Upcycling Project #1 – Update 2

Time to check in on the status of the first upcycling project—the running shirt quilt. As of right now, all of the front and back piecework has been sewn, and so now I have two large 4 x 4 panels ready to be laid out. The next step is to sandwich in the batting and actually quilt and bind them. unfortunately, that would require me to have some batting, and the having of batting would require me to go to a store that sells batting and acquire some, and the acquisition of batting would require me to have free time during the operating hours of a store that sells batting. So as soon as I have some of that (time) I will get some of that (batting) and proceed.


Upcycling Project #1 – Update 1

So upcycling project number one is underway—the race shirt quilt. I selected sixteen race shirts to give their lives to become a quilt. Strangely enough, these are actually shirts that I wear with some frequency, as opposed to the vast majority of the other shirts in this project, because they were my shirts of choice for working out in the gym. That is not because I was particularly fond of them, however; quite the contrary, it was because I wasn’t especially worried about keeping them nice. Nonetheless, I have decided to switch to ultimate shirts for workouts and use these as quilting material. Part of the reasoning is that I have a lot of them and see no likelihood that I will not continue to acquire them, and enough that I could compose a quilt of them while maintaining one encompassing quilt-wide theme, as I am a sucker for themes. Sixteen race shirts also makes for a nice, symmetrical, perfect-square 4 by 4 layout, and I am also a sucker for symmetry and regularity.

Sixteen race shirts.

So having selected my sixteen shirts, I measured them to get a good idea of how much usable space I could harvest from each, and settled on a sixteen-inch square, front and back. Sixteen inches based on that it was roughly the maximum space between the sleeves on the smallest shirts and that it would enclose the design of both front and back on all of them. Square based on see the above about liking symmetry, etc.

The next order of business was to make a template so that I could accurately replicate the sizing of the cutout on each shirt. Template-making is a hallmark of my project work. So I measured and cut a 16” x 16” square from my favorite template material, that being whatever cereal boxes are currently in the recycle bin. I also made a space with center points on each side so that when using it I could have a gauge on properly centering the design in the square.

Template front.

Template cereal box view.

I then proceeded to iron all sixteen shirts (inside-out so the heat of the iron would not mar the printing) and then lay them flat, center the template, and cut out the square with a rotary cutter. Because the square on the front as a rule will not line up with the square on the back, one must put something in between to prevent cutting through, and do each side separately. The only tricky part of this was that I don’t have a cutting surface that is 16 x 16, so I had to either move it halfway through, which was a pain, or after I got sick enough of it to justify trying to find a solution, using more cereal box for the other half, which was still less than perfect but serviceable enough to get the job done. Thus I had two identically-sized squares (more or less) from a shirt, and a leftover neck-sleeves-shirttail with giant hole through it.

Template on shirt.

An individual cut-out square.

Giant hole.

Once all these squares were separated from their previous shirt-bodies, I laid them out in rows as I intended them to end up in the quilt. The plan is for the fronts to be all on one side, and the backs on the opposite side, such that each shirt’s front square corresponds directly to the back square of the same shirt when viewed from the other side.

Pile of cut squares.

Squares laid out.

At that point it just becomes a matter of pinning and sewing. Four squares to a row, four rows per side, two sides. As of this writing I’ve completed I think six of the eight rows. Further updates as events warrant.

Pinned for sewing.


Some rows completed.

Now What?

So for the past 178 days—six months—I have worn a different shirt every day, never the same one twice (unless you count that one I have two of), and now I have finally run out.

Well, not exactly. I still have more shirts. Even discounting all the ones I disqualified from this project—non-T-shirts, technical wicking shirts, plain color shirts with nothing on them, etc.—I still have some T-shirts I haven’t featured here. My wife has a bunch of old T-shirts that she doesn’t wear much anymore. I’ve worn some of them in the past, but not as part of this project. I disqualified them based on the fact that I consider them hers and not mine, and I don’t really have much in the way of stories for them, other than “This is a shirt my wife had when we met and I thought it was cool so I asked her if it was ok for me to wear it and she said yes so I wore it.” Also, as they are hers, it’s not my place to suggest that she get rid of any of them, as she has been gracious enough not to press me to get rid of mine.

In addition to those, I have a bunch of shirts that I inherited from my wife’s uncle who died about five years ago. Her uncle was an interesting character and had a collection of old, sometimes funny, usually vulgar T-shirts that I think are mostly from the 70’s. He was a skinny guy too, and so when he passed away the family was gracious enough to give them to the other skinny guy who liked vintage T-shirts that they knew. It’s my intention to feature those shirts here too because they are really worth seeing. I’m not going to have voting on them because I have no intention of getting rid of any of them or turning them in to anything other than vintage T-shirts. But feel free to share your opinions on them in the comments. I might not have as much to say about them myself because I don’t have as much history with them personally but I’m sure I’ll have a few things to comment on in the design.

The next step is of course to start going through the shirts and picking out ones to start upcycling. Feel free if you haven’t had the chance to vote on some of them to go back and cast your votes on the ones you missed. I’ll still take them under advisement. As I find time to create things out of them, I will try to share them here, although I probably will not be able to give daily updates.

Also, if anyone has any interest in any of the shirts—that is, you see one you like or someone you know would be interested in, let me know. Re-using is just as good as upcycling, so if there’s one I was going to get rid of that you would wear, talk to me about it. If you have suggestions on what specifically should become of shirts, I’d be interested to hear your ideas. Or if you’d like some for raw materials for your own projects, I might be open to it.

And thanks to everyone who showed any interest, especially to my wife who took almost every picture you see here and never seemed to find it a chore to do so (every single day for the past six months), and thanks to everyone that has voted, shared this site socially, and commented. I appreciated all the comments I received even though I didn’t respond to a lot of them. Usually because I couldn’t think of anything clever to say in response.

This isn’t the end of the project, of course; it’s just a transition to a new phase.


Day 0

So to prepare for this project, I dug out all the boxes and bins of T-shirts I had stashed in various storage spaces and ran several loads of laundry. By the time it was all done, I had a pretty large pile of clean, more or less ready-to-wear shirts.


I then took it upon myself to lay them all out flat, sorting them as I did into two stacks–work-appropriate (no large stains, no obvious holes, no controversial subject matter, etc.) and non-work appropriate. The work-appropriate pile was the winner, but I have plenty of sloppy, ragged, naughty T-shirts for the weekend, too. Here is the larger pile:

I started counting but lost track somewhere after 120.

Now it’s just a matter of taking the top one off the pile. And repeating for the next several months.

Day -1 – The concept

So, to begin with, the concept behind “Shirt-a-day” bears some explanation. When I was doing a Google search to see if anyone else had done something like this (and I’m sure someone has), all I found were lots of sites that were offering to sell a new, different T-shirt every day. My goal here is something close to the opposite of that, where I am going to wear an old T-shirt from my large stockpile of shirts going back several years, with the goal of ultimately turning some–perhaps many–of them into something else. As of right now, my hope is that people will enjoy seeing them and enjoy hearing the stories that many of them recall for me, and also that they will help me decide what their ultimate fates will be. As such, I welcome people to vote on which shirts I should keep and wear, and which ones should be changed in to something more useful–as of right now, I’m envisioning the traditional T-shirt quilt, although I’m open to suggestions, proposals, offers for trade or purchase, etc.

Let me know what you think. Enjoy the shirts. I plan to.