If you’re gonna make a t-shirt quilt…

by Weeks on 12/08/2007

in Green Crafting, Quilting, Whip Up Tutorials

GDTshirt quilt

make it as fantastic as this one. A few years ago I got a tearful call from a friend of a friend who announced that she had a “quilting emergency.” Her brother had been a fan of the Grateful Dead (an American musical group that toured for 30 yrs) and had made his living tie-dyeing t-shirts, which he sold at Grateful Dead concerts. He had died unexpectedly at a young age leaving behind three small children. His sister had volunteered to take his hand-dyed shirts and make a t-shirt quilt for his children but she had never made a quilt before.

She asked us for design advice, technical assistance and the use of our long-arm quilting machine so the finished quilt would be sturdy. The woman and her mother took turns lovingly and tearfully quilting it on our machine and we were so glad to put our technical skills and machine to use for such a wonderful project.

That’s the thing about t-shirt quilts. If they’re made with really fun, sturdy t-shirts in a simple design, they bring back wonderful memories and are soft and comfy. The problem is that many t-shirt quilts are made with tattered t-shirts with crumbling silkscreens and aren’t worthy of the time that goes into them. The quilt is only as nice as the t-shirts that they’re made from. The other real success in this quilt is the design–there’s no sashing that frames each of the quilts in a box so the composition is much more dynamic than most t-shirt quilts that are laid out in a grid.

Below are some links to resources for making t-shirt quilts.

HGTV’s Simply Quilts t-shirt quilt instructions

PSHQuilts basic t-shirt quilts instructions

The technical advice is good but I’d simplify the design more. Eliminate the sashing, carefully crop the images on the shirts and use a very lightweight fusible interfacing. Try to play around with the sizes and proportion of the blocks and don’t try to add any pieced quilt blocks or large-scale fabrics in there. They will be too visually distracting. If for some reason you need to use other fabric, try a solid that will keep the focus on the graphics in the t-shirts not a busy pattern on the background fabric. It’s all about the memories of the t-shirts–everything else is a mere distraction. I knew that the Grateful Dead quilt was perfect when I realized that by just looking at the quilt made from man’s t-shirts I immediately felt as though I knew him, even though we never met. That’s one amazing quilt.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diane August 12, 2007 at 8:46 pm

Like, wow, man, that is one groovy quilt! Fantastic composition and what a wonderful gift.


2 kt August 13, 2007 at 12:08 pm

This is absolutely stunning. It’s a wonderful quilt, beautifully put together, and the help and kindness and love that went into making it are asolutely the heart and soul of what the Dead meant to so many people, myself included.

Thanks for sharing with us, and know that we are sending all love and peaceful wishes to the family of this young man.


3 Denise Reed August 14, 2007 at 3:21 am

What great quilt, the images all seem to vibe together. It is inspirational, for its sense of “being” in relationship to the band and their musical influence.


4 pippi August 14, 2007 at 7:15 am

Absolutely beautiful.
Ditto on what KT said above!

Holding this young man’s & his family in the light.


5 Kym August 24, 2007 at 9:22 am

Holy Smokes, that is the most awesome quilt I have ever seen. My husband and I went to see the Dead sans Jerry on our hunny moon 3 years ago


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