How to recycle t-shirts to make a memory quilt


This will be a short tutorial as there really isn’t too much involved in making a memory t-shirt quilt. I mean, what’s to explain? Cut up old t-shirt fronts and sew them together, right? Wrong. There are some helpful things I learned along the way that I wanted to share just in case you want to try making this great gift for a college bound son (like in my case) or someone who’s getting married or even as a baby gift. All you need are some t-shirts, lots of memories, and lots of love.

I started making this quilt a long time ago in my head – like when I initially bought these t-shirts for my son. Since then, whenever they got too old or raggedy, I’d secretly put them aside for a quilt I’d make some day. Sometimes he’d want to donate a t-shirt – like the t-shirts he bought from various college tours – and I’d stash the ones I thought would make a nice addition to the quilt. You’d be amazed at how many t-shirts teenagers can accumulate and how many get discarded, donated or otherwise. I don’t know the general statistics but my own kid just cleaned out his drawers while packing for college and came up with more than 16 t-shirts he didn’t want to wear any more. So, excitedly, I started making the quilt three days ago. This was also a perfect therapy for my dealing with him leaving for college – keep myself busy from being sad and give him something he’d remember that I made.

Memory quilts are so endearing to make as you know he loved wearing all those shirts. The neckline might be old and the hem might be fraying but if the graphics are still good, they will be fine for the quilt. I collected the shirts that can be cut up in 16″ squares but the size is up to your preference. You can choose the colors you want to – blues or reds – mine was mostly reds and blacks. Some shirts had graphics front and back so I was able to use both sides.

I used his old fitted sheet that was perfect as a border and the fact that it was striped, it helped tremendously as I can’t cut straight for the life of me.

So here is a list of what you need.

Materials Needed:

  • T-shirt panels – Fifteen (15)  16″ square panels OR however many you like. This size made big enough for a Twin XL, dorm mattress size quilt.
  • Fusible lightweight interfacing (where to  buy) – to make the panels stiff enough not to make it stretch while sewing and to give some weight to the quilt.
  • #70/9  sewing machine needle (this is what I bought) – this is very important — you need a needle thin enough for jersey so as not to make holes in them when you sew.
  • All purpose cotton thread
  • Back panel fabric of your choice –  I used unbleached organic cotton flannel but you can use anything you want. If I didn’t have this fabric, I was going to use a flat sheet.
  • Border Fabric (optional) – I had an old fitted sheet that had matching colors as the shirts so I cut up 4″ wide strips to be used as the border. You can skip this step if you just want t-shirts in the front. But border gives a little bit of a shape to the quilt.


  • Cut all the t-shirt fronts into 16″ square panels.
  • Cut fusible interfacing into 17″ square panels. They should be a little bit larger than the t-shirts and you can trim the excess later.

Fused t-shirt front with the interfacing

  • Iron the interfacing on to the back of the t-shirt panels.
  • Arrange the panels in the order that you want. For this quilt of 55″x80″, I used 15 panels in 3 across and 5 rows, with a border all around the quilt.
  • Quilt the panels together in any order you want. I sewed one row at a time and then, added the next row and so on. For a safe measure, I then, ironed the seams and sewed a double stitch just to make sure that seams do not come undone. Who knows how the blanket would be handled in his dorm? I wanted to make sure that it was tear proof – if there was a such a thing.

So, when he’s snuggled up in his room with the blanket, he’ll remember the good old times he had while wearing those shirts (or when he bought them) and hopefully he’ll remember how I loved making it for him.

Memory T-shirt Quilt

Congratulations on starting your new life as a college co-ed, “A”!

Remember, you are who you are today because of who you were yesterday.

UPDATE – July 2013

It looks like I’ve created a trend. I made this Senior Class Quilt as my daughter’s graduating class’ gift to the school. It’s made with 55 t-shirt/sweatshirt squares that her classmates signed. It was an amazing team work and heart felt gift to her school that she loved.

class quilt tutorial by ecokaren

Check out the detailed instructions HERE.

UPDATE – July 2011

My friend’s daughter is leaving for college in a few weeks. I wanted to make her a quilt too since “A” loved this quilt so much. But being that she’s a girl, she didn’t have this many t-shirts that I can make a quilt like this with. Also, she had a favorite pair of jeans that her mom wanted to include in the quilt. A pair of jeans???? Yup. I added that too, using the appliqué method. You can read the tutorial at Crafting a Green World. These are two different versions.

appliqued quilt

NOTE: The information in this post is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Dr. Karen disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information. Opinions and statements on this website have not been evaluated by the Food & Drug Administration. The information is for general consumer understanding and education, and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice and it is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. I am not your doctor and you should consult with a qualified health care professional on any matter relating to their health and well being on one-on-one basis with thorough physical examination. Dr. Karen encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional. Products Dr. Karen recommends and their properties have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. The products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. If you are pregnant, nursing, taking medication, or have a medical condition, consult your physician before using the products. For more info, visit the Disclaimer page.

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  1. says

    Lovely Tutorial!! I’ve been wanting to make one will all of my old concert tees for years, and your instructions are so easy.

  2. says

    It looks great! And really cozy and… just perfect for someone heading off to college.
    So… you didn’t use batting, right? That is something I hadn’t thought of, but I like the idea. Thanks for linking to me!

  3. says

    Awesome tutorial and superb tip on the needle. (I’ll be hunting one of those down.) Have fun and study hard Andrew. We know you’ll make your family proud. Hugs to you Karen and know we look up to you for many reasons (especially for being a great mom)!

  4. says

    Thank you for your comments. It was a mad dash to finish it at the end but it was so worth it. Surprisingly, it kinda looked drab on in his dorm room bed but after spending the first night in his room, he said it was great. Maybe he was just being nice but I’d like to believe he liked the quit. :)

  5. Karyn S. says

    I’m really new to this whole sewing thing – in fact I don’t even own a sewing machine, and I was wondering if there was any way I could sew together a memory quilt before I have a sewing machine. Any advice appreciated.

  6. says

    Your tip to use interfacing was the best bit of advice!!  I just finished my t-shirt quilt (also my first quilting project ever) and the interfacing made all the difference.

  7. says

    glitterrs Oh, that’s awesome! So glad it helped! Wish I can see the quilt! I’m sure it’s beautiful! Thx for reading and leaving me your comment. I always like to know if my tutorials are easy to follow or if it’s helpful.

  8. says

    You can have a glance at, but it was quite hard to get the whole thing in one shot!