The Manly Quilt and How it Got That Way

29 May 2014

The Manly Quilt

I have a younger brother. I don't mention him here often – I love him dearly, but we live on pretty different planets. We only grew up together for a short time, and nowadays we see each other once in five years if we're lucky. We try to keep in touch, but that can be challenging. We're just people with not much shared history. We honestly don't know each other all that well.

I was excited to have the chance to make him a T-shirt quilt – there are so few opportunities to do anything meaningful for him. But when I received his box of shirts in the mail, I was all "Hmmmmmmm. What the heck am I gonna do with these?!" They're all black, grey, and army green. They have liquor companies, a tattoo parlor, a firearms manufacturer, and other equally masculine things on them. How to blend all that with the warmth, comfort, and prettiness a quilt "should" have?


But in taking photos for Instagram, I found that I actually quite liked the range of hues in the shirts, and the weathered quality of their graphics. And I reminded myself that what I like in a quilt doesn't matter so much here. These shirts represent his life, and so should his quilt.

So I decided to go with it, and keep the whole thing neutral with no added colors. I gave it a hashtag: #manlyquilt. Once I had that moniker, I was 100% into the adventure.


I had a little challenge in that the quilt blocks these shirts yielded were huge – my bro is, after all, a strapping bodybuilder kind of guy. But with such big blocks, it was impossible to create any cohesion in the design. So ultimately, I took the two shirts with the biggest and most nondescript designs and cut them into narrower slices. Popping these between the larger blocks really helped it all hang together. (And I hope the folks at Xtreme Couture will forgive me.)

The more I worked on this project, the more I loved it. It was a big step outside my design comfort zone, and a fun opportunity to converse with my brother (via text message, our preferred channel). I'd send him in-progress pics, and get back an "[Expletive] Sweet!" – high praise – and then I'd feel newly excited.. He really seems to like the thing, which, even as I type this, makes me tear up a bit.

As I'm sure many of you can relate, there's a big swath of my family to whom my crafty and bloggy existence means little. What an awesome opportunity to use these skills in a bandwidth my brother and I can both relate to – not to mention, to think of him chilling out under this thing, watching TV on a cold night.


My bro is not a cat-lover (see what I mean about the different planets?), so of course I've been tormenting him with pictures of Pushkin anointing the finished quilt. "Get that [expletive] cat off my quilt!" he replies. And I cackle.

In all seriousness, though, making this thing has felt a lot like getting to hang out with my brother for a week, and that's been wonderful. If you have far-away loved ones, I can't recommend this experience highly enough: get them to ship you a dozen or so t-shirts, and turn them into an emissary of your love. You'll both benefit.

(If you want to learn how to make a T-shirt quilt, remember you can RSVP to be reminded of when my CreativeLIVE class broadcasts.)



Oh, Diane, what a fabulous quilt and what a moving post. I am so in love with what you did here, and how you turned it into a stellar bonding experience with a dude who is probably impossible to shop for. It sounds like the gift you made will be a great memory for both of you...wowsers, that's all.

He is indeed Im. Poss. Ible to shop for! :-) Thank you so much for the kind words!

Great manly quilt and I really enjoyed reading about the making. Even when I'm making a quilt as a surprise for someone and there's no actual contact during the making, I always find it makes me feel close to the person, I find myself thinking about them as I sew and reliving shared memories, it's one of the things I love most about giving a quilt as a gift.

I so agree, Sally - the many hours needed for quilt-making really give us time to focus our thoughts on the recipient. And I believe those energies end up in the finished quilt. (Along with, in my case, some cat hair. But, you know, extra warmth.) :-)

What an awesome quilt and what a wonderful experience for both you and your bro! Sometimes we have to find "creative" ways of bonding with one another when the usual modes do not work so well :-) Love, love, love the Pushkin picture. "You want manly? I am the bringer of manly!"

HAHAHA!! P has been all over this quilt since I finished it. I think he feels more manly on it. :-)

What a wonderful story Diane! You made two worlds connect, helped yourself expand, and made your world have meaning in his - all at the same time. Beautiful quilt too. I love how manly it is. Sometimes being girly can get same-o, same-o.

This story really feels familiar - I too, have a much younger brother. He was only 5 when I left for college, so we didn't do much growing up together either. He still lives nearby, so we do see each other every month or so, but I can relate to the idea that we don't have a lot in common.

To paraphrase Donny + Marie, I'm a little bit crafty and he's a little bit heavy metal ;-)

(P.S. he probably doesn't even know who Donny + Marie are, LOL!)

HAHA! I'm pretty sure my bro doesn't know Donny & Marie either. :-)

I've heard from several people who have this same kind of sibling experience, and I have to say, it's been so comforting. I've always felt envious of close brothers and sisters, but sometimes life just doesn't deal those cards.

You sure know how to make a mom's heart melt. This project has indeed provided the two of you a bridge to each other and a way to connect where so often connection seems difficult. I know it means as much to him to have you make this quilt for him as it has meant to you to make it.

And I truly think that Mich in L.A. hit on a really important thing to focus on here and that is that this kind of quilt is a perfect gift for many of those guys in our lives for whom gift shopping is a challenge. Even if they won't admit it - they will most likely appreciate such a connection to memories and events in their lives. Kind of a "manly collage"! I imagine most guys would enjoy the participation in their gift over being surprised with maybe something not so great.

This particular quilt has provided much more than originally intended, hasn't it? And it makes the mother's heart happy.

This has been my favorite t-shirt quilt you've shared with us so far, Diane! Love the colors and the overall look! And what a great project to "work on" with your brother!

Diane, this is so cool. Love that you are connecting with your brother over this thoughtful, super-personal project for him! I know what you mean about not always getting the close relationship in life that other families might have. I'm so touched that you've found a nice path back and forth with this quilt.