Using T-Shirts … creatively

I might have shared already that, like too, too many women and men, I am a breast cancer survivor. The first time was almost 20 years ago. After a few surgeries and follow-up treatments, I put a fair amount of time and effort volunteering with and participating in breast cancer walks.  Oh, I didn’t write that when I had the first mastectomy, I also had a “job-ectomy.” Yes, I was fired on the 1st day of chemotherapy.  While the change was rough on the family, it was a blessing in disguise. So many other doors opened up to me.

Back to the cancer walks – American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen, whatever group needed help, I was there.  I even chaired my neighborhood Relay for Life Survivor activities twice. I enjoyed the feelings of warmth and camaraderie shared by a group of lively survivors.  I also really loved all the swag, I’m a swag girl … must pick it up.  Now I do my best to limit these urges and also clean out the collected stuff (that’s how I got all the Mardi Gras throes, see the June 10 post). I ended up with piles of t-shirts and, frankly, I rarely wear t-shirts.  They were survivor shirts, participant shirts, volunteer shirts – lovely colors, lovely designs. All neatly stacked in plastic bags under a desk in the bedroom.

That’s me and my Mom and Ruth and Irv Schoenfeld, 2001

I had heard about t-shirt quilts, especially among sorority girls who end up with stacks and stacks of t-shirts after so many volunteer activities during their 4 years in college. I had also seen small ads in the back of women’s magazines for people who make t-shirt quilts.  Others make teddy bears out of old, raggedy quilts.

After my 2nd adventure with breast cancer about 3 years ago, my mother-in-law came to spend her last weeks in hospice in our home. I needed a craft to fill my house-bound hours. I remembered the abandoned t-shirts and turned once again to my friend, Google.  You’ll find a number of good instructions of how to proceed to transform your garments into a throw or full-sized quilt. I decided to make mine half-sized; we live in South Florida where quilts are hardly necessary. I combined directions from several websites including the following to piece together the fronts and some backs of the shirts –

www, and

It took some amount of organizational skill to get the job done.  I wanted each quilt to represent only one organization or event. So I had to separate the Komen from the Relay for Life from the Cancer Society and the misc. groups.  Then to arrange them into nice color pattern. Our spacious living room with lots of floor space helped get that task done.

Relay for Life quilt

Next to just follow the steps.  Of course, I made a quick run to Jo-Ann Fabrics for the interfacing, batting material, and fleece backing. Tip: watch the ads, Jo-Ann frequently has all these items on sale, nice to safe some money on a project like this. And if  you choose to make smaller throws as I did, they also have nice fleece prints, 2 to a pack just about the size needed.

I remembered my Mom’s patient instructions – press between every step.  I set up the ironing board in front of the tv in the den.  After I carefully cut out the pieces I wanted, I ironed on the interfacing. Next I sewed one strip at a time, again carefully pressing each seam open. Mom would have been pleased that I listened when I was a kid. Then the strips were joined to make the entire piece, and more pressing. The batting and backing was next. 

Race for the Cure quilt

There are several types of quilts.  Once you finish your top, it can be literally quilted to the backing – that is the two pieces sewn together using a pattern. For a tie quilt the backing is tied to the top at a number of junctures.  I chose to make tie quilts and used embroidery floss instead of sewing thread. In college, I tried to make a quilt in craft class (my major was African studies and textiles crafts). It was beyond me.  Thus, my decision to make tie quilts.

Next time you come across your collection of t-shirts along with your collection of memories they represent, think about an afternoon of sewing and creativity.


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