28 Jul Side Braid Quilt using Men’s Dress Shirts
The story behind the quilt:
My friend’s mom contacted me to see if I could make a quilt for her daughter and son-in-law. She took his old dress shirts (that he was about to give away) and thought it would be fun to surprise them with a quilt made from these shirts for their anniversary. The quilt would be used by her grandson so she wanted it to be at least twin-ish size. She knew that I had started quilting and wondered if I’d be up for the challenge. Prior to this quilt, I had only completed two baby size quilts so my quilting repertoire was not extensive by any means. I had no idea how I was going to do this, but figured massive failure was the worst that could happen so I had nothing to lose.
After agreeing to the task at hand, I quickly received a package with these inside:
I opened the package, looked at the shirts, and proceeded to keep them in the box they arrived in for about a month. I pondered what pattern to use, asked friends for advice, pinned a few ideas on Pinterest, and procrastinated long enough until I was left with only two weeks to complete it. Not the smartest plan in hindsight.
I knew I wanted to use a simple pattern because 1. I had no idea what I was getting myself into and 2. I didn’t know how the shirts would behave in comparison to quilting cotton.
I finally decided to use Jeni Baker’s Side Braid Quilt. My sister and I used this pattern to make my mom a surprise birthday quilt (I’ll post about that later) and we really liked it. Jeni does a great job explaining how to put it together and it’s simple enough for a novice quilter like me.
Assembling the Quilt:
I only used the back of the dress shirts for this quilt, because the rectangles are large and I had plenty of shirts to work with. I ironed each shirt and cut out the back panel so I had a flat surface to cut from. I played around with the direction of some of the striped shirts so it would add more variety to the quilt.
I don’t have a design board, so I had to push some furniture around in order to have enough floor space to lay out the quilt. I was ducking under tables, throwing fabric in closets, and using every inch of space to try to make it fit, all while watching 24 and hoping Jack Bauer would save the day. Once I had the rows the way I wanted, I gathered each one with a wonder clip at attached a number to it. There are 13 rows in total for the large braid quilt.
The top came together quickly after that. The World Cup was on in the background which was a perfect companion to my machine. Soccer + Sewing = a winning combination.
I knew I wanted to use the sailboat fabric (also used here) for the back of the quilt. I thought it would pair well with the blues in all of the shirts. I spent some time trying to perfectly match the center seam together but then realized it was a lost cause. The busyness of this fabric helps with the lack of perfection, but it’s definitely something I will keep in mind for future quilts.
The hardest part of this quilt for me was basting it together. I don’t have enough space in our house to easily lay out the quilt, which made it incredibly difficult. I once again shoved furniture to the side, and used every inch of available space to my advantage. It definitely wasn’t pretty or enough space to accurately do it. I was crawling over my book cases, basting while under my desk, and I almost impaled myself when I tried to move my large cutting table out of the way. It would have been funny to watch as an outsider. A bajillion safety pins later, though, and I was ready to quilt.
I decided to do straight line quilting to keep the look simple and to save time because the deadline was quickly approaching. I sewed lines 1/4″ from each seam horizontally. I used navy blue bobbin thread so the quilting wouldn’t take away from the detail of the fabric on the back. This also kept any mistakes from being glaringly obvious.
To say quilting a large quilt is awkward is an understatement. I Jerry-rigged my sewing space by adding a table behind the one holding my machine and another table to the left of it. I rolled up one side of the quilt, heaved it over my shoulder and let the sidetable carry the weight of the rest of it. I used my walking foot, quilting gloves (best invention ever) and worked my way from the middle of the quilt out to the sides. It was pretty labor intensive. My husband walked in at one point during this process and starting laughing because I was neck deep in the quilt and not really visible. The best advice I read online was to take a lot of breaks. Attempting to quilt in one day should never be a goal and is downright silly. I tried to do this and would not recommend it. Any other tips you have for making it easier?
Finally! This was such a satisfying step to get to. I knew I was so close and couldn’t wait to see how it would turn out. I followed Jeni Baker’s tutorial for binding. I “cheated” and machine bound both sides. If my husband’s grandma read this post she might be a little disappointed.
Overall, I was really happy with how the quilt turned out. It was a labor of love, but well worth the experience of making it. My husband was kind enough take pictures before I packaged it up and sent it off with a tracking number and fingers crossed. I hope it finds a special place in their home and is the reminder of many memories both in the past and ones to come.
If you’re looking for a great pattern that comes together quickly, I would definitely recommend Jeni’s Side Braid. And don’t be afraid of men’s dress shirts as a substrate; They were actually quite enjoyable to work with.
Photo Credit: JB Woodruff. Don’t worry I pay him in cookies for his patience and pictures.