T-shirt Quilt- what not to do next time

  Back at the end of January, I went to my friend Jenn’s house and she greeted me with a massive stack of t-shirts and sweatshirts.

Jenn: “I have all these t-shirts I don’t wear but want to keep.  Can you make me a t-shirt quilt out of these?”

Me: “Uh, well, I’ve never made a quilt.  I have barely started sewing again.”

Jenn: “I think you’ll figure it out.”

I did have a vague idea how to make a quilt as I had started looking into making one for my sister’s bridal shower last year.  That never happened.  I got as far as cutting out some rectangles to sew together, but that’s it.  I did make dish towels for each the girls to decorate to give to my sister.  Which, are just a bunch of rectangles with the edges hemmed with the corners nicely folded.  Still a feat for me that required some how-to research and refreshing of my sewing machine knowledge.  It was slightly cheaper than buying a pack of similar towels from the store and seemed more fitting of my sister since she often sews gifts for other people and their bridal showers and such.

This is no tutorial on how to make a quilt or a t-shirt quilt.  There are many websites that offer that information and that is how I figured out how to make mine.  Still, I have a lot of notes on how I made the quilt and pointers I want to record for next time.

  • I measured the maximum width of each shirt logo and then put them in piles by size.  I found that most were about the same or could look just fine if cut to a width of 15″.  With a 1/2″ stitich on either side when connecting to the next piece, this gives me rectangles 14″ wide.  The length of each varied by what suited the image and avoiding cutting into the collar.  Having them all the same width made it easy to put them into columns and arrange into a pleasing display rather than having to keep shifting them around to see how odd sizes would fit together.  The length of the shirts naturally arranged themselves into columns that fit the twin batting landscape wise, rather than portrait wise.  I also just liked how it looked better having more columns.  6 columns X 14″ = 80″   A twin batting is 93″ x 72″ which leaves me with 6.5″ for a border on either side.
  • Sewing with t-shirts and sweatshirts is a bit harder for the novice than using the quilting fabric sold at the big stores since t-shirt and sweatshirt material stretch while the quilting fabric is a stiff cotton.  Also, the print on t-shirts grips to the pressure foot, so you have to push it through rather than think it will just glide through.
  • I washed the batting in the washing machine and it turned out just fine.  I also washed the fabric for the back and borders of the quilt in the machine.  All the t-shirts and such were used and washed, so I did not want it the new fabric to shrink and then pull on the front.  Fail.  My big mistake was that I did not crimp cut the edges of the fabric so that it would not fray.  Lesson learned.
  • Pinning every inch of the way makes a huge difference. As the fabric goes under the pressure foot, the t-shirt fabric stretches and builds up until the next seam, if there is one.  Pinning like crazy keeps this from happening.

  • At least for me, using clear thread on top was awesome since I had big expanses of solid color to go through and any one color would have shown up awkwardly.  The downside of clear thread is that it is more of a plastic then soft thread.  Once the end of thread was released from its locked position on the spool, the thread just sprung away and started unwinding.  Even though it did that, when the machine was going, the thread would not always unwind from the spool evenly and then get very taunt like there was a fish at the end of a fishing line and really pull at the needle.  I think this may be why my needle broke 2x during this process.  I found that unwinding it some helped keep that from happening.
  • The other issue with clear thread is that it did not seem like it would take well to being on the bobbin.  This was a problem for when I wanted to sew down the border on the back and the bobbin thread would show on the top.  I ended up sewing the back using colors of thread I didn’t like (and then I just used whatever was left from other bobbins) so that I could flip it over and resew over the lines with the clear thread in my top thread holder.  While sewing right on the line for some reason did not automatically have the thread on the back side of the quilt to line up right, it still worked and the ugly thread was easy to pick out at the end.

  • My desire to waste nothing should have been curbed because if made life much more difficult later on.  After I had pinned the front and back of the quilt to the batting (next time, use safety pins!  ouch!) the batting that stuck out around the edges was all uneven.  I thought to myself, why waste this extra bit of warmth? and proceeded to fold it into the border.  This made it SUPER thick and was impossible at a few points to get it through the sewing machine.  Also, I spent a lot of time measuring and trying to finagle the border to get around the uneven batting edges.  Had I just trimmed the excess batting to be the same all the way around, I would have saved myself a lot of time and frustration.  (If you make quilts, this is probably a DUH! point)

Despite all these learning as I go mistakes, I am VERY proud and happy with how it came out, as was my friend who ordered it.  Only had to buy the fabric for the back and border (I used blue flannel, nice and soft!), the thread, and sewing machine needles to replace the ones I broke.  And then it just takes time.  I mistakenly thought I’d only need a weekend to make this thing, but I was wrong!  It took many evenings over several months, but it was a fun project and learning adventure.  A good challenge.  And I did send it through the wash before I handed it over, and it held together just fine (phew!) and was super cuddly.  My friend and her husband were thrilled and excitedly pointed out where all the t-shirts came from and the memories they held.  My friend especially loved that I did my first “machine embroidery” attempt (in quotes cause I don’t know if its nice enough to really be considered embroidery) to personalize it with their initials.  I even added a shirt of my own from where we worked together, mainly to give it another pop of pink, but it felt neat to have another piece of me added in.


Seed Collection

A trip to my grandmother reminded me that it was time to start gathering seeds for next season.  I came home with little baggies full of seeds for these nice border flowers, the name of which I have no idea.  I am always humbled when I fail to grow something she gives me since she grows magnificent dahlias and other flowers in this tiny strip of land alongside her building in the middle of Boston.  Year after year her garden flourishes behind its short fence made of old oven racks and refrigerator shelves even as people who walk buy feel entitled to pick her flowers without permission (how rude!).  Maybe cause she uses chemical fertilizers and I don’t does she have a visual advantage, but its still not a good enough excuse when I have much more land and a much younger body to do the work with.  In any case, next year I look forward to pink and yellow flowers framing my lamppost and mailbox.

Today I gathered seeds from the cosmos.  It was accidentally perfect timing as many flowers had died off and only the dry seeds were left on the stem, making them easy to just brush into the bowl:

And then cut some of the heads from the cone flowers. They need to dry a bit more before I get the seeds off:

I am still enjoying the beauty of the zinnias.  I LOVE this flower since it is so stinkin’ easy to grow and makes such a great cut flower.  And they last more than a week, even when cut.  When this bunch of zinnias start to die, I will let them dry and collect their seeds to have a pink collection.  I plan to repeat with red zinnias, yellow, orange, etc.

When I left my grandmother’s, I left with not only flower seeds, but bags and bags of fabric!  As a seamstress and an immigrant, my grandmother would save the leftover fabric from where she worked.  I’m not sure how much of what she made at home was made from these scraps, but she did make much of her 5 children’s clothing as they grew up.  Here’s a sample of the loot:

She’s sorting out a lot of her fabric and thread since she’s getting older and has slowed down with making things.  I’m excited to make something with it and carry on what she started so many years ago.  My grandmother and aunts were laughing that this stuff was vintage since she’s had it stored in her room for possibly decades.  Turns out, they were right!  I found one piece of proof, right on the fabric.  It looks like it gives information on the type of fabric as well as the date May 14, 1963.  Isn’t history awesome?!

Pumpkin Primer

3 1/2 weeks ago, I thought I had a fruitless squash vine taking up all sorts of space in front of my house.  All bloom, no squash.

1 1/2 weeks ago, I discovered we had a pumpkin!

2 days ago, I find my pumpkin is already orange and ready for Fall decorations!   Check out that development!

The problem?

It’s mid-August.  Pumpkins are fall, harvesty things.  Who the heck decorates their home with a pumpkin in August?

Turns out I can make the pumpkin last for weeks by cleaning it in a weak chlorine water solution and the storing it in a cool dry place on a piece of cardboard. (http://www.pumpkinnook.com/growing.htm)  I hope it works.  It also says how I should leave it on the vine for as long as possible, but how long is that?  If all else fails, it looks like I will have plenty of little squash/ gourd things that are climbing all over the big metal trellises.  I thought it was very interesting that the vine basically died to pump the pumpkin full of nutrients (http://www.informeddemocracy.com/pumpkin/growing.html) so that the pumpkin could be a great pumpkin and then pass on its seed.  It’s not a perfect analogy, but it did make me think of when Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine and you are the branches.”  The vine grew up strong and then died so that it could give life to the pumpkin.  🙂

Another problem, with my literal vine and pumpkin, is now the vine is next to dead, leaving a big, empty space in prime, visitor-seeing garden space where all those big. pretty leaves used to be.  Looks wretched out there, doesn’t it?  Maybe I’ll just mulch it and call it a year for this area.  At least the tomato plant that randomly sprouted there (remember that guy?  No?  Neither did I till all the vine leaves wilted.) is making use of the trellis and starting too bloom. I’m still impressed anything grew here.  This is apparently the worst spot in my front yard.

I am interested to try growing corn, beans, and pumpkins together, as one of those websites was saying how they are complimentary plants.  The beans grow up the corn stalks (I knew that part) while the pumpkins sprawl in front of them, creating a weed barrier with those big leaves (did not think of that!).
In other news, more tomatoes are coming in so I made my first batch of spaghetti sauce using only tomatoes from my garden!  Still having blossom end rot problems, but most of the tomatoes have grown enough before getting noticeable spots that they are still useable.  I just cut around them.  I hope we have time soon to make fried green tomatoes.  Mmm!

Growth Explosion!

I left my garden in the care of a friend for two weeks while my hubby-hoo and I went on vacation. I was really glad to have found someone not only willing to plant sit for that long and for that many plants, but to also find someone who was actually excited about getting to garden! Ever since her parents moved to a townhouse, she’s been missing having a garden so this worked out great for the both of us. I told her at minimum, just to water it and keep everything alive.  As we pulled into our driveway and saw our yard, we both exclaimed, “HOLY CRAP!”  Compared to before, it was like a jungle moved in!  A good jungle, mind that!  Now, either it’s just that time of year or she is way better than me at caring for plants because everything had just EXPLODED with growth!   Look at all those flowers and the tomato plants are HUGE and covered with tomatoes!  I only had one cosmos starting to bud when we left, and now this!

By the lampost there were no flowers, now look!  Way to go plant sitter and the month of July!

In the bad news department, we’re still having a problem with blossom end rot.  I plucked a lot of bad tomatoes off, which is always depressing, especially when they account for most of the ones turning red, as well as breaking off a lot of diseased leaves.  It appears the bunnies are still munching away at all my basil and the lemon balm, so I have very little to work with.  The tomato plants in the back have outgrown my old trellis system and need extra support as they are falling everywhere.  Same old problems to work on.

What was new was that mystery plant that sprung up in the front by itself that we then realized was a squash plant, may not be a squash plant after all!  Is that a pumpkin?!?

When we left, we had this big vine just taking over.  I had trellised it to a bamboo teepee, but that wasn’t enough for it, it reached out along the ground as well.  I was getting annoyed with it because it had all these blooms, but I could never see any produce coming from it.  We return two weeks later to THIS!  Maybe I should go away more often!