How To Use Men's Cotton Shirts To Make Quilts

Our grandmothers and great grandmothers didn't just run down to the fabric shop when they needed a new quilt.  They used the good fabric out of clothing they no longer wore.   There's no reason why you can't do the same.  Men's cotton shirts are the easiest to upcycle for quilting.  A man's shirt has a lot more fabric per shirt than a woman's shirt does.  This is a great way to quilt on a budget even if you don't have a supply of them you can always pick up men's cotton shirts at garage sales and thrift stores.  Once you know how to break down or debone a shirt for quilting you'll have more fabric in your stash than you know what to do with.  You'll be able to make all kinds of scrappy quilts.  If anyone says anything to you about not buying your fabric at the quilt shop you can say, "I'm doing green quilting.  My quilts are saving the planet!"

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Why We Use Men's Shirts

This is really simple, there's more fabric.  Women's shirts are usually tailored to fit the female form so there are darts or lots of little pieces seamed together.  Men's shirts are usually made with big pieces of fabric, two for the front and one for the back.  The larger the size the shirt is the bigger the pieces are and that means more usable fabric.  

The other reason we use men's shirts you are going to have an easier time finding 100% cotton shirts.  For whatever reason men's shirts tend to be all cotton while women's shirts tend to be a blend.  In reality you could make a whole quilt out of blended fabrics but they are more difficult to work with.  It's just easier to work with 100% cotton since it doesn't have the stretch and you can iron it.

Where To Find Shirts For Quilting

Start with all the men in your life.  That's right clean out their closest for those shirts that they don't wear anymore.  Even if they have a stain or something you can work around that.  If you can't find enough shirts from the guys you know it's time to move on to garage sales.  My favorites are church garage sales.  Around here they run a few days and on the last day they do bag sales.  This is when you can really stock up on shirts.  You can get a lot of shirts this way.  After that there are your thrift stores.  I usually use the thrift stores to pick up specific shirts.  Either a pattern or a color to balance out a project.


How To Break Down or Debone A Shirt

The technical term for breaking down a shirt is debone.  The seams are the bones are we are getting rid of those.  I debone my shirts while watching TV.  Since I'm not a hand quilter I use TV time to expand my fabric stash.

I start by taking the collar off.  Cutting just along the seam.  The only part of the collar I keep is the button.

Cutting collar off a shirt

The next thing I do is take the plackets off the front of the shirt.  I keep the one with the buttons and toss the one with the buttonholes.  I follow the edge of the placket.  The placket is the part that the buttons or buttonholes are on.

Removing button plackets.


Next up is to get rid of the seams.  Some shirts have seams much like we make when we sew a quilt together.  Those are easy to just cut the seam out.  Others, like the one I'm working here, have flat seams.  That means you have to cut on both sides of the seam to get it out.

Cutting the seam out

Once you cut up one side you have to do the other side.

The last step is to just off all the hems.

When you are done you end up with a lot of fabric.
Long Sleeve - you'll get two of these

The back

Front - You'll get two of these too
The yoke, the odd part on the back where the collar attaches, is usually double thickness and it can be a nice piece of fabric.  It's too small for my future project so I didn't show it here but don't toss it!  That's a good hunk of fabric for another project.

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green quilting


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About Melissa Shields

Mel is a 30 something year old quilter, attempting to balance her old school roots with today's trends. When not sewing or shopping for a new sewing machine Mel enjoys reading, reality TV, and Nascar.

7 comments:

  1. And here I am throwing out old shirts. I won't really make a quilt with them but they would work to make napkins/tablecloths for props for my food pics. Got to your post from #SustainableSundays

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  2. Love this! I made leggings for my little one from a t-shirt, but it never occurred to me to reuse shirts. :)
    #SustainableSundays

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  3. My mother used to make quilts from old shirts. This is such a useful tutorial - it's such a shame to throw out good fabric. Thank you so much for linking up at Sustainable Sundays and I look forward to seeing what you share with us next week.

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  4. Clever! I'm really glad I'm not the only one who does stuff like this. I have been saving old worn clothes that won't work for donation/fabric stash/selling and I braid them to make baskets. I HATE wasting anythinnnnng. And I've discovered composting fabric is a VERY slow process. lol.

    Thanks for linking up at Sustainable Sundays!

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  5. I just made a quilt for my fisherman brother using shirts with fish on them as the primary block. Then I used about 15-20 other shirts and clothes for the pieced blocks. He loves it! I didn't throw out the cuffs and collars though--what about a prairie point type border using the points?!! I'm still working on the idea and will let you know if it works!!

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  6. I've used my husband's flannel shirts on several projects but I love this plan to recycle cotton shirts for quilts. Thank you for sharing at the Our Simple Homestead blog hop.
    Kathi at Oak Hill Homestead

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