T-shirt quilts are a great way to preserve your memories without taking up drawer space. When properly constructed, they can last as long as you are interested in having them around. But, if NOT well done, they can look sloppy and fall apart within a few washes.
If you are interested in having a t-shirt quilt made, please do yourself the favor and ask these questions in advance of giving your precious investment to someone you’ve just met. There are VAST differences in what quilters charge, and there is usually a reason (read: you get what you pay for).
1. How long have they been making t-shirt quilts for others? Time and experience are something you can expect to pay for, and believe me, it’s worth every penny. New sewers don’t always have consistent 1/4″ seams, which means you could end up with an opening (hole) in your quilt top. With experience, quilters learn how to ensure their quilts are squared up, lay flat, have straight seams/no tucks and even borders.
2. Does the quilter stabilize all the t-shirts? If they tell you they don’t or only stabilize thin shirts, that is a red flag. ALL shirts should be stabilized, otherwise sewing them together and quilting them will result in puckers in your quilt. If your quilt is large or you just don’t want it too heavy, they can use a light weight stabilizer.
3. Do they cut the panels from the shirts all one size OR do they cut them to ensure the design on the shirts are not trimmed off? This is VERY important to ask! Some quilters will cut 12″ or 14″ squares from each shirt regardless of what size the panel or logo is on the shirt. The result is that some of the important part of your shirt will be missing, while squares with smaller logos will have a lot of blank fabric around them. Quilters that will cut the shirt to only include the pertinent part can fit more shirts into a smaller sized quilt for you, so for those of us that charge by the quilt size, that is a benefit to you. Ensure the quilter does whichever it is that YOU prefer.
4. What is their construction method? Do they simply put the shirts together, or do they put sashing between the shirts? If you desire a different pattern, can they accommodate? Oftentimes a quilter will offer multiple options, but charge more for intricate or more difficult patterns. You may want to ask if they put a border on the quilt as well – it’s a nice frame to finish the top of the quilt.
5. Where do they buy their fabric? There 100% IS a difference in quality of fabrics purchased at places like Walmart, Hobby Lobby and Michaels vs. your local quilt shop. Joann’s offers some good, some not so good fabrics. Lower quality fabric can have flaws, it is generally rougher feeling (because the weave is thinner) and sometimes it is not colorfast (will fade quickly). It also tends to show holes sooner.
6. What type of batting do they use? If they don’t use batting your quilt will feel bumpy, because that soft center to cushion the seams would be missing. And technically it won’t even be a quilt. Again, if you prefer something lightweight, ask for a lighter weight batting. 100% polyester batting is the cheapest, and generally the lightest. Other options include cotton, cotton/poly blend, wool, wool/cotton blend, bamboo as well as a few others.
6. How much quilting is performed and by what method? While quilting on a traditional machine (Bernina, Janome, Singer, Brother are a few brands) works fine, your quilt will have a very professional finish if it has been quilted on a longarm. The MOST IMPORTANT thing to ask is how much stitching they put on the quilt. If they quilt only along the seams of the shirts, your quilt batting will come apart within a few washes (it may take longer depending on the batting type, but it IS inevitable). The point of the quilting is to take pressure off the seams, and to do that, there needs to be sufficient quilting. Also, the spacing is listed on batting packaging – most batting requires quilting at no greater than 6″.
7. How do they bind the quilt? There are different ways to finish a quilt. Some quilters fold the binding over from the back to the front, others apply the binding from a separate piece of fabric. Double fold applied binding is a good strong choice and allows the quilter to ensure the corners are mitered.
8. Will the result be machine washable? Can you put it in the dryer? If it is properly assembled, you should be able to do both.
If you have jerseys, patches or pockets from the shirt front that you would like incorporated, ask. Some quilters will charge extra for those, some will not work with these materials. They can add a nice touch to the quilt though.
Your safest bet is to understand what you want your quilt to look like when it’s finished. You are considering making a big financial investment (beyond already buying all those shirts!), so it is your right to ask questions to ensure you get the result you desire.
I have made t-shirt quilts for people all over the country. I have walked people through the process of making their own, and I have helped many people fix what they started when they got in over their head. A good quilter should at the least, be willing to work with you to give you the result you want, because YOU are the one taking the quilt home.
Expect to pay anywhere from $300-1000 for those that charge by quilt size, and $12-28 per shirt for those that charge by the shirt (those estimates include all labor and materials). Bottom line, remember this: you get what you pay for. Best of luck my friends!