How to Make a Memory Quilt
“Quilts carry memory and meaning. They also carry myth.” -International Quilt Study Center & Museum
For centuries people all over the world have celebrated life events and significant milestones by creating meaningful textiles.
From the signature quilts of the 1800’s to the T-shirt quilts of today Memory Quilts have been made for a variety of reasons. The most common reason is to commemorate a loved one who has passed away and is often constructed from the clothing of that loved one. This can not only offer comfort to those left behind but can solve the problem of what to do with the clothing of a loved one when they pass away. (Often family members find it difficult to donate or discard clothing items.)
However, commemorating the life of a loved one is only one of the reasons to create a Memory Quilt.
Here are some other popular reasons:
*Commemoration of an Event (family reunions, plays, sports team, school year, etc.)
*T-shirt Collections (races, high school, work shirts, vacations, etc)
*A Snippet in Time (favorite shirts of all family members of friends from that year, family picture shirts, baby clothes, etc.)
And just like there are a variety of reasons to make Memory Quilts there are a variety of items that are used to create them.
Here are a few:
*Dress Shirts and Blouses
*Denim Jeans or other Pants
*Uniforms and Work Shirts
*Shirt and Pant Pockets
*Pieces of other Quilts and Blankets
Because of the variety of reasons and textiles used to create Memory Quilts there are also countless methods and patterns used to create them. Here are a few of my favorite:
*Simple 5” Patchwork: THIS free pattern is great for mixing 5″ squares of clothing with 5″ precut squares of white or other solids.
*Rail Fence: THIS tutorial will show you how to make a Rail Fence block…and you can use that tutorial along with your clothing strips
*Coin Quilt: These are my favorite kind of quilt top for Memory Quilt. Below you will find a simple Coin/Memory Quilt tutorial as well as why it is my favorite.
*Any Quilt Block with Open Center (Usually a Star….Ribbon Star, Ohio Star, Sawtooth Star, etc.) We have a tutorial HERE for a cute Ribbon Star block.
*Standard T-shirt Quilt
Ok…Coin Quilts for Memory Quilts. This is by far my favorite option to use for making a quilt with adult shirts for two reasons:
- It is a perfect showcase for those fabrics that your loved one wore and loved.
- It doesn’t take loads of clothing fabric! With the showcase stripe you don’t need mounds of clothes which means you can make multiple quilts from only a handful of shirts. From a dozen shirts I will be able to make at least 8 of the coin quilts that are shown in the photos of this post….which is fantastic because often more than one person would appreciate and love a memory quilt.
- Coin Quilts are easy to cut, easy to sew, and come together in a hurry…which is great when you are making them for other people who could really use them as soon as possible.
Here’s how I make all of my Coin Quilt Memory Quilts:
What No One Tells You About Making Memory Quilts
Memory Quilt hold power…beautiful and wonderful and magical and terrible power.
Here’s what I mean by that:
My grandpa passed away in the autumn a few years back. I loved my grandpa. Loved him so much. (I wrote about it HERE.)
When he passed away my grandma gave me a pile of his old shirts…and I knew just what to do with them. Just before Christmas I pulled them out to make a quilt with them for my mom and my sister….but I didn’t know what no one tells you about memory quilts.
I didn’t know when I opened that bag it would smell like my grandpa.
I didn’t know I would remember him wearing that shirt to Disneyland.
I didn’t know I would find the ink stain on that pocket or the Dr. Pepper dribble on this collar.
I didn’t know I would find notes he had written in the pocket.
I didn’t know how hard it would be to cut into those shirts. Cutting into them meant he wouldn’t wear them again…wouldn’t wear them for trips to get Frosty’s or to play cards or to call me and ask how my day went…it meant it he was gone.
I stood there for what felt like an eternity crying and crying before I could make the first cut. It was terrible hard.
Looking back it was too soon for me to have taken on the project.
So here is my advice for all the things no one talks about with Memory Quilts:
#1. It is ok to wait until you are ready. I don’t regret making those quilts for my mom and my sister they loved them and it was indeed, a perfect gift…however…it would have been ok for me to have Elizabeth sew them up for me. That clothing wouldn’t have held the same memories for her and she would have done a beautiful job.
#2. I’m going to say it again. It is ok to wait until you are ready. This November I brought the shirts out of the bin they have been waiting in for years and put together one of these quilts for my brother. Yes it was still sad…but this time it wasn’t terrible…it was magical. All those memories had gotten sweeter over time and it was wonderful to pull out the shirts and press them and remember all the good times as I worked on the quilt. It was truly a sweet experience and a labor of love…and helped me further work through my own grief and sense of loss.
#3. If you are entrusted with the garments of someone else’s loved one and asked to make a quilt treat those garments with love and respect. Those garments are full of powerful emotion. Keep them clean and dry. Don’t cut them recklessly. And…oh boy…I heard once of a lady picking up a quilt made from the shirts of her father only to find the remnants being used for a chew toy for the family dog…so, ummm…don’t do that either. You have been entrusted with something boarding on sacred…to create a comfort quilt in memory of a loved one. What a gift! Respect is as such.
A few last thoughts…
With adult Memory quilts sometimes it is fun to use for backing a fabric that represents something that they loved…or in this case something that they wore.
My grandpa always wore khaki dress pants and button up shirts with a pocket. The shirts are on the front of the quilt but for the back of the quilt I chose some very soft khaki colored fabric to represent the pants he always wore with those shirts.
And then, because I was making this quilt for my brother, I bound it in fabric that looks very similar to a notorious dress shirt that my brother wore all during high school.
And finally….some of these quilts will be well loved and used…like hugs from those we can’t wrap our arms around.
But others will be placed in areas where they will be seen as a reminder that those we lost aren’t really gone but watching over us.
After finishing the Memory Quilt for my brother I draped it over my grandpa’s chair that I keep in our family room for a few days. I liked it there…and I think that now I’m ready to make one for myself to keep right in that exact spot.
Happy Quilting my friends…what a fabulous, healing hobby this is!
***If you are looking to make an autograph/ signature quilt rather than a memory quilt just click HERE for a post full of tips and tricks.