Best Interfacing for T-Shirt Quilts: How to get started for Beginners!

My friend Emma from Dream It Quilt It knows a thing or two about sewing with t-shirts so I asked her to write a guest blog to teach my readers and I about the best interfacing for t-shirt quilts as I have a t-shirt quilt on my bucket list.

Her post is below as well as some info on her T-Shirt Tote Bag Pattern which I tried and loved. It is a great beginner’s ‘dip your toe in the water’ project before you jump straight into that t-shirt quilt.

In fact, making the T-Shirt Tote Bags has given me the confidence to plan my first ever T-Shirt Quilt!

If you scroll to the bottom you’ll also find a YouTube video of me showing Emma the bags I made with her pattern.


Post by Emma Jane Powell, Dream It Quilt It

So you want to make a T-shirt quilt?

What a great way to cuddle up with and in your favorite T-shirts all at the same time!

We keep old T-shirts around because they meant something.

They represent a place or an event we enjoyed, or a saying that perfectly describes YOU.

t-shirt
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

If you’re like me, you just HAVE to do something special with them. Taking up space in a drawer, seldom worn, is just disrespectful. 

When I thought about doing something with my t-shirts though I found I didn’t have enough T-shirts to put into a whole quilt.

Even though I didn’t wear them anymore…I couldn’t dispose of them. I started to envision a tote bag. I fell in love with the idea more and more as it began to take shape in my mind.  I could use the same techniques as a T-Shirt Quilt but on a smaller scale highlighting one t-shirt instead of many.

One glitch: I’m a quilter. That’s it. I don’t do clothes. I don’t use slippery, stretchy fabrics. T-shirts have stretchy fabric which must be prepared properly before guiding through a sewing machine. I had to study up!

I researched the best ways to make T-Shirt Quilts and applied that to my Tote Bag project, so I’ve done the legwork for you.

Whether you want to start small like me with a one t-shirt tote bag or do a whole quilt keep reading and all you have to do next is get started on your T-shirt project.

Why do T-Shirt Quilts need Stabilizer?

I use the term stabilizer where other people say fusible interfacing – but we are talking about the same thing!

Because of the stretchy nature of T-shirt fabric, using stabilizer is essential. Here’s what happens if you don’t: 

  • It doesn’t come out evenly with “regular” cotton fabric when you sew them together. The T-shirt fabric will stretch longer.
  • Whether using the T-shirt in a quilt, a tote, or other sewing project, the stabilizer will keep it from looking warped or saggy in the finished project.

What kind of stabilizer should you use for T-shirt Quilts?

best interfacing for t-shirt quilts
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

The rule of thumb is that the stabilizer should be 100% cotton, just like the fabric, it is adhering to.

You want a natural, lightweight woven cotton stabilizer such as (EZ-TEE or STABILITEE) to name a couple of brands I have used. It should also be fusible on one side.  Thus the term fusible interfacing.

Here are my top brands and some alternatives if you can’t find these:

Alternatives:

Any of these would be a great choice for a t-shirt quilt.

Woven vs Non-Woven Stabilizer

A woven stabilizer next to a synthetic stabilizer will have a visible difference.

You will be able to see the threads in the fabric of the woven stabilizer running horizontally and vertically. It will have a sheer look with a nice drape. A woven stabilizer is most similar to the fabric it fuses to, only thinner.

In contrast, a nonwoven, synthetic fusible stabilizer will have a stiffer feel with an opaque, shiny look.

When ironed onto a T-shirt, it will give a crisper look that will easily crease. It will also have a sheen to it.

There are times when a nonwoven stabilizer is needed. It just depends on what the pattern designer had in mind, so pay attention to what the pattern calls for.

An additional tip to keep in mind: You can iron directly on woven stabilizer as it is a natural fiber. You cannot iron directly on a non-woven synthetic stabilizer, or it will melt to the iron.

If you are using a non-woven stabilizer try using a teflon ironing sheet or a ‘pressing cloth’ (any old piece of fabric that you don’t need) in between your iron and your project.

For both stabilizers, the bumpy side is the fusible side that adheres to the fabric.

How to Use Interfacing on T-Shirts

t-shirt quilt interfacing
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

I’m going to generalize here and you should always read the instructions on the specific stabilizer or interfacing that you buy.

But in general, the process is to turn your t-shirt design side down and put the stabilizer bumpy side down on top, then press with your iron until the stabilizer has fused to the back of the t-shirt.

The packaging for your fusible interfacing will tell you how long to leave your iron in place and how to move it around the t-shirt for best results.

Top Tips for using Interfacing on T-Shirts

Top Tip 1: What to do if it doesn’t fuse

There have been times when my stabilizer has not remained fused to the fabric I’ve adhered it to. In that case, I simply spray a little bit of basting spray, and that does the trick. 

Top Tip 2: Pressing Cloths

using a pressing cloth for t-shirt quilts
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

Do not iron directly on the T-shirt design. You never know if the design will stick to the iron and ruin both the T-shirt and your iron.

Use a pressing cloth (another piece of fabric) over the T-shirt design to iron.

This barrier will allow for effective ironing without a potential mess.

Top Tip 3: Cut Large

When applying a stabilizer to a T-shirt in preparation for a project, I always cut a piece of interfacing slightly larger than the T-shirt.

This ensures I will be able to use as much of the T-shirt as is necessary.

Leftover pieces with a stabilizer fused to it can be saved for another project, or you can pull the stabilizer off and use any leftovers for stuffing in a pet bed, for example. 

Top Tip 4: Sew Stabilizer Side Up

I always sew with the stabilizer side up, and the other fabric underneath.

I’ve found it moves through the machine more evenly this way.

How Much Interfacing do I need for a T-Shirt Quilt?

A good amount of stabilizer (interfacing) for a T-shirt quilt is 10 yards. That sounds like a lot, I know!

This yardage depends on many factors, like the size of the T-shirts used. You may be making a quilt out of child size T-shirts rather than a large adult so that would make a big difference.

It also depends on the size of the quilt you are making.

However, know that the direction of the grain is irrelevant with a stabilizer: meaning you can lay the T-shirts every which way to maximize usage.

Leftover pieces can be used in smaller projects, like pillows or bags. 

How do you make T-Shirt Quilt Blocks?

I recommend applying the stabilizer you are using to the back of each t-shirt before you cut them down to your desired size.

Using a pair of scissors, open up the t-shirts along the seams at the side and along the shoulder seam. Then follow the directions on the stabilizer for each of your t-shirts.

This can be done in bulk with an ironing board in front of the TV!

Most people tend to only use the front of the t-shirt in their quilt top but that is entirely up to you.

My T-Shirt Tote Bag Pattern uses the back of the t-shirts as the back of the bag and there is no reason you can’t use the back in your quilt project as well.

Once you have prepared all your t-shirts you need to decide if you will use sashing and if so what kind?

Do I need sashing?

Sashing is the ‘border’ between the blocks and helps to make your quilt blocks stand out. For a T-shirt quilt, it also gives some stability.

It is fairly common in t-shirt quilts to use regular quilting cotton with a bit of starch as the sashing between t-shirt blocks.

Pick a color that coordinates with your t-shirts and vary the width of the sashing if needed to get a consistent block size.

For example, if you are using different-sized t-shirts or the design on one is much smaller than another you can have a wider or thinner sashing on different blocks to make up the difference in size between your t-shirt blocks and make it easier when it comes time to join your blocks.

If you are not following a pattern, work out your biggest T-Shirt design size and work backward from there.

Plan to add a thin sashing or border to the largest t-shirts and then you just have to add more to the smaller t-shirts.

How Big will my Quilt be?

Once you have figured out how big your block will be do some quick math with the t-shirts you plan to use to make sure the quilt will end up the size you want – and don’t forget the seam allowances in your math!

If you need to stretch a full size quilt up to a queen size quilt, for example, and you don’t have enough t-shirts you can always add wide borders of quilting cotton to make up the difference.

When you have decided on your block size, carefully cut your t-shirts and quilting cotton with a mat and rotary cutter.

How to put your T-Shirt Quilt Together

If you haven’t made a quilt before, the key thing is to make sure all your blocks are the same size before you join them together – that always makes everything easier!

Lay your blocks out somewhere like the floor or a large table to check you like the layout and then start sewing your blocks together in rows and then sew the rows together to make your quilt top.

You’ll need batting for the middle of your ‘quilt sandwich’ and a backing fabric too.

Then it’s just quilting and binding.

If you are new to quilting you can look up videos about how to ‘stitch in the ditch’ or consider using a Long Armer (someone with a big fancy quilting machine that you can pay to quilt your quilts for you) if your project is super sentimental.

T-Shirt Tote Bag Beginner Project

As I mentioned before, I had just a few, like 2-3, T-shirts which were very special to me, and I decided to make a Tote Bag out of them.

This is a great way to practice using stabilizer and build your confidence sewing with what can seam like a scary stretchy fabric!

t-shirt tote bag
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

With a tote, you can feature just one special T-shirt on your bag, or even two – one on the front, and one on the back.

A tote is also something you can use every day, and outside of the home to show it off.

t-shirt tote bag inside
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

I created this functional tote pattern, which also happens to be easy and therefore addicting. (Like, you can’t make just one – I asked Kristen to try the pattern and she made 3! (see her photo below!)

t-shirt tote bags
Photo: Scrap Fabric Love

Not only can I use the main t-shirt design in the making of the bag, but other pieces of the t-shirt can be used in other parts of the bag, like the pockets and the handle accents. 

If you love to upcycle textiles like I do, this pattern allows for other textiles to be added to the mix.

old jeans
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

I’ve used leftover canvas scraps, old blue jeans, and cork pieces for the bag bottom. For the inside lining, old tablecloths are great. 

A variety of upcycled textiles in just one tote can make it extra special.

In one bag I made, I used my husband’s old jeans for the bag bottom, an old linen tablecloth my grandmother gave me as the inside lining (and many other inside linings in other bags), and of course a sentimental T-shirt I just loved. The value of the final scrapped together tote? Priceless.

The best part? It only takes about half a day to make. Once you get the hang of the pattern, you can make a few assembly-line style and knock a bunch out in a day!

I’ve made the pattern with diagrams and photos all along the way, and instructions are broken down into a manageable step-by-step flow. 

I promise it is easier than diving straight into a T-shirt quilt – so get some practice under your belt and try a Tote and then ‘graduate’ to a T-shirt quilt.

BUY the T-Shirt Tote Bag Pattern

VISIT my website where you can find my other patterns as well as links to my online courses that guide you through making a T-Shirt Tote (I do recorded and live/virtual classes!).

Emma Jane Powell T-Shirt Tote Bag
Photo: Emma Jane Powell

MORE about me: I’m Emma Jane Powell, of Dream It Quilt It pattern designs.

I’m most passionate about…preserving the way quilting began…using what you already have.  I love finding new ways to use old textiles, including your own clothes, to reduce textile waste.

I am married with children living in North Carolina. I’ve been continuing a family legacy of quilting and sewing for over 25 years. I love teaching sewists to make projects they love.

YouTube Video of Kristen & Emma Talking T-Shirt Bags

Here is the video of Kristen & Emma talking about the T-Shirt Tote Bags Beginner Project.

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