So my t-shirt quilt adventure began with a decade-long battle with being a pack rat. My mom is a pack rat, I'm sure that the entire lineage had drawers and boxes and bags full of items either sentimentally designated as "keepers" or put into the "just in case" pile. Either way, my "just in case" Girl Scout ways and my sentimental side combined to create somewhere near 20 totes of clothing from high school graduation until now.
De-Cluttering Without Demolition
So the Kon Mari method, while interesting and somewhat helpful in tidbits here and there, is not conducive to life with kids. (Put ALL of your clothes into a giant pile on the floor at once? Then get interrupted with naps, baths, meals, playing, referring... Yeah. That one-time pile soon becomes a permanent fixture in the living room if your life is like mine!)
The fact remained that I had just received our last load from our recent move and my parents decided to fully oust all remaining artifacts from my basement bedroom in their home. So, our garage was consumed for an entire winter by boxes. This year, really hoping to actually park in our garage and get rid of all the "stuff" we have accumulated, we have been looking for ways to preserve the extremely meaningful things and maybe keep the best of the rest too, but then discard anything that has either
lost meaning, is broken or badly degraded, out of style, or could be better served elsewhere.
As I mentioned, clothing is a BIG issue for me. One of the stupidest attachments since really, it's to cover your skin from the elements. That's the function. I'm usually quite practical and admire function in most day to day things, but with clothing I lose control and adhere emotions to nearly every garment. Case and point?
Oh! I simply cannot get rid of this threadbare olive green t-shirt with a picture of Smokey Bear on it that is three sizes too small that I purchased at a thrift store seven years ago for a quarter! I spend the 4th of July on Lake Havasu in that shirt which was when I worked for Jerry who got me the job in Reno where I met Sarah, whom I lived with for two months, who rejected advances from Tom who got a ride home from you, dear husband! Do you remember? So I can't get rid of it! Too many memories significant to our relationship! And just maybe it will fit again someday!
**Stay Tuned -- a PHOTO UPDATE with the finished product will be coming soon!**
A Little History and KnowledgeHere's something you may not have known: in the 80s and prior, almost all t-shirts were Made in the USA. Yep! Right here in our own country. Those jobs were soon outsourced to other countries. We've all heard in more recent years about the conditions for workers in some of those factories and how they aren't being paid living wages. Plus, think of all the transit costs and the environmental impact of all that far-flung, back and forth that goes on to get the shirts made and in stores in the first place. Yikes.
To repatriate means to return to the country of origin. De-cluttering all the Made-in-Who-Knows-Where shirts and sending them to one place here in the USA will do just that. Gross fact: The average American throws away 65 lbs of clothing each year! Annually! That's insane but it's probably low for many, like me. (I don't throw them away, I donate, but still!) If you've ever moved totes of clothing, you know how that weight can add up. Think of the waste that adds up too! It's 5% of trash on Earth!!
You know the trend lately for eating local? Try WEARING local too! Take a look at the tags of even the first five things you grab from your closet and there's a good chance that it's NOT sourced in the USA. If you want to make a difference, try to keep it close to home -- a good rule for anything that is available in this country for your purchase. Sadly though, because of the almighty dollar and companies' bottom lines, it's harder than you think to find modern-day clothing with a USA tag!
American-made T-shirt Quilts
Sadly, that might have been one of my better arguments for keeping an item from one of my many totes. I saw an ad in Outside Magazine for Project Repat. In fact, for about a year that same ad always caught my attention. Though I know the magazine biz is just that -- a business -- I also respected that particular publication for always airing on the side of sparse advertisements and having what I believe to be a decent vetting process perhaps, to keep ads relevant to readers. So I thought this Project Repat must be pretty cool. Something I'd have to look into. You know...someday.
Finally after purging my collection of textiles about a half of a dozen times, I still had four totes in my closet (on the floor, stacked two-high, beneath my FULL hanging dowel, loaded to the bowing point.) I'd given away everything I didn't love, have a memory attached to, hope to fit into, or might wear if a last-minute backyard nuptial comes up. I discovered that TWO full totes were t-shirts that
I'd never wear, get rid of, or use. They were either keepsakes from cheerleading in high school and playing college volleyball or souvenirs from travel here and there. Others were simply t-shirts that had seen me through MANY years -- I have one awful, ugly shirt that I got for an anti-drug campaign poster contest that I had received as a prize in middle school. That t-shirt was so soft and cozy that I wore it once a week for a workout for the next fifteen years. It was still alive and it had just become part of who I am, so I put it aside as well.
Seeing these two 30 gallon totes of prized possessions, I realized I was doing them a disservice by squirreling them away for years at a time, praying moths, mold, mildew and mice wouldn't find them. I also knew I'd never wear cheerleading shirts again. Ever. Those souvenir shirts would be rags after one day wearing it in the vicinity of my toddler. As I wondered what to do, I glanced over at another cluttered area in my room -- my bookshelf. There were about four copies of Outside in my queue to be read and as I thought about how I'd likely never get to read for leisure in the coming summer months, I remembered that ad for Project Repat.
I started to research what the company was about and I REALLY liked what I saw and read. I'm ALWAYS in search of awesome USA-sourced goods or American alternatives to some of the things we keep flooding our homes with that are made in China or elsewhere abroad. I liked the idea of using my collection of memorabilia I'd be providing a job to someone here in this country and they'd in turn be making my clutter into something practical. I could display the shirts in a fun way and use them to snuggle up at night! One of the highlights in reading about this company's idea and business model is that they realized it's HARD and not that Earth-friendly to try to do something better with textiles that have been sourced elsewhere. If you read the backstory that I linked in this paragraph, it's a quick and moving story -- interesting too! The two co-founders in the end, came up with a way to create jobs in the USA and instead of shipping all over the globe (because the idea came to them while abroad, which is where the early days of what would become Project Repat started.)
The Project Repat Process
Going to the company website, there is an extremely helpful FAQ page. I'm a total nerd and I like every variable completely and thoroughly researched before I commit to something--in most areas of my life. In other areas, say adventure travel, I'm often the one to cliff jump first, ask questions later. Back to the quilts though -- I loved the FAQ section for starting out because I had a ton of questions.
I ended up making a King size quilt not only because I doze in a King-sized bed, with munchkins on either side, BUT I also had a bunch of shirts I wanted to include (two totes!!!) That ended up being 64 "sides of t-shirts." Basically, that just means 64 fronts or 64 backs or a combination of both. The videos and FAQs tell you that you don't have to cut the backs off of one-sided shirts (which is true) BUT I highly recommend "trimming the fat" if you're mailing in a king-sized project. I also recommend setting aside about two hours of time to cut up shirts. I didn't have uninterrupted time to do this, so it took me a few chunks of time over the course of three days.
The end result was a laundry basket of unused blank "sides of shirts" that I would have had to pay to ship out. I'd rather upcycle them as rags here or tie them into dog toys. It's up to you -- it's certainly a time saver to just send them in, but I'd have been looking at about $50 in shipping if I'd left everything intact. The King sized quilt - unless you have a bunch of lightweight shirts is not going to fit into a priority mailing box. So it behooves you to trim the excess. I also checked around a bit and FOR ME and my dimensions and weight of package, UPS was the way to go, coming in roughly $10 cheaper for shipping. Food for thought.
The whole cutting and folding and stacking and counting process was actually kind of fun! I really enjoyed going through my memories and sorting out which panels I'd want to see on my bed each night. Finally, I was able to NARROW it down to 64 sides. Yes. Narrow it down. I thought I'd have trouble actually coming up with that many sides of shirts, but it was a little crazy how easy it was. It was also refreshing to get rid of that much from my repugnant clothing clutter and have a bunch of rags for oil changes, household cleaning, and to line the kennels and baby enclosures for the farm animals! (It was really only the one basket of "waste" that I mentioned earlier, but that will go a long way in textile-use in the home!) It's also a fun factoid that Project Repat will recycle all the extra material if you choose to send whole shirts.
Project Repat won't send back "extra" sides. Make sure to count several times not only to avoid fees for them creating an extra panel for you if you're short shirt sides, but also because I know I'd be bummed if I sent 65 on accident and then didn't get a cherished side in my quilt. It only takes an extra minute and it will help you to fold and condense your shipment if it's the last thing you check before boxing it up. Pay attention to the size panels for your order -- mine were 14x14 because I had a lot of large graphics and some large shirts. I had the tape measure out while counting shirt sides and decided that would be best. It's not a bad idea to measure if you're not sure! DO NOT send any shirts you'd be devastated if the logo/graphic were cut off or not completely as you imagine. (I mean this for super large ones that are very close to the dimensions you are ordering.) I had a few graphics that had words right near the 14" mark that I kept home to put over a canvas instead, for another project, because the meaning would largely be lost if the whole shirt graphic couldn't be used.
They have a person that makes sure everything looks great -- BUT -- some of the process in cutting and piecing is still automated and they aren't mind readers -- so to be safe, if it's close or it would bother you, keep it home. The other really NEAT thing worth noting -- if you're like me and you have a plethora of memory shirts to choose from, you CAN order a double-sided quilt! Send DOUBLE the number of sides for this option. In my case, that would be 128 shirt sides for a King-sized quilt.
There is even a special designation for baby clothing -- 8x8 panels -- which will be next on my list of clothing to purge, sort, and send! This is where you choose the "backing" color of fleece as well. I do love that the fleece that is offered as the backing is also American-made, so you have an entire product that is sourced from our soil. Not only is it American-made, it's PolarTec so it's recycled plastic bottles! 23 bottles go into every yard of fabric, so it's kind(er) to the Earth!
The 4-step Process for T-shirt Quilt Ordering
You can order a custom t-shirt quilt like the one that I had made in just a few easy steps. It's important to do this process carefully (it's not hard) so that you aren't making changes after ordering. That will result in a $25 fee.
1) Go to the site. Order. Decide on your size and click "Buy Now." Tip: Currently, if you enter your email, you'll be eligible for 15% off!
2) Make sure you've counted and recounted and then counted again the shirt sides. Not only should you have number of shirt sides need for your blanket size, you also need to make sure they are all the right size -- send enough material to make the right size panel! It's $5 for every panel they need to back with fabric to make larger. (I thought I did a really good job of measuring, but after 64 sides, somewhere in there, I must have gotten lazy! I did get a $10 charge for two squares -- I felt a little bad since I don't like causing folks extra work!)
3) Watch this video. It's easy and quick and though it's a little cheesy (panning to home decor and the music) -- I could have been the woman speaking as I cut and pondered and enjoyed the process. Her house is much cleaner and more tranquil than mine though! It's reassuring though - for the minute and a half it takes to watch, you'll know you're doing it right!
4) Ship! Most smaller blankets will fit in a priority USPS box. This will get them shipped faster and provides tracking -- it's a pretty economical way to go. For a bigger quilt, like in my case, you'll want to be judicious with the material you're sending as it adds up to a lot of weight! Only ship ONE box! Even if you need a giant box - only send ONE!
Neat extra: IF you want some creative liberty in the process, you can arrange your shirts, take a CLEAR photo and enclose it with the shipment. It's a free service but you have to do exactly as I've iterated here -- they won't do any sort of crazy treasure-map style gridding or following descriptive directions. There is also someone that checks to make sure the shirts look good next to one another, so you're in good hands if you don't want to lay out the panels or enclose a picture.
No jeans! No leather! Otherwise, all materials are fine! Even jerseys!
If you peruse some of the happy customers on the Project Repat site or social media, you'll see even a button-up dress shirt can be used! Pretty neat!
Lastly, be classy. Send laundered shirts. I can only imagine what some of the college shirts have been through over the years for some folks! Ha! Let's not share THOSE memories. Throw 'em in the wash with some Persil and send clean shirts to the nice folks making the blanket for you!
ONE person will be getting a lap-sized quilt to celebrate American-made products that provide jobs to fellow Americans as we celebrate our 4th of July holiday! Make sure to go here to enter to win!
Have you ever commissioned someone to make a quilt for you? Was it a t-shirt quilt? Have you tried the services Project Repat offers?
Disclosure: Consideration provided by brands mentioned in this article.