Where’s me shirt?

For as long as I can remember, my dad has been quoting British comedian Ken Dodd and his famous ‘Where’s me shirt?’ catchphrase. Because of that, somehow it seems appropriate that the first quilt I make for my dad is a shirt quilt.

Over the past few years, I have been squirreling away my husband’s cast-off business shirts: the ones with stains or rips or worn-out collars. Just recently, after his most recent shirt cull, I realised I had quite a collection piled in the back of my sewing cupboard. It was time for a shirt quilt!

Stack of men’s blue and white business shirts

A dozen shirts are folded and ready for recycling.

My husband threw out these shirts over several years, but a hunt through op shops (thrift shops) would find a similar collection. I was lucky that my husband has a fairly consistent preference for blue and cotton. (One or two polyester–cotton blends were allowed in. This quilt is about recycling, not about 100% cotton purism.)

To use up these shirts, I wanted a simple pattern. Anything too complex would be tricky with all the stripes. After some thought, I chose the classic hourglass block.

I was going to make the blocks the hard way by cutting up quarter-square triangles and sewing them back together. Luckily, I was on the WAQA retreat when I started making it, and a fellow quilter showed me a smarter way to tackle hourglass blocks. (Thanks, Shari!) An easy-to-follow tutorial of this method can be found at Red Pepper Quilts.

Whatever finished-sized block you want, add 1½ inches to determine the size you need to cut your fabric squares. I wanted an 8-inch finished block, so I cut 9½-inch squares. (You always need 1¼ inches extra as a bare minimum for quarter-square triangles; the extra ¼ inch is for trimming, a buffer to make sure your finished block is square.)

I cut up the shirts, separating the sleeves, front, back and body pieces. Then I ironed the pieces and cut out as many 9½-inch squares as I could, about 7 or 8 per shirt. I chose this size so I would end up with a neat 8-inch block (with a small amount of trimming and squaring up). Much smaller and the striped effect of the shirt fabric would have been lost. Any bigger was not possible as the shirt pieces would not allow it.

The quilt came together really easily. I made the whole top in the long weekend at the retreat. I do not think I have ever before finished a quilt top this quickly.

Patchwork quilt made from recycled shirts

This patchwork quilt, made from men’s shirts, uses the simple hourglass block.

After I had made the quilt top, I still had a lot of leftover fabric. Some pieces of the shirts were too narrow to cut 9½-inch squares. Initially, I considered adding a border of smaller pieces, such as flying geese, to my quilt to use up these scraps, but I liked its simplicity as it was. Instead, I decided to use some of the scraps in the quilt’s backing.

Men’s shirts, cut up into scrap fabric

Even after I had made the quilt top, I still had a large pile of scrap fabric.

I cut lots of 4½-inch squares and joined them to make two rows for the back. For the ends of each row I cut a 4½ x 8½-inch rectangle. I am hoping the large pieces at the ends will allow for the extra needed in the back when sandwiching the quilt and avoid the problem of bulky seams right where the binding is attached.

Patchwork quilt with pieced back, made from recycled shirts

I used some of the leftover shirt fabric in the back.

So, what did I learn from this project?

  • Even the simplest block can have a clever shortcut method that can make piecing easier. It is worth investigating and asking other sewers before you begin.
  • Check your measurements when buying fabric. I knew how much backing fabric I needed in inches, but here in Australia we buy fabric in metres. Something got lost in conversion at the shop and I ended up slightly short. Luckily, it was only a little bit, but it could have been worse as I really was not paying attention.
  • When you cut up a lot of shirts, you end up with a lot of buttons!
Bowl of men’s shirt buttons

When you cut up a lot of shirts, you end up with a lot of shirt buttons.

Even though it is a gift, I can safely post pictures of this quilt’s progress here as:

  • my dad does not know I have a craft blog
  • if I told him I have a blog, he would only ask, ‘What’s a blog?’

14 thoughts on “Where’s me shirt?

  1. I have a similar bin of my husband’s dress shirts that I have deconstructed. I am waiting to collect a few more so I have enough to make quilts for all three of my kids. Thanks for the inspiration!

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  5. I love this but I found another tutorial that repeats step one and makes the 2nd step the same as the first without having two separate pieces to join. Love your colours. Hope mine turns out as well. 😊

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  7. I Love your quilt! I have been ‘collecting’ those blues & stripes. Now I can make something similar to yours!

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