My immediate thought for what I wanted to do for the upcycle project was to make a shirt. I’ve wanted to get better at sewing for a long time, and I thought it would be a great idea to make one for this class. The only issue was that I had absolutely no idea what to make it out of, or what aesthetic to center it around. I considered making a shirt from cardboard or even scraps of vinyl wood flooring, until I finally had the idea to to patchwork.


A colorful patchwork quilt. [1]

The basic idea with patchwork quilting is sewing together pieces (patches) of fabric in the top layer of a quilt to form a design, or at least an aesthetically pleasing pattern. While quilting likely goes back more than 5,000 years, the style of patchwork I plan to emulate with my shirt is uniquely American, arising in the 19th century and becoming something of a “folk art”. Patchwork quilting has become a bit of a symbol of some parts of the midwest, specifically Ohio and Kentucky. Growing up in Ohio and visiting family frequently in Kentucky, we often drove past barns with brightly-colored patchwork quilt designs mounted to the front of them. Allegedly, this began with Ohio Arts and Culture and caught on in other areas.

A Kentucky barn with a patchwork quilt design. [2]
I was also inspired by the popular Dolly Parton song “Coat of Many Colors”, where Parton sings about a coat her mother made her out of many different scraps of fabric. She loved the coat very much, and didn’t understand why the kids at school made fun of her for it.


A patchwork-style shirt, made by Polo Ralph Lauren [3]

My goal with this project is to create a shirt in the style of a patchwork quilt by using an assortment of fabric that I am hoping to find as scraps or from other garments, but ideally buying no new fabric. I will, however, need to buy a set of patterns for a shirt since I have never sewn a shirt and definitely cannot make the patterns for one freehand. Though I lack experience in sewing, I plan to first create a patchwork of different fabric pieces, then cut and stitch together the cutouts into a shirt. We’ll see if that plan has to change. As for color, I’m drawn to blue and white; depending on what fabrics and patterns I can get my hands on, I’m hoping to make a shirt that not only satisfies the definition of patchwork but also is something I would wear outside of this class.

[1]. Patchwork quilt. Retrieved from
[2]. Barn with quilt pattern. Retrieved from
[3]. Polo shirt. Retrieved from Polo Ralph Lauren.

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5 Comments. Leave new

  • Hi Josh! Barn quilts were signals to escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad to let them know about save spots

  • Lavender Giebner
    February 5, 2024 11:12 am

    Sewing a patchwork shirt – or patchwork anything, for that matter – fits wonderfully with upcycling! Great idea. Would you mind sharing if you plan on making the shirt with flat colors (like the barn quilt pictured) or with pattern fabrics (like the shirt and quilt pictured)?

    • Hi Lavender, I’m planning on using patterned fabrics! There was a shirt I saw in a long-gone Instagram ad that gave me the idea that had patterned blue and white patches, but I couldn’t find the picture of it.

  • Hi Josh, I think making a shirt will be a cool idea. Even more so if you have been wanting to improve your sewing skills. A question I had was what kind of shirt you were going to make? A button up, long sleeve, short sleeve? Also were you thinking of a particular color scheme?

    • Hi Sophie! I’m planning on making a short-sleeve button up shirt. My tailoring skills probably aren’t the best to make a long-sleeve, and I feel like the collar and buttons will pose just enough of a challenge. Right now I’m leaning toward making a shirt with blue and white patches, but I’ll just have to see what colors I can find.


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