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The Challenges of Not Stabilizing Your T-shirts

The time-saver in me requires a few short cuts every now and again if they don't affect quality of the finished product: chain piecing, stacking fabrics to cut, not stabilizing t-shirts.

As I mentioned in my last blog post, there are challenges to not stabilizing your t-shirts. It is true that shirts will stretch, scoot, and curl up. So here are my go-to tips for successfully making your own t-shirt quilt without the extra work. 


I use a template square when I cut t-shirts. I slap the template down, make sure it's where I want it and cut around the whole shirt without moving the template.

Sometimes I need to "rub" the template over the t-shirt to flatten it out, but not stretch it too much. There's finesse and a learning curve, but by the end of cutting your first quilt, you'll have it down.

Don't be afraid to stop, check, double check and then cut. When in doubt, step away from the rotary cutter. You need to be sure your cut is the right one to make. If you're not, then stop. 


I almost always sew t-shirts to a piece of cotton. This provides pseudo-stability letting me know that I have cut the shirt the right size (using my cotton piece to ensure it's right because cotton has less give).

If it's not the right size, I can gently stretch too small squares and adjust shirts that are too long. I generally don't find an error of more than 1/16 of an inch.

For sewing, I use a regular 1/4 inch foot, but I always sew with the cotton fabric on top and the shirt on the bottom. Always. Otherwise, your shirt may drag on the foot and then you have two different lengths of fabric. 

The exception to the cotton on top technique is when I want to sew two shirts to each other. Then I use a walking foot and go slow. It is always OK to go slow. 

If shirts curl badly, I might hit them with a warm iron, or simply pin them. I don't generally pin, but curling can be maddening. I find that once I snug the shirt up against cotton, it wants to "stick" and there is less curl, but every now and again, there's a shirt whose mission it is to curl. 


I'm not a fan of quilting over the print on shirts. I worry about the punch holes in the print creating weaknesses that cause the image to peel away. Optimally, I quilt around all the print, ensuring that the shirts are smoothed out with every pass of my long arm. Again, I go slow. I've only gotten into trouble by going fast.

But I do pay attention to the seams. I want to get those nailed down as much as possible by the quilting. Stitching down as much of the shirt and getting the seam set goes a long way toward having a fully stabilized quilt without the stabilizer. 

In all, quilting a t-shirt quilt does come with challenges, but it's not undo-able. Practice and patience will go a long way toward getting the results you want.


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  • A friend of mine recently mentioned getting a pressing machine for regular quilts. She says it’s amazing! I’m quite tempted by those for sure. Definitely let me know how your quilt turns out and I’d love to see pictures! Of course, if you get stuck, please just drop me an email ( I’m happy to answer questions and address any issues you may have as you work on this!

    Heather Stocker (BAQC)
  • Thanks for sharing you techniques. I’ve started using a press machine to fuse but am going to try one without stabilizing and looking forward to your next blog.

    Lyndy Agner

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