellow. The second thing you need to know is that he is a paramedic (and former firefighter). The third thing you need to know is that he is incredibly tall. If I’m correct, I think he’s around 6’7″. So when he wanted to know if I would make him an extra long quilt for his bed at the station, I agreed.
He asked for a Star of Life pattern which meant only one thing – reverse applique. I’d never done it before, but that didn’t matter too much. It was a quick study with the help of a projector. I simply traced it on to the blue fabric, cut out the snake design, placed white fabric behind it, and then I used a close-set zig zag stitch to bring it all together.
One unexpected perk of this quilt was my choice to use a white fabric with a nice sheen for the white base. I don’t remember why I had that huge cut of satin(?), but I decided to use it up for this quilt. My sister ordered some ambulance fabric that wasn’t too cutesy and had it sent to me. I used that fabric to add length to the quilt, especially as it needed to be extra long to suit my extra tall brother-in-law.
The next detail is my favorite. I added a red border to make sure it had a nice hang on the sides, and somewhere in there I thought about quilting in a heartbeat pattern in the red border! I had to make sure my research was solid on this because the last thing I wanted to do was quilt in a cardiac arrest into this man’s quilt. The rhythm ended up being easy enough, and I loved how it turned out.
My brother-in-law is very tall, so this had to be extra long.
I quilted a heartbeat in the borders! I had to do research to make sure I didn’t accidentally quilt a heart attack instead.
I used reverse applique and loved how the Star of Life turned out.
When I found out our beloved organist and music director was retiring, I immediately tried to figure out how to honor him with a quilt. I did some searching around and landed on this jewel from the Soar Above blog. It was perfect! I simplified it in some ways and lightened up the fabric because I wanted members to be able to write messages to him. This also meant mostly quilting in the ditch.
I have a BA in music, so the details on this were very important to me. I went that mile and made sure the keyboard was accurate in regards to the key placement. I also got our lead choir member to help, and together we took pictures of his organ setup, including his actual hymnals, his clock, glasses, duster, and his shoes. I printed those pictures out on fabric and appliqued them onto the organ setup.
On his last Sunday, I presented it to him in front of the church, and his reaction is one that I’m mighty proud to have on film.
I used more blue on the back (in case it was needed for more messages) as well as basic music fabric. It was hard to find music fabric that wasn’t cutesy, but I did! I like the contrast of the differing wood panels.