A Birthday Quilt, Or What To Do With Old Plaid Shirts

This blog is mostly about sewing clothing, which I love, but I also secretly love quilting! Not so secretly in fact. I’ve made two quilts before, here and here. Here is my third quilt!

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It’s a quilt made from Mr. Sewaholic’s old shirts! (Six or seven of them, in fact.)

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I started it last September, and finished in time for his birthday this month. Almost a year from start to finish, but only in little bursts of time. I’m pretty pleased with it, even though there are things I know now that would have made this project easier. (Like strip piecing! Yeah, that would have been simpler.)

Here’s how I made it. First, I collected old dress shirts. I’d been collecting these for years with the plans to make something out of them, but I wasn’t sure what.

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Then, I cut the shirt into as much usable fabric as possible. I tried to save everything, even the contrast back yokes and pockets. Anything that I could cut a 2 1/2″ square from went into the mix. I cut around details like plackets, button bands, cuffs and collars, saving just the flat sections of fabric.

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I sliced them up into 2 1/2″ squares, adding in solid red and white scraps to set off all of the plaids. I arranged the squares into nice-looking blocks, five squares by five squares. I placed red squares on the diagonal on every block so there’d be one element of consistency!


Then I sewed the squares together, one by one, in rows of five.

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I then sewed five rows of five together to form a 5×5 block.

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Each block is different, but the red ties them together.

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I repeated to make 30 blocks, aiming for a 5 x 6 block quilt (about 50″ by 60″).

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The backing was a lucky find! He wanted flannel – once he knew what I was doing with his old shirts – so I went in search of a flannel that would match. How fortunate to find not only a plaid, and not only reds and navy shades, but both in the same fabric! (Spool of Thread, a couple of months ago.)

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I sewed the blocks together in rows of five, then sewed the rows together to make the quilt top. Nothing complicated about it! Just a lot of repetition.

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I learned that the big table in my office is the perfect size for a 50″ by 60″ quilt. Any larger and I can’t baste it in the office, I’d need to find a larger surface.

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The pieces aren’t completely perfect and square. Some of the corners don’t line up. Normally I aim for precision and accuracy, but not today! That’s the beauty of a project like this. It’s not about precision, not in my books anyways. It’s about turning something discarded into something useful.

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I quilted straight lines along the outside of each plaid square, using the edge of the presser foot as a guide. It’s approximately 3/8″ away from the seam. Choosing something simple as the guide makes it easy to quilt. I used grey thread, on my last two quilts I used white but on this one I wanted something that blended more. It stands out on top of the white and red squares but blends in with the plaids.

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This has got to be my favourite part of the process, running your work through the machine over and over again. It takes hours, but it’s so satisfying!

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It’s been so long since I finished my last quilt – My Handmade Bed Quilt, here – that I’d forgotten the basics, like starting and stopping past the edge of the quilt. It comes back quickly though.

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The binding is a grey with a bit of a plaid effect, but looks mostly solid. This is where the quilt starts to look good. It was bright and interesting when it was just a pieced quilt top, but once it gets quilted and bound, it looks so finished and complete. Like a real quilt! Hard to explain in words, there’s a moment where it goes from being parts to a finished item. I like that part.

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I sewed the binding on my machine, instead of slipstitching by hand, so it would be stronger and durable. (And quick!)

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You can see the difference in texture before and after washing. Above, in the binding photo, it hasn’t been washed yet and everything is very smooth and flat. Afterwards, it’s wonderfully crinkly and textured.

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He loves it, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out. It’s reminded me how much I love quilting! It has nothing to do with work which is refreshing, it’s repetitive and methodical, and it uses old scraps (or in this case, old shirts) to give them a new life.

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45 Responses to A Birthday Quilt, Or What To Do With Old Plaid Shirts

  1. Kerry July 22, 2015 at 6:06 am #

    This is lovely Tasia! Love the simplicity of it. I’ve made 2 quilts so far and both have been based on simple squares. I really want to make a scrap quilt soon, to use up some excess fabrics

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:12 am #

      My first one had triangles, but the last two have been all squares. Scrap quilts are satisfying, it’s nice to use up little bits that would be tossed otherwise! Plus then you get to enjoy the fabrics you bought a second time.

  2. lisa g July 22, 2015 at 8:04 am #

    I love this!! What a great idea.

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:11 am #

      Thank you! I’d seen someone make a quilt out of their entire family’s clothing – jeans, baby clothes, mom’s clothes, dad’s clothes, and I thought it was a neat idea. Theirs was a little rougher due to the different textures and thicknesses of fabrics so I thought sticking to all shirts would be smoother and more comfortable to use.

  3. Mandykatt July 22, 2015 at 8:48 am #

    Gorgeous! I love everything about your quilt, I’m picturing it next to a fireplace with a good book at a ski cabin.

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:10 am #

      It totally has that log-cabin feel, doesn’t it? It’s the red and the plaid and the flannel. :)

  4. Tailor Made Blog July 22, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    Love that this project gives new life/purpose to old plaid shirts. The end project looks so cozy!

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:09 am #

      That’s my favourite part too! It’s so cosy. Not very useful in the middle of summer, but once it cools down it’ll be a wonderful thing to have.

  5. Cynthia July 22, 2015 at 9:52 am #

    nice quilt

    how do you calculate how much fabric you need for the quilt. I want to do a quilt for the first time and this is really encouraging.


    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:09 am #

      Thank you! I didn’t calculate anything as I was using old shirts. I cut up as many squares as I could from the old shirts, then made as many blocks as I felt like. In the end I made 30 blocks, 5 blocks across and 6 blocks long, and I still had shirt squares left over. The only thing I did calculate was how much backing to use, and I ended up needing 3 metres of backing to cover my 50×60 quilt. Hope this helps!

  6. Sam July 22, 2015 at 10:13 am #

    Wow, this is fantastic. I might keep some of my husband’s old shirts to do this when he finally gets round to clearing his wardrobe out.

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 10:23 am #

      Do it! If you’re into quilting, that is. I originally thought I’d do some creative refashioning with them, then I realized that wasn’t my sort of project and also I wanted to give them back to him in some way. This was my solution! If there’s anything I can help with when you get around to it, do let me know. :)

  7. Izzy July 22, 2015 at 10:41 am #

    Love this. Thank you for inspiring me

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

      Thank you, I’m so glad you find it inspiring!

  8. Colleen July 22, 2015 at 10:55 am #

    The colors are beautiful! Mr. Sewaholic has nice shirts, which is helpful when making a quilt out of them! Brava, Tasia. I’m sure he’ll love this always! And, in the winter: oh cozy cozy cozy….

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

      I know right? They’re nice quality shirts and all in similar colours that look good together. I hope he enjoys it for a long time to come!

  9. Jo July 22, 2015 at 1:42 pm #

    Great quilt, Tasia! I’ve got a quilt just waiting to be quilted together now – everything is lined up and the first line stitched – but I was put off by the task of running my quilt through the machine. Seeing yours has made me realise I need to just get on and do it! Thanks also for the idea on what to do with a shirt I kept of my Dad’s – I see a quilted shirt cushion coming. :)

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      Oh, that part is my favourite! The first row is the hardest because it feels like the beginning of a very large task. Just start, and then you’ll want to do the second, and third, and keep going! (If you’re like me that is. I just love that part of the process.) My tip is to start on the batting part, sew across the top, and end in the batting part too so the thread ends are hidden in the binding. I think someone recommended that to me when I did my first one because I backstitched on the quilt top, oops.
      A quilted shirt cushion would be a nice idea and a more manageable project than an entire quilt. Plus, everyone can use one more cushion!

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 1:51 pm #

      Also – good luck! Finishing is the best part. :)

  10. ARLENE July 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

    WONDERFUL…..nicely done Tasia..

    • Tasia July 22, 2015 at 1:48 pm #

      Thanks so much! :)

  11. Dale Odberg July 22, 2015 at 2:03 pm #

    Fantastic! I love how you quilted two sides of the square! Great work!

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:30 am #

      Thanks! I’d seen it in a quilting book and thought it was a nice simple way to do the quilting lines.

  12. Nakisha July 22, 2015 at 2:58 pm #

    This is INSANELY awesome! And makes my idea of sewing a quilt for my daughter from her old clothes less daunting :) I have about 13 months to finish it. Better get crackin’! ;-p

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:29 am #

      Thank you so much! Sewing a quilt from your daughter’s old clothes is such a thoughtful idea. Why only 13 months? I did this in about a year, but only working on it in small bursts of time. If you’re short on time, use bigger squares! I thought about that after I cut a hundred 2.5″ squares.. if I’d made them five inch squares it would have gone twice as fast.

  13. Sue July 22, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    I’m drooling over the jars and jars of what, different buttons? Looks inspiring just to see them.

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:27 am #

      Yes, buttons! They’re regular canning jars from the grocery store and in them is a very large button collection, sorted by colour.

  14. Sewing with kate July 22, 2015 at 6:53 pm #

    wow! I love that quilt. What a great upcycle.

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:27 am #


  15. Alicia July 22, 2015 at 7:20 pm #

    I love it! I saw your pieced quilt top a while ago (on Pinterest, probably), and have had it pinned for ages. I’ve also been collecting old dress shirts – I was intending to refashion them, but the more sewing experience I’ve gotten, the more I realize that I really hate refashioning. I cut up 6 old shirts and have the whole quilt top pieced now (you can see a pic on my Instagram: forwhoitsfor). (I definitely recommend strip piecing! I made a few mistakes, but even counting undoing and re-doing, it was SO much faster than piecing individually.) I’m reallllly not looking forward to the quilting part, though – I have so much trouble maneuvering all of those layers through my poor overworked machine. :-/

    • Lois July 23, 2015 at 7:16 am #

      Great quilt Tasia! Alicia, to strip piece a scrappy quilt, do you simply start with bigger scraps and cut rectangles out of them? I have not made a scrap quilt because I am too lazy to cut tiny squares and piece them. Please share any wisdom you have aquired. Thanks!

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:27 am #

      I feel the exact same way – I thought I’d refashion them too, but realized I’d never wear that kind of project and it’s not my favourite sort of sewing. Plus that would have been for me, and I wanted to give them back to him!
      I saw your instagram photo – it’s awesome! The blue tones are soft and look nice together. I love the quilting part so I’m not much help, but I found working from one side to the other and rolling up the extra helped me work it through the machine easily. Working from the middle outwards would be even better maybe, because with each row you’re getting closer to the edge with less bulk. Good luck! Would love to see it when you’re done :)

  16. Amelie July 22, 2015 at 11:16 pm #

    This is such a great gift! I’m a big fan of reusing and repurposing things, which would have gone to the trash otherwise. The quilt looks really great, I love the more “manly” colours. So far I’ve never done a quilt, but I guess now I will start gathering my boyfriends old shirts ;)

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:22 am #

      If you start collecting now, you can wait for a long time until doing anything with them. :) I’ve only made three quilts and it’s a fun project, it’s not hard just different from garment sewing.

  17. ellen July 23, 2015 at 4:21 am #

    Beautiful job. I too have been saving my 30 yo’s shirts with the intent of making a cottage throw quilt.I was getting worried though that all that work using old fabric was a waste of time as it wouldn’t last long. Your idea of new fabric for the back and small squares (ie. not much chance to tear) gives me renewed interest in this project. Thanks for posting this.

    • Tasia July 23, 2015 at 10:21 am #

      I’m so glad it’s given you a new interest in your own version! There are some shirts that were thinner (the white with navy checks) and so I tried to use less of those overall. The rainbow plaid was very strong and I liked the colours best, so I used those squares a lot. I can’t speak to the longevity of the quilt yet, but I thought mixing in stronger fabrics with the others would help make them last. If you finish your quilt, I’d love if it you came back and left a comment with a link so I could see it!

  18. Sonja July 23, 2015 at 12:02 pm #

    This is so lovely! And I bet it’s really soft and snuggly! I’m slowly collecting odds and ends for quilts, but I really love the shirts you used for this… it turned out gorgeous!

    • Tasia July 24, 2015 at 11:37 am #

      It totally is. I can’t wait to use it myself. :) Collecting is a good place to start with quilting – when you’ve got the time and the desire, you’ll have plenty of interesting scraps to start with.

  19. Evie July 23, 2015 at 3:50 pm #

    This looks so cozy. What a great present!

    • Tasia July 24, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      Thanks! It’s something unusual to make and give, but at least I know it’s something he doesn’t have already. :)

  20. Sue July 24, 2015 at 4:31 am #

    It’s a lovely quilt, Tasia, and a great way to not have to part with pre-loved garments, especially if they are ones that you have made before! You haven’t mentioned the wadding in the quilt but I am sure I see some in one of the photo’s? I have not made a quilt yet and I can imagine that the layers would shift while being stitched on the machine. How do you know what type of wadding to choose?


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