Keepsake Crafts: Recycled Memory Quilt

Breathe new life into old T-shirts and fabrics with a beautiful memory quilt.

By: Debra Steilen

Looking for a unique gift or comfy keepsake? Turn worn, favourite T-shirts or other fabrics (like cherished dresses or skirts) into a treasured quilt.

These instructions will guide you through the process of making a simple quilt constructed from 14x14-inch squares without sashing (fabric borders around the blocks).

Please note: The number of T-shirts and fabric swatches you’ll need depends upon the size of the quilt. When working with adult-sized T-shirts and 14-inch blocks, estimate as follows: twin-size quilt (30 T-shirts); full-size quilt (45 T-shirts); queen-size quilt (60 T-shirts); and king-size quilt (65 T-shirts).

T-shirts or fabrics in the colours and designs you desire*
Rotary cutter or scissors
Ironing board
Steam iron
Non-stick pressing sheet (optional)
Rigid template**, acrylic, plastic or cardboard sheet
Straight edge
Non-woven fusible interfacing, 1/4 yard per T-shirt or fabric piece
Sewing machine
Yarn or pearl-cotton embroidery floss cut into 8-inch-long strips
Polyester or cotton batting, enough to fit your finished quilt top
Safety pins
Tapestry needle
Cotton or flannel backing fabric, enough to fit your finished quilt top

*Tip: Wash and dry the fabrics without using fabric softeners or anti-static sheets.

**Tip: The template should be based on the block size, with a half-inch seam allowance all around. If you want the finished quilt to display 14-inch-square blocks, you need to cut 15-inch-square blocks.


  1. For T-shirts, take apart by using scissors to cut up the sides, around the armholes and across the neckline
  2. Lay the first fabric panel face down on the ironing board. You may need to iron it (using a non-stick pressing sheet) to remove wrinkles; if so, test a small area first to make sure the design won’t melt
  3. Cut a piece of interfacing long enough to cover most of the back of the fabric panel. Place the interfacing so it almost touches the bottom of what was the collar. Following the manufacturer’s instructions, iron the interfacing to the back side of the fabric panel. Make sure the interfacing is completely fused; this step will prevent the knit fabric from stretching during construction
  4. Lay the shirt face up on a hard surface meant for cutting, and then decide which part of the design you want to use. For best results, centre the design within the block and try to leave at least 2-3 inches of fabric around the edges of the artwork. Lay your prepared template on top of the panel, keeping the artwork centred. Using a rotary cutter, cut out the first block
  5. Repeat steps 2-4 as needed to cut enough 15x15-inch blocks to make your quilt top. If using scissors, trace around the template with a pencil before cutting

Tip: You can reduce the number of T-shirts you’ll need for the quilt by alternating scrap fabric blocks with blocks that display artwork.

  1. Decide how you want the blocks to appear in the finished quilt

Tip: Switch it up! Alternating light and dark colours is one option. Another option is to arrange T-shirts from concerts or sporting events in chronological order by date. It may help to lay them out on the floor or on top of a bed during this process. Make sure all logos and designs can be read from the same direction.

  1. Once you have decided on an arrangement, begin sewing the blocks together in vertical strips. Place the first two blocks right side together and pin. Keeping a 1/2-inch seam allowance, sew the blocks together (the bottom of one block to the top of the next) using a straight stitch and removing pins before you encounter them. Align the next block to the strip, pin, and then sew. Continue stitching on additional blocks until the vertical strip is complete. Press all seams open

Tip: Start with a new sewing machine needle and adjust the tension as needed. If your regular needle snags the T-shirt fabric, switch to a ballpoint needle.

  1. Repeat process until all the strips are complete
  2. Pin the first long strip to the next long strip, carefully matching seams and securing with pins. Sew the first two strips together using a straight stitch. Try to keep previously stitched seams open. Remove pins and press the long seam open
  3. Repeat as needed to complete the quilt top. Press all seams open, using a pressing cloth where necessary. Add a border if desired
  4. Finish the quilt by layering the top with batting and then backing fabric. Then, tie the layers together with yarn. Stack the layers this way: Lay the quilt top on the floor with the right side up. Put the backing fabric right side down against the right side of the top. Place the batting on top of the backing fabric. Use safety pins to hold all three layers together
  5. Using a straight stitch, sew around three of the four sides completely. Sew approximately 2/3 of the fourth side, leaving an opening that you can use to turn the quilt right side out
  6. Trim the batting close to the seam without trimming the fabrics. Remove safety pins
  7. Turn the quilt right-side out. Push out corners. Press edges
  8. Push the exposed seam allowance to the inside of the quilt and pin; hand-sew the opening shut
  9. Tie the three layers together. Insert a threaded tapestry needle down through all three layers, and then bring it back to the front of the quilt approximately 1/4 inch from where you started. Tie a knot. Trim the ends of the yarn or embroidery floss to 1 inch
  10. Bind the quilt with matching or coordinating cotton or flannel fabrics


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