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An Upcycled Quilt: How to Make a Quilt Using Shirts, Pants, and a Sheet

Updated on June 30, 2014

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is taking materials you would have thrown away and using them to make something new. It's a great way to save money and save the environment.

The Upcycled Quilt

Quilting is a lot of fun, but it can also be very time consuming and expensive. From picking out your fabrics to preparing your binding, quilting is a time commitment. People don't always have that kind of time. Not to mention the cost of buying the material for the quilt can sometimes be a little overwhelming.

This method of quilting is different. You don't have to spend hours at the local quilting shop choosing out fabric, patterns, etc. You don't have to spend hours cutting out little intricate shapes and then sewing them all together. You don't have to spend hours quilting the quilt or pay big money to get it quilted. Finally, you don't have to spend a lot of money! For this quilt I spent a grand total of $35.

The concept of an upcycled quilt is straightforward. It is taking old clothes or material and using them to make a brand new quilt. This quilt was used making old shirts that weren't worth donating to Goodwill, very holey pants, and an old sheet. I didn't buy a single scrap of fabric for this quilt.

What Will I Learn?

  • T-shirt quilt making techniques
  • Assembling the quilt top
  • Sandwiching the quilt
  • Tying the quilt
  • Binding the quilt using the backing
  • Other random tips and suggestions

A Beginner's Quilt

This quilt is perfect for the beginner quilter. By creating this quilt, you will learn simple processes such as how to assemble the quilt, how to sandwich the quilt, and how to bind the quilt. Not to mention you will learn some of the tricks I have learned as I have quilted, made mistakes, and come up with ideas on how to avoid making those mistakes.

Materials You Need

The first step to making any quilt is to get the materials. For this quilt you will need the following:

  • T-shirts, pants, jeans, etc. for quilt top
  • Sheet or tablecloth for backing
  • Batting
  • Fusible interfacing (if wanted/needed)
  • Thread
  • Yarn
  • Large needle for tying the quilt
  • Something to measure and cut with

Getting a shirt ready to quilt

How to cut material for a quilt

Step 1: Cut It Up!

Once you have gathered all of your materials, it is time to start! That means it's time to start cutting. I'm not going to go into too much detail on this step. Check out the videos on the right to see how to get the shirt ready to quilt and the basic technique for rotary cutting. One note about the shirts, the lady in the video shows you an example using a button up shirt. The same process can be used for a t-shirt, you just don't have to worry about the buttons, collar, etc. Also, if you have some fun blouses or camisoles (like I did) then you will probably have to do a little improvisation. Don't be scared of that! Embrace it! If it is your first time, maybe save those for last. They probably won't seem so intimidating after you cut up a ton of other shirts first.

For this quilt, I cut a total of 54 squares. I'm not sure how many shirts and pants I cut up in total as I forgot to count. Looking at my finished quilt I would guesstimate 11 shirts along with two pairs of cargo pants, two or three pairs of khaki pants, and one pair of jeans. With the cargo pants, I tried to maintain as many of the pockets as possible (you know, the huge ones that are the most notable feature of cargo pants). I thought it would give a fun look to my quilt (which it did). I also kept one of the back pockets from the jeans and also cut a square so that it would include on of the side seams of the jeans. The shirts I did fairly straightforward, except for one which was a blouse with a cute empire waste. It broke my heart to recycle it, so I wanted to have my favorite part about the top maintained - the empire waste. I wasn't sure if it would work, but I went for it and it did! Now it looks really fun and cute to have that waist in the quilt.

To cut the shirts and pants, I went very simple. I decided to just do large, square blocks. I used a 9 1/2" square ruler to cut my squares (this made cutting all that much easier). Because of the odd shapes of the shirts, I was able to get about 2-3 squares out of each one. By the way, the dress shirts were usually a men's medium and the t-shirts a woman's medium and small. Anything that was left over, I have saved for a future quilting endeavor. While I can't cut any more 9 1/2" squares from them, I can cut smaller squares.

Once I had my squares cut, it was then time to attach the fusible interfacing.


To Interface or Not To Interface?

The next step, adding fusible interfacing, is optional. Interfacing adds stability to stretchy material, like the material from t-shirts and blouses. This makes it a lot easier to sew and, also, give the finished product a cleaner look.

I highly recommend this step, especially is you are a beginner. If you are only using dress shirts, you don't really need the interfacing. I still used the interfacing with the dress shirts because I was also sewing with denim and thought that the interfacing would help decrease the difference in material between the light cotton and the heavy denim. However, it is your choice.

When buying the interfacing, you have three choices:

  1. Buy it buy the yard
    - Advantage: You can control how much you buy.
    - Disadvantage: You can to do the math to figure out how much you have to buy.
  2. Buy a package of it
    - Advantage: It's already cut. You can just grab it and go.
    - Disadvantage: It might not be enough.
  3. Buy the T-Shirt Project Fusible Interfacing
    - Advantage: It is enough interfacing for a twin-sized quilt so you don't have to wonder if it's enough.
    - Disadvantage: You'll probably have some leftover.

It's up to you to decide what you're comfortable with and what you'd rather do. I decided to go with option 3, primarily because I didn't want to have to do the math or risk running out. The instructions that come with the interfacing are fairly straightforward, however, I ended up modifying the process a little because of the way I was doing the quilt.

1: Cut the interfacing
1: Cut the interfacing
2 part 1: Lay down the material
2 part 1: Lay down the material
2 part 2: Lay down the interfacing
2 part 2: Lay down the interfacing
3: Lay down the pressing cloth
3: Lay down the pressing cloth
4: Iron on the interfacing
4: Iron on the interfacing
5: Done and done!
5: Done and done!

Step 2: Add the interfacing

To fuse the interfacing to the material you will need the interfacing, an iron and ironing board, and a pressing cloth (I used a piece of flannel material I had). Once you have this all together you are ready. Following are the instructions for this step:

1. Cut 9 1/2" squares from the interfacing or whatever size matches the squares you want interfaced. I counted how many squares of material that I wanted to use with the interfacing and then cut that many squares of interfacing.

2. Lay your fabric wrong side up and the ironing board. Then place the interfacing bumpy side down on the material.

3. Get your pressing cloth damp. I had a small bowl of water off to the side to help me keep the cloth damp. Lay the damp cloth on top of the interfacing.

4. With your iron on the specified temperature on the instructions, place it on top of the damp cloth. Let it sit there for about 10 seconds. Then slowly work your way around the square, overlapping a little as you go to make sure that you are fusing every part of the square.

5. When you are done, double check to make sure that all the pieces of the interfacing are fused to the material. Now you have finished one block!

Organize first!
Organize first!
Then lay them out!
Then lay them out!

Step 3: Laying out the quilt top

This is probably one of my favorite steps in the whole process. You have the small pieces of the puzzle. Now it is time to put them altogether so that you can see the whole, amazing picture. The following instructions are based on how I think and work. If you have a method that works better for you, then you should do that! Remember, there is more than one way to skin a cat! (Not my favorite phrase, but appropriate for the situation).

1. Organize your squares. I did this according to shade (mostly). You can see that I have it organized roughly into 11 piles. I had the different shades and whether or not the square had a pocket on it or not. I did end up combining all of the khaki into one pile and all of the denim into another.

2. Lay them out. You can see that I have the sheet or backing on the floor. You do not need to do this. I had it laid out so that I could make sure that the quilt top would fit the backing. It also gave a nice surface to work on rather than just the carpet. The basic method I used was alternating a khaki/denim square with one of the shirt squares. I tried my best to not lump colors together, but as you can see I wasn't always very successful. I recommend doing this when you have time to look at it carefully. I was on a time crunch. My little boy was napping and I wanted to have this done before he woke up.

3. Pin them together. As I pinned the rows, I "folded" them up and stacked them in order. Something I tried this time (and it worked wonders) was to choose a side of the quilt (I chose the left side of the quilt) and pin a safety pin on the furthest block. When I was done all the blocks in the far left column had a safety pin. I did this as a reference point. That way, when I went to the sewing machine, I wouldn't get mixed up and accidentally sew the rows together wrong. I have done that before and, personally, I hate ripping seams.

Now you are ready to head to the sewing machine!

1. Sew 1/4" seams
1. Sew 1/4" seams
2. Iron!
2. Iron!
3. Nest those seams!
3. Nest those seams!

Step 4: Sew the quilt top

This is a step that I find to be a little tedious, but it is so important for the final outcome of the quilt so the details are vital!

1. Starting with your first row, sew the blocks together using a 1/4" seam. I use my guide foot as a reference. Measure from your needle and determine where a 1/4" falls on your sewing machine and then use that as a reference. Continue sewing row by row until you are finished.

2. Iron out your rows. First you want to set the seams by ironing the seams. Once you have done that, iron the seams all one direction, alternating which direction with each row. This will help when you sew the rows together. This is another time when those safety pins came in handy. With one row I would iron all of the seams away from the safety pin, with the next row I would iron all of the seams toward the safety pin. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to iron at this point. Taking the time and ironing now will save you from a lot of frustration later on.

3. Pine and sew your rows together. I do pin my rows together, but only about one pin per square. When I start pinning, I check to make sure that the edges match up. If you do this, then you can discover any mismatched edges before you start sewing. I have found that if start from the center of my row and work my way out, I am less likely to have mismatched edges. This is when the direction of the seams becomes important. Once you have pinned your rows together, then you can begin to sew. When you sew your row together you want to make sure and nest your seams. Look at the picture on the right and check out the video. This really is important for the final appearance of the quilt. It is what helps make the corners look so pretty and precise.

4. Iron, iron, iron. Once you have finished sewing the rows together, then it is time to iron those new seams. After I iron the new seams, I then turn the quilt over and give it one last ironing.

See the batting and the pins?
See the batting and the pins?
Secure those corners!
Secure those corners!

Step 5: Assemble the quilt

One note before I continue, a normal quilt sandwich will have you lay out the backing, then the batting, then the quilt top. I did that slightly differently because of the way I am finishing the quilt. I will go into more detail later, but I wanted to give you a heads up before I continue.

1. Lay out the batting. Do your best to smooth out any wrinkles.

2. Lay the quilt top on the batting. Because of the size of the batting and the size of the quilt top, this can be a little tricky. What I recommend is rolling up your quilt, lay it at the top of the batting, and slowly unroll your quilt top. As I unrolled the quilt top, I would smooth out any wrinkles that might have appeared in the batting.

3. Pin the quilt top to the batting. The general rule is that you want to pin it fist width apart. However, since I am tying the quilt I didn't think that would be necessary. I simply pinned it a few times each row. Again, I would recommend starting at the top and, as you pin, make sure that the batting is smooth beneath the quilt top.

4. Trim the batting. Now you can trim off all of the excess batting. Cut it so that the batting edges are flesh with the quilt top.

5. Lay out the backing. For my backing I used an old sheet from my husband's bachelor years. It hadn't had much use and I thought it would work perfectly as a quilt backing as it wasn't being used for anything else. A word of caution. They really don't recommend using a sheet as a quilt backing because of the difference in thread count with the quilting material you might be using. This would be more important if you were actually quilting the quilt. Since we are just tying the quilt, this isn't cause for concern. However, it is important to keep in mind. When you lay out the backing, secure the corners some how (I used masking tape). I have also used heavy books or other objects when tape was unavailable. Again, do your best to remove any wrinkles.

6. Lay the quilt top on the backing. I use the exact same process here as I did when I rolled out the quilt top on the batting.

7. Pin the quilt top to the backing. Remember those pins from step 3? Well, simply repin them but be sure and catch the backing into the pin. Be careful if you are doing this on carpet to not accidentally pin the carpet to the quilt (been there, done that, got the t-shirt).

Now you are ready to tie the quilt!

The quilt in the frame.
The quilt in the frame.
This is using the curved needle. It was difficult to use it this way. It was easier to use it as a straight needle.
This is using the curved needle. It was difficult to use it this way. It was easier to use it as a straight needle.
Don't cut the yarn until the row or section is finished
Don't cut the yarn until the row or section is finished
Cut it in the middle
Cut it in the middle
Tie your knot
Tie your knot

Step 6: Tie the quilt

You have a couple of options with tying a quilt. You can either have it spread out on the floor and tie it on your hands and knees or secure it in a quilting frame. If you know of another method I'd love to learn about it! To save my back and knees, I decided to use a quilting frame. I just have a basic PVC pipe quilting frame. It's the perfect size for this kind of project. My instructions are then based on using a quilting frame for this part of the quilt.

1. Place the quilt on the frame. Be sure and center it so that you can work from the center out on the quilt. Even if you are doing this on the floor, be sure and work from the middle out.

2. You do need to decide how you want to tie your quilt. I decided to just tie it on the corners. However, you could tie it in the center of the squares instead or do the centers of the squares and the corners. It is your choice.

3.Thread your needle with the yarn. I used a needle designed for tying quilts. It didn't work as well as I had hoped. In future I will save a few pennies and stick to the large darning needles instead. I did get the cheapest yarn I could. Some people will only work with nice, cotton yarn. However, since this is going to be my family's picnic/beach quilt I decided to not spend the money on nicer yarn. When I thread the needle, I don't cut off a portion of yarn. I leave it attached to the skein. That way I know I won't run out of yarn.

4. Insert your needle and push it through all the layers. Feel underneath the quilt and pull the needle through. Then push the needle back up about 1/4" from where you went in. Pull the thread through. This will be tricky. If you have a tendency towards carpel tunnel syndrome then I recommend using pliers or something similar to help pull the needle through. It puts less strain on your wrist. At this point, you could repeat this process in that same spot to create a more secure tie. I decided not to. Without cutting the yarn, move on to the next spot and repeat. Continue down the whole row or section.

5. Cut and tie. Choose a spot roughly in the center of the yarn and cut. Do this for all of the yarn in the section you just tied. Then, do a square knot or whatever know you want to do to secure the yarn. Just make sure that it is secure. Once it is knotted, you can trim the yarn to the length you prefer. I ended up trimming it so that they were about 2" long.

6. Continue until done.

Measure 2"
Measure 2"
Trim the backing
Trim the backing
Fold up in half once, then in half again. Press and pin.
Fold up in half once, then in half again. Press and pin.
Sew it up!
Sew it up!
Nothing fancy at the corners. Just make sure that you sew one or two stitches over the edge of the material.
Nothing fancy at the corners. Just make sure that you sew one or two stitches over the edge of the material.

Step 7: Bind the quilt

This is something new that I tried because I didn't want to have to go to the hassle of cutting out the binding, sewing it, and then attaching it. This next step probably saved me a couple hours of work, if not more. I simply used the backing to bind the quilt. It is easy and quick. I was able to complete it from start to finish in about 1 1/2 hours.

1. Trim the backing. Now that your quilt is tied, lay it out on the ground again. Measure about 2" out from your quilt top. Trim your backing so that all that is left is 2" around your quilt. The 2" is based on creating a binding that is 1". I like wide binding so that is how I do it. If you prefer are more narrow binding, simply figure out how wide you want it and double that. That measurement will be how much backing to leave around the edges.

2. Iron and pin the backing/binding. Bring your quilt to your ironing board. Fold the backing edge in half so that the raw edge of the backing is touching the raw edge of the quilt top. Iron and pin. When you get to the corners, follow the process in the pictures below in order to get pretty mitered corners.

3. Sew the binding. Take your quilt to the sewing machine and sew the binding. You want it to be pretty close to the edge. This follows the same process as finishing a quilt on a sewing machine. Just sew straight around the whole quilt.

Take your quilt of the sewing machine and enjoy!

The Mitered Corner

Iron it all the way down the line.
Iron it all the way down the line.
Position the quilt so that the exposed raw edge is towards you. Bring the bottom right corner and bring it up so that it is touching the raw edge of the quilt top. It should form a right triangle. Press
Position the quilt so that the exposed raw edge is towards you. Bring the bottom right corner and bring it up so that it is touching the raw edge of the quilt top. It should form a right triangle. Press
Fold the backing so that the raw edge is touching the raw edge of the quilt top. Press
Fold the backing so that the raw edge is touching the raw edge of the quilt top. Press
Fold up again and press. Now isn't that pretty?
Fold up again and press. Now isn't that pretty?

The Finished Quilt

This was a fun quilt to make. I hope that you are able to take these instructions and create your own fun masterpiece. Don't forget to have fun and to step outside of the box! If you have any comments, please share!


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    • moonlake profile image


      3 years ago from America

      I love quilts made from old clothes. My grandmother always made them and I have two of hers. When she was young this kind of quilt was a necessity for her family. Thanks for sharing your quilt, great hub.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      3 years ago from United States

      Very nice tutorial. I have made a number of quilts and currently have a running project of making my kids T-shirt quilts from old T-shirts they have from school and sports. If anyone has a serger, they can do what I did and it is super, super easy. You just cut 12 inch squares and double them up (usually the front and back of the shirt) then serge them to the next square. One side of the quilt has the serge (which actually looks good) and the other is smooth. What I like best is that I can continually add to the quilt. Just another idea.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      3 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Lea, I love these ideas on how to make a quilt from your own clothes. Voted up for useful!

    • Lea Child profile imageAUTHOR

      Lea Child 

      4 years ago from IOWA CITY

      Thank you for your comments! I hadn't thought of how by using clothes for quilts we are participating in a wonderful aspect of American heritage, but you are right! While I've made other quilts that have made me proud, I feel that this one is different because I bought so very few materials. I was simply trying to use what I already had. I think that just made it that much more fulfilling of a project.

    • itakins profile image


      4 years ago from Irl

      Brilliant -Great instructions and I love the finished quilt-very inspiring hub indeed.

    • VirginiaLynne profile image

      Virginia Kearney 

      4 years ago from United States

      Terrific full instructions. Even a beginner could make a great quilt following your directions. Quilts in the past were always made as "upscaling" clothes that could no longer be worn, so making a quilt like this is also participating in a part of our American heritage. I've made lots of quilts and recently been making T-shirt quilts out of T-shirts that my kids are no longer wearing. These are also memory quilts.

    • Lea Child profile imageAUTHOR

      Lea Child 

      4 years ago from IOWA CITY

      Thank you! It was a fun quilt to make. The same day I finished, we took it to an air show. It was perfect!

    • Apriljax profile image


      4 years ago from Florida

      neat idea!:)


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