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How to make a quilt from recycled shirts

In this post I will walk you through the steps I took to make a single sized bed quilt from recycled men’s shirts.

I am very excited to finally be able to share my latest project with you, there will be a “ta da” moment at the end of the post, but I thought I would also share with you how I made my quilt.

A while ago, as a mum of two growing boys, I was pondering on the fact that although there are many beautiful fabrics out there, they are mostly quite girly and the ones that are designed with boys in mind are really aimed at the younger boys market. I wanted to make a quilt that would be striking and beautiful with a masculine feel. I trawled the internet looking for striking but masculine fabrics, I looked in the fabric shops but nothing really hit the mark, I was thinking blues and reds with some stripes and cheques, nothing too fancy. Then one evening I was looking at one of my husbands threadbare shirt collar and I happened on the idea to make a quilt top out of recycled shirts.

A quick trawl of the local charity shops and I came home with a good haul of shirts in the colourway that I liked (blues and reds) and I set about making squares for the quilt top. I made sure I picked mens shirts as there are no darts in the back and chose the biggest sized shirts I could find.

So here is how I went about making my quilt:

First I gathered my equipment:

Sharp fabric scissors

Rotary cutting tool

Cutting board

Ruler/ patchwork template

Shirts (I used 4 large mens sized shirts for this project – the number of shirts will depend on the size of your quilt)

1 piece of fabric for the backing (approx 2m used here – size will be dependent on your final quilt)

1 length of wadding (I used quilter’s dream poly as there is  no need to pre-wash and its fully machine washable once your quilt is made)

Recycling the Shirts

The next step was to set about dismantling the shirts – this is how I went about it:

Recycling the shirtI took a shirt and….

Recycling shirt seams cutWith my sharp fabric scissors, I set about cutting out the front, right next to the side seam, then up round the underarm and then across the shoulder to the collar. So I ended up with this:

Recycled Shirt frontNext I cut off the button band, and used a stitch unpicker to take the pocket off:

recycled shirt button band offYou can still see the pocket intact on this picture so you will have to use your imagination for that one!

Then I set about dismantling the rest of the shirt in the same manner until I ended up with:

recycled shirt pieces cutAs you can see the sleeves still have their side seam here, so that was the next thing to tackle. I cut up the side seam so that the sleeve could be laid out flat.

recycling the shirt sleeve recycled sleeves trimming


Once I had all of my shirt pieces I pressed them so they were completely flat and smooth before cutting out my patchwork squares.

When I cut the squares, I used my long ruler to cut strips:

recycled shirt cutting strips


Apologies for the slightly blurry photo here – the photo was taken on a dark snowy day in December with poor light and I was trying to concentrate on taking the photo with my right hand (I’m left handed!) – you get the idea!

Once my strips were cut, I piled 3 or for strips on top of each other, being careful to line them up neatly and then used my patchwork template to cut the strips into squares:

recycled shirt cutting squares


I kept going until all four shirts were done in this way and this is what I ended up with:

squares ready to go

Four neat little piles of patchwork squares.

The next job was to set about placing the squares. I did this on my north facing living room floor – so again apologies for the photo quality here – the light was very poor.

working out the layout

I wanted a random (ish) pattern, which is harder than you think as I didn’t want any 2 squares the same touching each other so it took a bit of playing around until I was happy – here is my final choice.

I then set about making little piles of my squares in order and  (the most important part) numbering each pile so that I could keep them in the right order when sewing together my strips. I then set about sewing the squares together (using my brand new 1/4 inch seam foot) into strips, and then the strips together to make my quilt top. I haven’t photographed these steps as there are plenty of good tutorials out there to show you how to do this, for example this is a good one from the Diary of a quilter. My top tip is to use post-its with the row number on, and keep this pinned to your top square for each row as you are sewing the squares together, as it is quite easy to forget which square is the left end and which is the right end once you have sewn them together. It is also really useful to have photographed your layout so you can refer back to this if you forget where you are.

Here is a pic of my quilt top partway through the sewing process:

sewing together strips


Once I had sewn my strips, and sewn my strips together I was ready to make my quilt sandwich; this is where the backing fabric, wadding and quilt top are pinned together ready for quilting. I found that my backing fabric was slightly too short initially so I unpicked two rows of my quilt top, and used these to lengthen the back. First I cut the backing fabric into two pieces (roughly two-thirds and one-third) and then I used my two rows of patchwork squares to join the two pieces of backing fabric together. Before assembling the quilt sandwich I made sure everything was nicely pressed.

Making the sandwich was no easy task! I had several attempts at it but struggled with lining up the squares on the back with those on the front of the quilt – everything was slipping about all over the place. In the end I was rescued by masking tape. I used this to tape my backing fabric to the floor, and then the wadding to the backing fabric. I was then able to lay my quilt top on neatly and start pinning. Normally you should start pinning from the centre of the quilt and work your way out, however in this case I started with the area where I had the patchwork strips on the backing and lined them up as neatly as possible then pinning every other square from the centre line, working towards the edges. I then moved gradually down and up from the centre, making sure I smoothed as I went.

Here is what my sandwich looked like (apologies again for the quality of the photo – but you get the idea):

Making the quilt sandwich


The next job was to start quilting. I used my new walking foot for this job as its important to ensure that the top and bottom layers move through the sewing machine at the same rate. First of all I quilted (in the ditch) across the width of the quilt starting in the centre (I rolled up each end to make it easier to fit through the sewing machine as I don’t have a long arm machine. Again, there are lots of tutorials on how to do this online – Diary of a quilter’s tutorial can be found here. After sewing across the width of the quilt I did the same across the length, starting with the centre and working outwards. I had a moment of dread when I looked at the back of the quilt, as my quilted seams didn’t quite match up as I had hoped, but I have to say now the quilt is finished I like the slightly quirky mismatched seams.

Once quilted I set about trimming the backing fabric and wadding. To do this is laid the quilt on the floor and went around the edges with my cutting mat, ruler and rotary cutter and trimmed the edges of the quilt nice and straight. I also wanted to have rounded corners for my quilt so I used a side plate and my rotary cutter to round off the corners.

Once trimmed I added the binding. For this I used shop bought bias binding (25mm width) and sewed this on all round the edges of the quilt. I forgot to take photos for this stage, here’s how I did it. First of all I sewed on my binding to the top of the quilt all the way around along the crease (free hand with no pins) and using bobbin and top thread that matched the binding (red) once I had done this I turned the quilt over so the backing was upward facing, and also changed the bobbin thread to a pale blue to minimise how much it would show on the right side of the quilt. Then very carefully pulled over and topstitched the binding to the back of the quilt, making sure that I pulled the binding over the top of my previous seam. That way there is you don’t see any stitching on the right side of the quilt – it almost looks hand sewn, and is done in a fraction of the time it would take to hand sew all the way round.

After the binding I added the final finishing touches of an appliqued square on the back, and my “handmade by” label was hand sewn on, and my quilt was finished.

Shirt Quilt Detail


Ready for the “TA DA”?







here we go….




Shirt Quilt 2


Its big enough for a single bed….


Shirt Quilt 4


or for having over the end of a bigger bed. And its a great size for snuggling down and watching TV on the sofa with…

Shirt Quilt Folded



I hope you liked my little how to….I’d love to know what you think so please do leave me a comment if you liked (or didn’t like my tutorial).


If you loved the quilt it will be available very soon in my shop (once I get a good photographing day to take photos) but if you can’t wait that long, do get in touch and it could be winging its way to you very soon….


Bye for now

Rachael xx

4 thoughts on “How to make a quilt from recycled shirts

  1. Just love your idea. will have to give it a go. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thanks Antoinette! Hope you have as much fun as I did making your quilt.

  3. Wow! I think the quilt looks fab,I’m definitely signing up for one of your crochet classes very soon as I wish to make a tea cosy amongst other things too.😊

  4. Thanks! Hope to meet you at a class sometime soon!

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