So I have this friend who was a grad student with me, and she was incredibly awesome when I was working on my thesis - going out to different campus libraries and copying articles that I needed but couldn't get electronically, then scanning them and emailing them to me. She also provided lots of moral support through the whole process. So when she asked if I'd be willing to make her a quilt using her large University of Illinois T-shirt collection, I was happy to agree.
The day after my thesis defense, we celebrated by laying out the T-shirt collection on the living room floor in her apartment. It's been well over a year (April 2011), so I don't remember exactly, but I want to say that she started with 30-some T-shirts that she wanted to use. As we continued to lay out the collection, she kept going back to her room and pulling out more T-shirts to add. Once we realized that there were enough orange T-shirts to potentially form a large "I" in the middle of the quilt, we realized that we needed to have an odd number of both rows and columns. She continued to bring out T-shirts until we eventually ended up with 49 - a 7x7 arrangement. My best decision was to use my digital camera to make a record of how she wanted the shirts arranged.
That day, we went to JAF to buy interfacing (an essential ingredient from what I'd read online) and sashing fabric. I can't remember exactly what kind of interfacing I chose, but it was a woven lightweight fusible - either the cheapest or second cheapest available. I had solicited advice from sewing friends online, who said that woven vs. knit didn't matter - just to buy whichever was on sale. This seemed to work out well for me. (Keep in mind that if you use knit interfacing, you need to put the direction of stretch perpendicular to the direction of stretch in the T-shirt - otherwise it won't be stabilized.) The navy cotton for the sashing was Kona cotton, I believe.
I think I waited a few months before even starting to work on it. Then I cut the fronts from backs on the T-shirts in preparation for applying interfacing, and then I abandoned it again. This summer, I pulled it out again, prompted by the 1-year anniversary. I fused interfacing onto the backs of all T-shirt fronts, then measured the smallest T-shirts to find the largest square I can cut from all the shirts. I wanted to keep this relatively simple, since it's my first T-shirt quilt and there are a large number of shirts - this is why I wanted them all the same size. I cut the shirt blocks all 13 inches by 13 inches. (A few shirt designs would have been totally ruined at that size, so those were left intact to be used as appliques on plain blocks once the sashing was sewn in place.) That was where I left it for another few months.
Once I decided it was time to get to work, I laid out the blocks according to my original pictures, and I took more pictures to send to my friend to be sure that she still liked the layout. There was some back and forth to get it to her final approval, and then I was ready to go. The sashing was cut the length of the fabric by 3 inches wide, in order to have a finished 2 inch width (I'm using 0.5 inch seam allowances). I sewed horizontal sashing to the blocks and sewed the blocks into columns. Then I sewed vertical sashing to the columns and sewed the columns together. I appliqued the large designs onto the plain blocks before the quilt was completely assembled, to help make it easier to maneuver the quilt in the sewing machine. Once all the blocks were together, I ran a quick line of stay-stitching around the entire top, 0.25 inches from the edge. This was just to help keep anything from stretching during handling.
I knew that the quilt was enormous - 7 blocks wide by 7 blocks long, at 12 inches finished sides on each block, plus the sashing - but it wasn't until I put the quilt top over my queen-sized bed that I realized just how huge it was! My poor bed looks barely larger than a twin under this quilt top!
So then I also laid it out on the hard floor (after sweeping!) for a better look. I'm really so pleased with this quilt top. I think it looks great, and as it turns out, my friend loves it! (I was in town last weekend and showed it to her. She was so surprised, as she'd had no idea I'd finally started working on it!) I did talk her into adding borders - we'd not made a decision on that last year, instead deciding to wait and see what we thought after the top was put together. But I think it needs borders for a more finished look, and the online sewing buddies from whom I solicited opinions agreed. (They also felt it would help keep the T-shirt edges from potentially stretching out, despite the interfacing.) There is just barely enough of the navy Kona cotton, I think, so I'm going to make the borders the same finished width as the sashing, and it's going to look great. No decision has been made yet on the backing, but we'll go see what's available when she's here next month for a scavenger hunt/trivia challenge at the zoo. :)