The eighteen-year-old quilt

Our beautiful daughter turns eighteen years old today. Eighteen. Everyone says children seem to grow up so quickly, and it’s true. Our daughter went from sundresses and sandals to high heels and prom dresses faster than I ever could have imagined.

Around her fifth birthday, I came up with the idea to make a quilt for her eighteenth birthday. I’d never made a quilt before, but I thought I’d figure that part out when the time came. And for the past thirteen years, I’ve been saving our daughter’s favorite shirts as she outgrew them. Everything from T-shirts and sports jerseys to pajamas and sweatshirts all went into a bag in my closet.

This month, I opened the bag and began sorting through all of the shirts. (And reading a few “how to quilt” websites…) So many memories. A shirt from her junior bowling league. Many seasons of soccer jerseys. School plays. Vacations. Singing in choir. Girl Scouts. On and on.

Cutting into the first shirt wasn’t easy, but I told myself that instead of keeping all of these pieces of her life in a bag on a shelf, I’d be turning them into something she could enjoy and love every day.

There’s the t-shirt from her first week away from home at Girl Scout camp, and her first tae kwon do uniform…

… and the tour shirt from the time I left her backstage with our favorite band at age 13.

There’s the T-shirt she made at our public pool’s tie-dye party years ago, and the shirt from the University of Iowa’s journalism camp her sophomore year. Her Junior Girl Scout uniform shirt’s here, and so is a “Rock Star” tank top from Walt Disney World commemorating her first ride on a looping roller coaster. Her “I’m A Big Sister” shirt? A gift from the hospital when her first brother was born.

Here’s a piece of her favorite pink pajamas, circa age ten — and the “Angel” shirt she never seemed to take off when she was eight because she thought it described her perfectly.

Her favorite sweatshirt from her middle school days even made it into the quilt, zipper intact. A piece of her Bratz bedsheet from her grade school days peeks through when it’s unzipped. (And I love the idea of a secure pocket to hold the TV remote, phone, or iPod while she’s lounging in bed…)

This quilt tells a story. It’s unique — just like her.

And like all good stories in our family, it begins and ends with a KISS.


  1. dfath says

    that is awesome! I’m planning that too. I’ve been saving special shirts from all my kids in hopes I will do this. Can I ask a/b how many t-shirts you used? I feel like i already have so many and my kids aren’t even teenagers!

    • says

      There are 42 12 x 12″ panels in the shirt which made a queen-size quilt.

      I did two panels in this quilt where I cut up smaller pieces and sewed four 6 x 6″ squares into one 12″ square. If you wanted to use more shirts, you could make a smaller square, like an 8 x 8″. But a lot of her shirts are from high school & adult-sized, and going that small would have cut off a lot of the text on them so I went with a bigger square.

      I learned a lot through this process! If you have more questions I’d be happy to answer them.

      I used iron-on interfacing on the backs of all the T-shirts before I cut them to prevent them from being stretchy. My aunt makes T-shirt quilts too (she sews for a living) and she doesn’t use interfacing because she machine-quilts them through all of the shirts. But because I was hand-tying this quilt, I didn’t want the squares to eventually stretch out of shape. With the interfacing, I think it made them a lot easier for me to sew too.

  2. theresa1740 says

    How long did it take you. I have saved lots of my daughters t shirts and was going to make a college quilt for her. My mom quilts so will help me but feel the same way about cutting the shirts just right to capture the moments. What a great birthday gift.

    • says

      Not as long as I thought! I have been preparing for making this for quite some time, but I just started interfacing and cutting the shirts on Sunday (1/29.) So, it took about six days to make. I worked on it for about four hours a day each day this week, and I finished it up around 1:30 yesterday afternoon..! One of the sites I read said that a twin-size quilt should take 5 hours to make. Another site said a full-size should take 13 hours. I have no idea where they get these estimates from, but this queen-size quilt took me about 24 hours, total.

      Because this took up most of my available time this week, and the fact that today and tomorrow we have 18th birthday parties, Pinewood Derby for my two Cub Scouts, and a basketball game, Deals of the Week will not exactly be “on time” this weekend..! :)

  3. spedteach says

    I have two quilts made from my softball shirts I wore when I played. My grandmother made 1 and it is very special to me. Not only does it remind me of a wonderful time in my life but more importantly it was made by someone I love very much. I am 34 now and get to snuggle under the blanket with my 2 boys. I have no doubt your daughter will cherish the gift.

  4. mushimoo21 says

    This is so cool! I’d love to make one for my boys when they get older but I’m sure it’d be too cheesy for them to put in their college dorm rooms lol.

  5. hwendt12 says

    What an amazing present that will surely be cherished for a VERY LONG TIME! Kinda makes me wish I had a daughter to make one for…not sure the boys would get nearly as much out-of-it.

    • says

      Oh, my boys already want their own quilts too. My youngest (6) was watching me work on this, and he was so upset that I wasn’t going to make one for him now. I explained that he’s got many years ahead of him to collect memorable shirts and things. And there are plenty of good boy/men fabrics to use. I won’t use Hello Kitty KISS prints for them – hee.

  6. QueenKitty says

    I made T-shirt for both my boys when they graduated high school. You can get by with 24 shirts (you can use the fronts and backs of shirts) to cover a full size bed (5×6 = 30 squares). My boys love softness so they are backed with flannel and used the extra material for a pillow case. I stitched in the ditch to secure better rather than tying the corners. I also did not put in setting strips but butted my squares together. In some of the squares I stitched around the soccer ball. As for the zipper pocket – I love it but in my case I put shirt pockets in their quilts for condom storage. I wanted them to be safe not sorry in college. As you can see, there are lots of different ways to make a memory quilt for your kids. If you are going to make it for graduation, I would start in Jan/Feb so it is done in plenty of time as after Easter things get crazy and you probably will have to put in extra hours to get it done on time.

  7. melanie1 says

    You taught yourself how to quilt!! I am saving t-shirts stuff for my daughter and would love to know where you learned to do all this? Internet?

    Great JOB! Amazing gift!

    • says

      My aunt sews for a living, so I have been looking at her amazing work for pretty much my whole life. Looking at it doesn’t equal actually doing it though, does it..! My mom taught me to use a sewing machine when I was a kid, and I’ve been making what I would consider “smallish” things since (Halloween costumes, curtains, pillows, pajama pants and that kind of stuff.)

      This is the first time I’ve ever tackled anything of this magnitude though. After I finished this, I tried to thank my mom this week for teaching me to sew, and she said “But I didn’t teach you to quilt. I never made a quilt.” Hee. :) So as much as one can be self-taught with that, I am. I am pretty happy with how it turned out, and our daughter is absolutely elated and loves her new quilt too.

      A couple of the sites I found helpful:

      Sashing the quilt – This site was extremely helpful in showing how to assemble the sashing around each block.


      Tying the quilt – When it was time to stretch and tie it, I stretched everything out and taped it to the floor as shown here.


      Binding the edges – Instead of using bias tape or another band of fabric to bind it, I used something similar to what they show at this link. I bought a flat queen-size bedsheet for the back and cut it 1 1/2″ wider than the quilt. Then I wrapped it over the edges, pressed it and bound it.


      One other note on tying the quilt. I used black embroidery floss and tied it to the back. All of the ties are in the small blocks of the sashing. You can barely see them from the front, which was intentional. I tied them through the necks of the Kitty in each square, and they blend right in. I’m borrowing the kids’ loom hook to lift one up for this photo:

  8. naisula says

    I love it, Jill! What an amazing accomplishment and I LOVE the idea! It must have been so fun and rewarding while you worked on it, and to see how much your daughter cherishes those memories that you (literally) stitched together is priceless. I can’t believe she’s 18! You have quite an age spread amongst your kids(!) – thanks for sharing your quilt, and the idea.

  9. Ruby Red says

    I have been saving t-shirts and sports jerseys for my kids, too to make a quilt. Lucky me, I have a mother-in-law that quilts!

  10. QLifeLine says

    How beautiful! I had just mentioned this idea to another mom at my son’s school last week with all of the t-shirts they get with their sports. (Basketball started.) Your quilt is so nice. Thanks for posting.

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