Material Difference: The Fabric of a T-Shirt Quilt

Blocks for Tshirt quilts

I’m taking a slightly different approach to our usual discussion about material differences for making t-shirt quilts. Instead of talking about fabric as I did in my posts about satin, wool, and rusted fabric, I want to focus on the significance of the focus of the fabric as the “material difference” in this post. Making a t-shirt quilt is generally inspired by a collection, t-shirts collected because of a special interest, a passion for something, (e.g., quilting, sports, etc.), a series of special events (events happening over a time period, documenting school-related events for instance), or celebrities (like a favorite music group). The designs in the t-shirt collection bring to mind personal memories. The fabrics of a t-shirt quilt tell a story about its owner(s).

Photo credit: Getty images/ beklaus

Photo credit: Getty images/ beklaus

The material difference: the fabric of my t-shirt memory quilt.

I’m writing this blog as I just finished making a t-shirt quilt for my husband, Earl, using some of his collection of motorcycle memory t-shirts. (I have to interject here that getting him to part with any of these shirts is yet another story.) He purchased a Harley Fatboy in 1996. We still have this, now vintage, bike. I’ve been riding a motorcycle, albeit from sitting in the place of honor behind a rider, for over 30 years. From the beginning of our time together, the love of getting away on the bike has been a bonding agent for us. He’s put in the miles, taking in all kinds of weather and bugs from the front seat to get us to destinations, while I’ve taken in the sights of the geography we’re passing. It’s about open air and space, the sense of freedom, exploring different places, and perhaps a bit of daring.

The material difference in my t-shirt quilt is the story behind a motorcycle t-shirt.

When many people envision a motorcycle rider they think of black leather and a rough and tough character. Instead, I know the leather is mostly about protection. I see an individual spirit, people who would put their life on the line for a friend, taking to the road together on a sunny warm day, bringing a community together for a Toys for Tots and Muscular Dystrophy philanthropic events, or a memorial ride that celebrates the life of a fellow enthusiast. Another interesting thing to note here is the tradition surrounding motorcycle t-shirts. T-shirts can be collected from anywhere, but among traditional Harley riders, you only wear the t-shirts from places you’ve actually visited on a bike. All of these things create a material difference and are represented in the fabric of the t-shirts.

Love of riding

Love of riding

Designing and making a t-shirt quilt.

I’ve seen a lot of t-shirt quilts that incorporate t-shirts cut to the same size to be able to connect common blocks. And, some blocks have been set into a traditional block pattern that is very appealing. We have a lot of Quilting Company sources to inspire you and guide you in making a t-shirt quilt. Just type “t-shirt quilts” into our search bar to find loads of patterns and how-to articles. We also have a great video, “How to Make T-shirt Quilts That Are Extra Cozy”, to guide you step-by-step.

I decided to take a slightly different approach to making a t-shirt quilt than is typical: an improvisational approach to design and using the selection of fabrics to help me enrich the story of the quilt. I chose the Rule of the Road by Jeff Wack from QT Fabrics for this quilt. You can see why it’s an obvious choice from the photo. What really drew me to the collection is its connection to the geography, and how it symbolizes the opportunity to ride so many places.

Rule of the Road by Jeff Wack from QT Fabrics

Rule of the Road by Jeff Wack from QT Fabrics

I decided to let go of all the quilting rules around symmetry because, frankly, the size of the central design in all my husband’s t-shirts was vastly different. I would have ended up with huge blocks and a huge quilt to get them all to fit. It became too mind-boggling to figure out how I could get them to fit together. And, all I wanted to end up with is a quilt that hubby and I can cuddle under when watching movies together.

I let the fabric do the talking along with the interpretation I had set for the quilt.

Each of the blocks is framed with a “road” sashing. I used the small motorcycle print fabric to represent “motorcycles are everywhere” (an ABATE safety slogan) on asphalt roads, with cream solid lines demarking “don’t cross over the line” rules of the road.

I used a pieced border to illustrate the notion of a motorcycle traveling across the country, with wheels turning. I found the Fons & Porter Wheel of Fortune Template Set to be perfect for making sets of motorcycle rim and tire blocks to circle the quilt.

Motorcycle Wheels from the Wheel of Fortune Template Set

Motorcycle Wheels from the Wheel of Fortune Template Set

And, the grand finishing touch is the quilting provided by Alovea Heritage Quilting, adding a motorcycle motif over the entire surface of the quilt.

 “Motor Memories”

“Motor Memories”

Collect the memories in a quilt.

I’m a believer. Quilts do tell a story and making a t-shirt quilt is even richer because it’s so personal from the artifacts collected into one place. As I’ve worked through making my t-shirt quilt I’ve remembered so many occasions, fun times full of laughter and friendship, hanging tough in all kinds of weather and…memory making. So, don’t throw those old t-shirts away. Salvage them into a gift that wraps love and remembrance into a sweet cozy quilt.

Happy Quilting!



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