Memory Quilts From Clothing

Memory Quilts – Love ‘Em…Hate ‘Em

It seems like I get “rashes” of quilts. For weeks every call is a vintage top, or even more specifically a Vintage Dresden Plate. Then for weeks it will be baby clothing quilts. Last fall it was memory quilts from adult clothing.

Memory quilts from a loved ones clothing are very hard. The person requesting the quilt is in pain from the loss and sometimes reluctant to let go of the garments. It is also hard as a quilt-maker because I am going to receive the precious package, usually with a tear stained letter and get after tangible artifacts with sharp scissors and an unemotional (ruthless?) eye. I have to break down a garment from the loved one’s favorite clothes, find a usable piece of fabric then convert it into something the family member will recognize and want to use. Some are MUCH harder than others.

If you are thinking of making a memory quilt, here are some things I learned along the way:

Memory Quilts Won’t be Vibrant

Look in your closet. I know when I look in mine, I see blue, black, more blue, more black and nothing made of fabric that would catch my attention in a quilt shop. Most people have clothing that is less bright, less interesting and less vibrant than the materials traditionally used in a quilt. Keep that in mind and try to find one article that will awaken the others. A shot of hot pink, or sunny yellow might be just what is needed to take your memory quilt out of drab and into fab.

Memory Quilts May Have “Work-Arounds”

When working from clothing, chances are high you will not be able to find more than 5 or 6 inches of fabric that has no seams in it. Darts, pockets, pleats and the way fabric is cut to be fitted can make a challenge when building a memory quilt. You will need to be prepared to come up with creative “work-arounds.” Pockets, patches, buttons or zippers can make the quilt so much more personal and special. Sometimes, you can use a piece that is really unique if it is flat (flat enough) and incorporate it into your memory quilt. When that happens, you can take credit for extra design work 🙂

Fabric From Clothing Must be Stabilized

If it stretches, stabilize it. Fusible interfacing is great for stabilizing clothing to be used in memory quilts. I even stabilize blouses and cotton work-shirts (especially flannel) because the weave is generally looser than new quilters cotton and the piece will lose shape before I can get the whole thing put together. Use a sturdy interfacing. I used to use featherweight but found that a medium weight fusible (like for cuffs and collars) works best. Don’t underestimate the amount of time it takes to stabilize clothing for a quilt. I plan for at least 12 hours to break down the clothing and stabilize it before I begin cutting pieces for a quilt.

If you like pressing, Memory Quilts are the cure…

Cotton? Hot…T-Shirt? Back side only…Nylon? Cool…Stabilized fabric, Use a pressing cloth. How about when you have nylon, next to cotton next to a tee-shirt??? Quilters know they will spend a lot of time pressing. Memory quilters will spend a LOT MORE TIME pressing. “Nuff said.

For Goodness Sake – choose a simple pattern!

The best memory quilts are simple. It is hard enough to match un-like fabrics, work with varied thickness, get a well pressed seam, and work around darts, bias cuts and pockets without building in even more complexity. You are unlikely have enough of any one piece to keep a fabric theme through an entire quilt. I have found a repeating simple block (9 patch? Log Cabin?) where the block caries the theme works well. Try a disappearing 9 patch with the same fabric at the center of each. This will provide continuity and allow you to use a variety of fabrics to get a scrappy but cohesive look.


How do I explain this part? There is a special connection that happens when you give back to others. There are families all over the country who would welcome me into their home and I would feel just as comfortable receiving them as guests because I have spent a significant amount of time with their mother, their husband, their son. I have read the stories, looked at their pictures, shared some joy and some tears. I know their favorite hymns, favorite hobbies, favorite colors, nicknames and family jokes. Building a memory quilt for a family builds a thread of connection and enriches my life too. So yes. Memory Quilts are hard work – relationships are hard work – and hard work pays off!

Luke 6:38 “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.

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