De-boning Shirts

I am so happy with my sewing room except for one area….

My recycled shirts.  I love my quilts that are made from recycled shirts….really love them.  Check out the ones I’ve made…   Cactus PatchHand Me Downs,Criss Cross Applesauce, Scrappy Mountain Majesties and Bargello in Plaid.  They are the softest comfiest quilts ever.  The kids fight over Criss Cross Applesauce.  When I had my great quilt giveaway.  I gave away LOTS of my regular quilts but not my shirt

My problem, my shirts are currently (for the most part) being stored whole-in garbage bags-in a pile where I can’t really get to them!  It’s a chore to even try.

Well no one wants to make a quilt if you first have to de-bone all the shirts first.  YUCK!

There are so many quilts that I want to make that are in Bonnie Hunter’s book Scraps and Shirttails II.  It’s actually one of my favorite books of her’s but I don’t make the quilts in it.  WHY??  I have to de-bone the shirts first.  The fabric is not readily available.  It’s easier to start a project when the fabric is ready to go.

Well that’s ending.  I am going to de-bone my shirts.  I am making a commitment to tackle these shirts.  Confession time here…I likely have 100 shirts…aw heck.  Likely more-but who know?  I can’t get to them!!


In my defense, where we live, I can get the shirts in a bag a the thrift stores for very little money…something like a bag of shirts for $3…even a $1 a bag. Who can resist?  Not me.  Often I’ll go to the thrift store, I’ll find a couple shirts for me and there is still lots of room in my bag.  I end up filling the bag with shirts..and shirts and shirts.

I’ve brought a bag of shirts downstairs.   Over nap time I’ve de-boned a couple shirts for the last week or so.  I’ll de-bone another while supper is cooking.  It’s a VERY slow pace…but I’ll get them done eventually.


My goal is to try to have all the shirts de-boned by the end of April.  At the end of the month I take my radioactive iodine treatment to kill my thyroid cancer.  I’ll have to take time off of childcare then.  If I don’t get them done before then, I’m going to do it full time until I’m finished.  Then from that point forward, all shirts will be de-boned as they come into the house.

If I am going to really make quilts with these, I have to make the “fabric” usable.  Getting these shirt under control is the only way it’s going to happen!  I’m committed.

Is anyone else with me??  Does anyone else have shirts that are in bags waiting for attention..wanting to be used?  Leave me a comment here and let me know if you too are in a predicament like mine….I really don’t think I am the only one!

38 thoughts on “De-boning Shirts”

  1. I have at least 50 shirts to debone. I pulled out a bin about a month ago and took one evening to cut off collars and sleeves. I wanted more variety for my tumbler leader and ender project and I wanted some brights for Kiss in the Corner. That reduced the volume in the background n enough so that I could fit more shirts in it to help organize my sewing room.

    I see so many gingham and pastel shirts on men right now, I want to hve room to buy those when they hit the thrift shops.

  2. Oh, yeah, I’m with you on that issue. I have 2 huge bags of shirts from my $1 day purchase back home last summer. There has to at least 50 shirts stuffed in there. I was embarrassed when Dad saw them when he visited in February and said “Are those the shirts you got last summer?” Yes, those are still there. I need to get busy on those. Thanks for the reminder.

  3. Wishing you all the best. I have a good stack of shirts also. Been doing one or two here and there. It’s getting done. Then you’ll have a nice stack of fabric! Good feeling.

  4. Funny you mention shirts. i buy them now and then if a color strikes me at the thriftstore. i thougth I would save up for my retirement days. Hmmmmmm maybe I should debone now to see what comes up with the fabric ready. :-) I likely have 50 by now. I have to pay about $3 here in town, so I buy slower-this is a 7-8y accumulation.

  5. Just a note when I had the radioactive iodine done I was extremely tired.. they had me stop all synthroid… so my body slowed to a crawl.
    Give yourself time to rest and don’t be hard on yourself …. this too shall pass.
    Hang in there… you inspire me … keep doing what you can.

  6. I was JUST given a box of shirts that I need to get done. I am to make a couple ?? of memory quilts for a coworker. Going to use 2 1/2 ” squares around a 6 1/2″ square. And this is the EXACT reason I haven’t jumped in and started that project. It is not like it is a difficult pattern. Guess I should see how many I can get de-boned in an evening. So, tonight after work, I will start………thanks for the encouragement!

  7. Have you tried using your rotary cutter to cut beside the side seams and front plackets? You have a BIG variety there!!

  8. I haven’t bought shirts, but my husband’s shirts are stacking up in his closet. He really can’t wear them as they are so worn on the cuffs and collars. I’d better get his permission before I de-bone them. He can’t find them with the little colored stripes in them any more. All the men’s shirts are gingham, or plaid, and he does not like those! i think there is a gray shirt quilt in our future!

  9. Hi, I haven’t started buying shirts – yet – but I had so many jeans that were piling up I finally spent a weekend cutting them apart. Then one day I needed a quick gift so I made up a jeans rag quilt and it was quick because I had the jeans already cut!

  10. Instead of bags, I have 4 large moving boxes filled with both jeans and 100% cotton shirts. I am still unsure on how to “debone” both jeans and shirts. But, someday soon, I plan to go through them and make a bunch of quilts.

  11. I’m in love with Bonnie Hunter books and I own many of them but I must confess that I have not started to collect shirts to de bone. Maybe one day I will do this with my husbands shirts, but I’m in no hurry since he still wears them. Good luck with the future iodine treatment and staying healthy.

  12. Like PattiLynn I use my rotary cutter as much as possible then I have very little to cut with scissors or tear. You can get some nice big pieces out of shirts and they are soooo soft. Good luck getting them done.

  13. I completely enjoy deboning shirts while watching the news. Absolutely love how great they look all folded and stacked up. But I do not have all the things going on in my life you do. We used to have a huge thrift store that would have everything go to 10 cents each after being there 4 weeks. So say for $5 you could end up with 50 all cotton great quality shirts or whatever. I saved hundreds for myself but also gave away hundreds of deboned shirts to organizations making charity quilts. The thrift store now has items go to $1 for a few days before 10 cents. Still a wonderful deal and better for all their non profit work. But alas I’ve run out of space.

  14. I cut shirts apart while I watch movies with the Hubs. He likes the room dark like a movie theater, so I can’t applique my circles. Cutting up shirts is the perfect thing. What slows me up is taking off the buttons. I don’t know why, but I save them. Anybody else save the buttons?

  15. I save the buttons! My sons will sit and clip them off while they are watching TV. My sis-in-law is making her mom jewelry out of the buttons off her dad’s shirts and I am making the quilt. For the de-boning, I would recommend Bonnie Hunter’s You Tube video. She makes pretty short work of it. I have at least 1 18 gal. tote that needs to be de-boned. I am currently working on one for my niece’s grad gift out of my brother’s shirts. I need to get busy on that-I picked 4 patches and Furrows.

  16. Jo Major Ciolino

    I have a bag of de-boned shirts! I made a quilt top for the 2 men who gave me their shirts for that purpose, but I have to figure out how to quilt it. Meanwhile, the de-boned shirts await some inspiration and progress on my WIP’s before I begin another!

  17. Have rotary cutter, will travel. Let me know if you would like some help – I can drive down to Iowa from La Crosse. You would have to give me directions on how you want the cutting done, but I could cut and then you could sew.

  18. I moved to the “de-bone” immediately upon exit from the wash method and it works well for me :) I never had as big a back up as you have but it does weigh you down, doesn’t it? It’s wonderful to have the full array of colors and patterns available for the next shirting quilt. Yay, you!!

  19. Are all your men’s shirts 100% cotton? We have a Salvation Army store and a Goodwin store in our town, but you would be lucky to find any shirts that is 100% cotton. Most have some polyester in them also.

  20. I store my shirts hanging up in the sewing room closet. I don’t have a ton of them, probably about 30. When I need fabric, I cut off a sleeve or half a front or back. I’d rather keep mine hanging as long as I can: fewer wrinkles, and I can easily see what I have. Eventually the shirts become too ragged to hang. That’s when they get put in a plastic bin. I always try to use the small stuff from the bin first instead of cutting into a new shirt.

  21. I’m de-boning, too, and I don’t dare count them. I’ve been saving the labels from thrifted all-cotton shirts and all-wool skirts, and I have a shoebox full of labels. That’s way more than 100! What will my children think when they sort my things after I’m gone? I hope they think, “Well, she had fun playing with fabric.”

  22. I always wash my shirt purchases as they come into the house. I want to make sure the fabric is clean before using it in a quilt. When I cut my shirts the first cut is always the bottom rolled hem from placket to placket. These strong “strings” can be used arounf the house and garden. I have even used them as “ribbon” on gifts for quilter friends. Recycle Reuse!

  23. Elana Goldberg

    Best of luck with the radioactive iodine treatment. My husband had that a few years ago. He was able to stay home and keep occupied, so that was a blessing. I hope you will find it not too difficult a process. The experience wasn’t bad for him at all and I didn’t even notice much fatigue in him. He was thrilled when finally able to eat real food and go back to salt, fish etc. Best of luck to you.

  24. You have inspired me to at least think about attacking mine! (this is a HUGE step as I am in denial…haha) You are right…get them out and attack! I ‘might’ have to do this…:o))

  25. I have used the Bonnie Hunter method to debone a shirt, about four times with my husband’s old ones. In the UK there don’t seem to be the amazing bargains at Charity shops that you find! Here shirts are presented individually and priced accordingly! I loved looking at your photo of the pile of shirts – what lovely colours and such a mixture of fabrics. Enjoy working through your task because at the end you will have an amazing collection of fabrics ready to go.

  26. I have anywhere between 50-100 shirts to do. It does save space when they are deboned. I have vases filled of the buttons. They are awesome.

  27. Mary Etherington

    Any shirt I buy gets cut up before it gets to move into the sewing room – no exceptions! They pile up and then the job looks overwhelming.

  28. Used shirts are my favourite quilt material and over the years I have grown a huge stash. I gently guide my husband’s shirt choices to small plaids and colours I prefer so my future fabric supply is secured. My brother-in-law also gives me his worn our shirts, so I have only bought maybe 10 from thrift shops (at 1-3€ per shirt). To save storage space, I need to debone them after washing, then I iron the flat pieces and fold them in bundles to be assorted by colour in three large cardboard boxes. And yes, I collect the buttons too for no special purpose.

  29. So much inspiration from reading your posts, and especially this one as I have “de-boned” 4 shirts as preparation for a quilt within the last few days. I’m going to see what I can come up with, using only 4 colours. The preparation of the fabric took a bit longer than I was expecting, but the positive is that I have I nice pile of lovely fabric ready-to-go. Good luck with your “de-boning”. A little-and-often is probably a good way to go.

  30. I’m so glad to have read this post! I’m taking a Texas Braid workshop with Bonnie on April 11 ( can’t wait) and I am in the process of cutting about a bazillion 2″ x 5″ rectangles . This king size quilt will be cut from just my stash and I’m getting a good mix . I’m going to add my husband’s shirts to it too!!

  31. Funny that you are doing this. I just dug out (yesterday) two bags of shirts to debone, and started doing them while watching Dancing with the Stars. I’ve got LOTS of shirts (probably 100+) and have lots of ideas running through my head.

    Good luck on your iodine treatment, just hope you don’t get too sick from it. I’m doing chemo and know that there are days I don’t have the energy to lift my head off the pillow.

    1. Oh Donna.
      I am so sorry that chemo has become a way of life for you. I hope it doesn’t last long and that you get great results. Thinking of you…

  32. Deborah DeBerry

    I don’t have any shirts. My husband wears pullover shirts to work. I do admire your “sticktoittiveness”. Thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Just remember to breath.

  33. Catholic Bibliophagist

    For a while there I was trying to de-bone at least one shirt a day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it does add up. I do save the buttons, but I don’t detach them. I just cut off the shirt placket that has the buttons and cut off the edge of the cuffs with the buttons. Then I safety pin them together and toss them in a plastic canister. I figure that if I ever use them for garment sewing, this is a good way to keep matching buttons together, and it will be easy to pull out a matching set

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