Deconstructing t-shirts – Tutorial

I’m in the midst of making a keepsake quilt from old baby clothes – which I’ll share with you next week! I thought, as I was working through all the little t-shirts and baby-grows, that a tutorial might be in order.

So …. deconstructing t-shirts, tutorial ……

I’ll get this bit out of the way early on …. yes, it is perfectly possible just to cut squares without first taking the t-shirt apart, and there’s nothing wrong with that. I do this if there is a large motif on the front that I want to include – often playing with the size of my square – so, for example, if I’m piecing 4″ squares and I have a large motif that’s going to be bigger than that, then I’ll cut a piece that’s, for example, 4×8″ or even 8×8″ …. as I did here ….

deconstructing a t-shirt


(I’ll talk more about vilene later).

…. but when I make my keepsake quilts, I try to use as much of the fabric as possible, and get as many squares out of each garment as possible – deconstructing the t-shirt before you start cutting squares for piecing can make the difference between getting 4 squares out of the t-shirt and 6 or even 8 …. which makes it easier to build a pattern in your quilt when you come to piece them.

So, to start …. you will need ….. scissors, seam-ripper, a quilt square (a ruler and set-square are fine too), a fabric marking pencil or pen (I tend to use regular drawing pencils for this – they don’t fade like tailors chalk, and they wash out easily) and a medium-weight vilene (or other iron-on fusible interfacing). And, obviously, a t-shirt.

deconstructing t-shirt tutorial

I always start at the bottom hem and work my way up …. t-shirts tend to have a lot of overlocking going on, so your seam-ripper is your weapon of choice …

And when I say weapon, I’m not joking – those things HURT if you jab yourself, so I’ll make this *important health and safety announcement*.  Always, always, always point your seam ripper AWAY from your body, and make sure you’re in control of it – it’s better to go slowly and come away without any punctures, than to race along and shred your hands. If you do jab yourself, and (heaven forbid) bleed on your t-shirt, the only way to get the bloodstain out is with saliva (your own, of course!) Moisten a clean cloth with it, and then gently scrub away until it comes off – this works, I promise, as long as you don’t let the blood dry.

OK, onwards ….

Slide your seam ripper under the stitching and gently but firmly push it along the line of stitches …. you’ll need to hold the fabric taut with one hand, and rip with the other. Keep the sharp edge on top, otherwise it could slide into the fabric and rip it ….

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

Once you’ve gone all the way along the hem, you should be able to gently pull the edges apart. If you’ve missed a couple of stitches, don’t force it, get the seam ripper in again.

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

Now the bottom hem is done, you can start on the sides …. because these have usually been heavily overlocked, I tend not to bother with the seam ripper, and just cut the seams out with scissors …. I’m cutting along the seam, just above the inner edge of the stitching.

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

Next, sleeves, collars and cuffs …. get the seam ripper in between and rrrrrrriiiiiiiipppppppppp them up (carefully!) and then pull them apart.

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

The tedious bit is picking off all the loose threads once you’re done ….

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

Once you’re done, you should have a t-shirt broken down into its individual pieces …. if you have any motifs on the t-shirt that you’re planning to use, it’s a good idea to pull any old interfacing off the fabric before you use it. Generally, it comes off fairly easily ….. though you may have to be persistent with some.

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

So far, so good, and no wastage!

Iron the pieces, and then you’re ready to start making your squares (or whatever shape you’re using) ready for quilting ….. this is where the vilene comes in.

T-shirts (and any jersey knit, for that matter) are very stretchy …. so you will need to interface them, or you don’t have a cat in hell’s chance of cutting and sewing square squares ….

Using your quilt square, draw your block pieces onto the vilene first, and cut them out (remembering to leave some seam allowance – I generally work to at least 1cm, preferably 2cm at this stage (they get trimmed back once they’re sewn together)). Now iron your vilene onto your fabric … carefully! I always lay an old towel on the ironing board before I use vilene, and I have a separate iron that I use for this …. even though you’re ironing through a damp cloth, you really don’t want either your iron or your ironing board to get sticky from the adhesive ….

Once the vilene is secure, you can cut out your pieces ….

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

you can see here that the square is visible on the back, and this becomes your seam line … just line them up and away you go!

With this particular t-shirt, deconstructing it along the seam lines rather than just cutting into it meant that I could take a small block out of the chest area, and preserve the cute motif …. and I got 8 4″ squares out of an age 18month t-shirt.

deconstructing a t-shirt tutorial

So there you have it …. I hope you found this useful 🙂

Do let me know in the comments …. and if you have any questions, I’m happy to answer them …


One response to “Deconstructing t-shirts – Tutorial

  1. 1. You are one dedicated lady, employing a seam ripper to deconstruct t-shirts. *ADMIRATION*
    2. Thanks for sharing your no-waste technique. Did I mention I am impressed?
    3. Saliva removes fresh blood from fabric?!?!?!!!!! Why did my clumsy self not know this? I can’t wait to try this trick. Wait, no, I mean… in the unfortunate event that I spill my own blood on fabric I will try to remember to spit on it.