How to make a t-shirt quilt, part 1

Last year, a friend and I decided to put our heads together and make t-shirt quilts: quilts composed of leftover t-shirts we no longer wear but which still have some sentimental value. We both had only minimal prior quilting experience, and we figured tackling the project together would be easier than doing it alone (and more fun!).

We googled a lot of resources, tried a lot of things, and had to backtrack a couple of times. So I’m going to share here what I would do if I did it over again, not necessarily exactly what I actually did. :)

0. First, invest in some good tools:

  • Rotary cutter, plastic guide, and mat (as large as possible).
  • Sharp scissors.
  • Quilting square to make it fast and easy to cut consistently sized squares. Or, make your own with cardboard.
  • Sewing machine. You will also want a “walking foot” and probably a “free motion” or “darning foot” (if you want to do intricate detailed quilting).

t-shirt blocks1. Assemble your t-shirts. Wash them all. Iron them all (taking care not to melt the designs).

2. Stabilize the t-shirt material. T-shirt cotton is stretchy. Stretchy is not a good property for quilt blocks. Therefore, most guides have you attach interfacing (a thin, woven layer) to the t-shirt. Iron-on (fusible) interfacing is a good product to use. Cut it a bit larger than the size you want your t-shirt to be and iron it on BEFORE CUTTING the t-shirt. I cut my shirts out first and then had to cut the interfacing as well, and then it caused problems when it didn’t exactly match up. Interface, then cut.

3. Cut all your t-shirts into a standard size. Square, rectangle, whatever, but do make it standard. You will be thankful that you do not have to patch and adjust sizes later, like we did. We cut ours using rotary cutters and ruler/guide. This took forever and was prone to error in getting exact right angles on the squares. Instead, use a quilting square (hard plastic see-through square you simply cut around, shown at left from the While They Snooze blog) or make your own with cardboard (can’t see through it to center your design, but useful if you can’t find a quilting square in the right size for your project). If you feel extra crafty, make your own with cardboard as a *frame* around the square and you’ll be able to both see and cut.

4. Lay out your design. We used a simple grid of shirts. Decide how you like the overall color balancing to appear.

Here you can see my layout as well as the shirts I had to pad with strips of background fabric to obtain a consistent size.

t-shirt layout

5. Choose a background fabric for “sashing” between the shirt blocks and for the border. Cut strips of this fabric and sew it between the blocks to create rows (or columns) of quilt blocks.

We used 1/4″ seams based on googling, which is a very small allowance but reduces bulk in the quilt top. Here you can see three of my four rows seamed together.


Cutting many strips of consistent width, especially long ones (next step) is a pain unless you have industrial tools. If you only have a standard cutter and mat, you can carefully and precisely zig-zag fold your fabric to cut through many layers at once for a longer total strip. If you are not careful and precise, you will get a zig-zag strip instead of a long rectangle.

6. Cut longer strips to create the sashes between rows (or columns) and join them together with long seams.


7. I had a lot of shirts with interesting pocket designs that I wanted to include, so I decided to add a row to the top and bottom that included these pockets. I laid them out and did some math to get them evenly spaced and cut appropriately sized sashing to fill out the rows.


8. Add a border. You probably cannot cut a continuous piece of your background fabric this long, so just add a seam where needed. Or if you are a perfectionist, space the seams out regularly so it looks deliberate rather than desperate.


You may like to miter the corners together to get a diagonal seam. This is not hard. Cut both border strips to extend all the way to the end of the corner (i.e., so they would overlap). Sew to the end of the interior blocks from both directions and stop. Fold the quilt so that you have a seam at 45 degrees from the two edges and sew from the interior corner out. Trim the excess fabric, unfold, and press the seams open.


Congratulations! You now have a quilt top. Next up is how to turn it into a quilt “sandwich” and then start into the actual quilting.

How to stall a plane

Today was my second lesson in flying a plane. There was some uncertainty at the beginning, because the forecast included low-ish clouds (~2000 feet) which would interfere with the type of flying I’m currently allowed to do (i.e., no clouds). But it cleared up a bit so we went for it.

This time, the pre-flight walkthrough to check out the plane only took 1.5 hours instead of 2 hours, and I did the checks instead of watching my instructor do them. The fuel was just under 1/2 full, so I placed a call for the fuel truck. I inspected the wings, the body, the flaps, the ailerons, the elevator, the rudder, and so on. When we were ready, I towed the plane out to the yellow line and we got in.

This time, I got to:

  • Talk to the ground and tower controls. My instructor had me practice this first before going “live”, but it was still a bit challenging to be flying the plane and remember what to say and process the response and reply appropriately. My big debut went like this:

    “El Monte ground, Skyhawk 19760, row 18. Taxi to active with Charlie.”

  • Do the run-up engine tests
  • Strobe light – squawk on – throttle full for take-off. And take off!
  • Practice steep turns (45 degrees)
  • Practice slow flight, at 80 mph
  • Practice fast flight, at 110 mph
  • Experience a stall!
  • Help land the plane

My takeoff this time was much more controlled (we didn’t wobble left/right as much). However, there was a bit of turbulence throughout the flight that made controlling it just a bit more challenging.

I learned that the pilot’s goal in slow flight is different from that of fast flight. In slow flight, you want to keep the speed constant around your goal (like 80 mph). You change the pitch of the plane to control the airspeed. If you want to go up or down in altitude, you give it more/less throttle (and control the nose to maintain desired speed).

In contrast, in fast flight, your goal is to keep the altitude under scrutiny. Here, the pitch controls the altitude. If you want to speed up or slow down (and maintain altitude), you give it more/less throttle (and control the nose to maintain desired altitude).

What a stall is like: We slowed down to 70 mph, then down to about 50 mph. The plane was still flying smoothly, but as our speed went down further, the stall horn started to sound. My instructor pulled the nose up on the plane so that it would keep flying at the same altitude, even slower, until we finally stalled. I observed breathlessly, but nothing scary happened; the nose went up a bit and then started down, all on its own. Pointing the nose down reduces the angle of attack, which reduces lift and causes you to lose altitude and gain speed, and suddenly you’re not in a stall anymore. The instructor didn’t do any of that so as to show me how the plane responds on its own; apparently the plane is designed to do this bit of recovery. You can (and likely should) help it along by pushing the nose down more and giving the plane more throttle.

The landing was the most stressful/exciting part of the flight. I think I was already getting a bit mentally tired by that point, and looking forward to being on the ground. As before, my instructor talked me through the final approach and down toward the ground. I stared at the “19″ marking the start of the runway to ensure that it stayed stationary (from our perspective) which meant, as he said, that “if we keep going, that’s exactly where we’ll crash.” Then I kept saying,
“Your plane?”
“Your plane?”
“Your plane?”
I was increasingly anxiously waiting for him to take over and handle the transition from air to ground since we hadn’t discussed it and I only have a fuzzy theoretical sense of how that happens. Instead, we had both our hands on the controls and I could feel him guiding it along while I mentally flailed wondering whether I should do something or just be hands-off since I really, really didn’t want to accidentally bump it the wrong way. And then he was leveling off, just a few feet above the runway, and we touched down. He instructed me to brake, and I managed to keep it much straighter this time, and then we turned off the runway to power down. Whew! He reassured me later that he’d felt comfortable having me on the controls and that we weren’t operating outside of a situation he could control or take over, if I did bump the controls or give other random input. Over the next few lessons, I hope to learn exactly how that works and what I SHOULD be doing :)

Later I reflected on a point my instructor made, about how the hardest part of flying is the transitions — between ground and air, or level flight and turns, or slow and high speed flight. This is mainly because you do one set of things with the controls to initiate (and maintain control of) the transition, but then you have to back off and let things settle into the new configuration. There’s a tendency to keep doing the transition action, or do it too long. I realized that this is equally true of, say, driving a car, but we don’t notice it because we’ve already assimilated that practice. As I drove home from the airport, I paid attention to how I automatically start undoing the steering wheel turn well before I arrive at my new pointing, and how I know how much steering wheel turn to give to achieve a desired vehicle turn, which *is* different depending on the speed, even though I don’t think about it consciously. So at some point, the plane control process should also work its way into my muscle response and things will get easier.

I flew a plane!

I began my day by checking the weather:

KEMT 241445Z 00000KT 10SM CLR 27/03 A3000

The El Monte airport had zero wind, 10 miles of visibility, 27 C, and an altimeter setting of 30.00 inches Hg. Perfect conditions for my first flying lesson!

The lesson included two hours of pre-flight instruction and walking through the checklist you use to ensure that the plane is ready to fly safely, and one hour up in the sky. That time was dense with information, which I hope to retain by review and repetition (and scheduling my next lesson ASAP!). The plane was a Cessna Skyhawk 172.

What I got to do myself:

  • Follow the instructor around and take notes on the checklist as he demonstrated each check
  • Drag the plane out of its parking position onto a painted yellow line
  • Flip switches, set wing flaps, adjust throttle, etc. to ready the plane for taxi
  • Turn the switch to start the engine and watch the propeller spin up
  • Taxi the plane out to the run-up area using foot pedals to control direction and braking
  • Practice maintaining altitude, climbing, descending, turning
  • Final approach to landing
  • Push the plane back in to its parking spot, chain it down, etc.

The instructor was there the whole time, guiding and making minor corrections to help, and he would sometimes demonstrate controls by actively pushing pedals or steering and letting me feel what he was doing from my side, since the controls are tied together.

Some of this was straightforward, and some of it was rather challenging. For example, taxiing is done by steering a big vehicle with only your feet via rudder pedals, and it definitely takes some getting used to. You press right to go right, left to go left, and both forward with toe pressure to brake. Meanwhile, your hands are itching to grab onto the steering yoke, but that only manipulates the wings, so it only works while you’re in 3D motion (i.e., the air).

Once you’re up in the air, there’s also a complex interaction between where the nose is pointed (the pitch of the plane), the position of the yoke and the trim tab, the position of the rudder, the amount of throttle, and the speed of the plane. In a car, you press on the gas pedal to accelerate. In the plane, you have to manage all of these things simultaneously. I’m sure it all fits together as you gain experience, but it’s a lot to hold in your head at once while FLYING A FREAKING PLANE FOR THE FIRST TIME.

The biggest rush was when I got to do the takeoff. I pushed the throttle all the way in with my right hand, had my left hand lightly on the yoke, and worked the rudder with my foot pedals. This was the hardest steering challenge, because the plane naturally drifts to the left (due to the direction the propeller spins) and it seemed to me like the amount of compensation I needed changed as we accelerated. So because I have no experience, I was doing some oscillation and overcorrection trying to get us to stay straight on the line, meanwhile fighting off some mental ?!?!?s about why keeping the plane going straight would be that hard. And we’re accelerating, and eating up the runway, and the instructor told me to start pulling up, which I probably did a bit too gradually, but we had plenty of space. And I felt us go UP into the air, and we were there!

What I didn’t get to do yet:

  • Talk to the control tower and other planes
  • Land the plane

However, I did the final approach (with much coaching) all the way down to the ground, watching the runway grow in front of me, and thinking “Okay now, time for you to take over, isn’t it time for you to take over, I don’t know how to land this thing, PLEASE TAKE OVER NOW!” and that’s when he did.

At the end of the lesson, I was presented with a pilot’s log book and my first log entry (click to enlarge):


It takes a minimum of 40 hours to get your pilot’s license, but it’s based on demonstrating the necessary skills, not just logging time. Apparently most people take 50-60 hours, and certainly I’d rather have really solid skills since there’s no reason to rush. Still, I’m now 1/40th of the way to that minimum! And I can’t wait to get up there again!

That’s not what I meant. Or is it?

You may have encountered this great example of acyrologia:

(I could not find an original source for the image, unfortunately!)

“Acryologia” is kind of hard to pronounce. It is also rather obscure. A search in the online Webster’s dictionary does not find it! The link above to a definition takes you to a dictionary of rhetoric (Silva Rhetoricae, the Forest of Rhetoric). It defines acryologia as “An incorrect use of words, especially the use of words that sound alike but are far in meaning from the speaker’s intentions.” Sometimes these things slip out (malapropism) and sometimes they are done on purpose (puns, the practice of which is known as paranomasia). I’d guess that Spoonerisms are another kind of acryologia.

I was amused to find that the Silva Rhetoricae characterizes some of its terms by their *ethos* (“persuasive appeal of one’s character”). For example, “Acyrologia erodes the ethos of the speaker, for it portrays his/her ignorance.” It also rates them by style: “Using acyrologia reflects poor diction (word choice), thus demonstrating a low level of style.”

There is also cacozelia, in which you use improper or overly erudite words to impress your audience or to make things sound worse than they are. The Silva Rhetoricae cites an example from Seneca: “This is an adultery against the state, to have sex under the trophies of Miltiades.” Adultery. Really?

Do you have any favorite examples of acryologisms?

Further adventures in breadmaking

Some years ago, I baked my first loaf of bread. Two weeks ago, I decided to try it again. And it failed, and here’s what I learned.

The original recipe said to use “something along the lines of 1 cup” of water to mix in with the yeast. So I used 1 cup. In later discussion on the blog post above, it sounded like people thought 1/4 cup should be sufficient. So when I recorded the recipe, that’s what I used, and when I pulled it out to start baking, I’d forgotten all about this exchange.

With only 1/4 cup of water, I got a very dry dough that wouldn’t let me add more flour in the “add more flour” step. It was also very difficult to knead. But I kept at it. In the end, it barely rose, and I got a very small, dense loaf. Actually, it was still tasty, just thicker than you’d expect from a standard bread.

Lesson: the water does matter! And for this recipe, use 1 cup.

One week ago, I tried again, with 1 cup of water, and the bread came out fantastic again. I also incorporated some suggestions from “The New Best Recipe”, the encyclopedic cookbook/instruction manual I’ve raved about in the past:

  • Let the dough rise in the oven, not just on a counter. Heat oven to 150, leave it there a minute or so, and turn it off. Then put the dough in, covered tightly with plastic wrap. (Actually I used a damp towel but I think either works.)
  • Another great tip, which I didn’t get to incorporate, was putting a rubber band around the outside of the container in which the dough is rising, which ideally is a straight-sided container, so you can ACTUALLY TELL when it has doubled in volume.

Yesterday, I baked another loaf. I wanted to try making something wheatier, chewier, with sunflower seeds and oats in it. The Best Recipe book DID NOT HAVE a recipe of this nature, to my disappointment. But one of the first hits on google was this recipe for Multigrain Sunflower Bread, which sounded perfect.

I followed the instructions, which in this case did call for 1 cup of water, plus 2 cups of flour and 1/2 cup each of sunflower seeds and oats. Many people commented that this made for a very wet, sticky dough and they had to add more flour. Instead, I ended up with… another dry dough! I went through the whole process anyway, but once again it didn’t rise the way it should have. Here is a comparison of loaf #2 (white flour) and loaf #3 (unbleached/wheat flour with oats and sunflower seeds), using the same yeast and water amount:


The new bread is quite delicious and chewy… but didn’t rise properly. This is either due to needing more yeast, or more kneading, or something … I learned that kneading stretches out the gluten fibers into sheets, so they trap the gas released by the yeast, which otherwise just escapes. So the dry-ish dough maybe didn’t form those sheets. More experimentation is needed!

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