An Extra Happy Memory Quilt

Have you ever made a memory quilt?  Often they’re made with fabric from the clothing of a loved one who’s passed on, as a way to honor that person, and to bring comfort to those who have experienced loss.  I’ve made several of these over the years, and to be honest, I’ve always had a hard time falling in love with this concept.  I mean, I love the basic idea of a memory quilt- certainly anything with added meaning is extra awesome in my book- but somehow I’ve noticed that most of my memory quilts have turned out looking, well, a little dreary.  I don’t know if it’s just that the clothing items I was given were particularly neutral and bland, as many clothing items can be- grey, navy, khaki, etc in solids or subtle prints- but somehow I find myself feeling not so happy over these quilts, despite the fact that are intended to bring so much comfort and peace.

So when I was asked to make a quilt for a 2yo boy recently, using clothing items from his late grandfather, I decided to try a new approach.  This time, I wanted to find a way to make a quilt that still used fabric from a sentimental piece of clothing, but also managed to be, well, cute!  I wanted it to be a quilt that would make a good super hero cape, a good puppet show backdrop- a quilt that would be happily used and enjoyed, just like any child’s quilt would.

Modern Memory Quilt 01

And the first thing that came to mind was an eye spy quilt.  Well, sort of.  It’s not quite an eye spy, but it still has some fun little friends scattered throughout…a couple of owls, some butterflies, hedgehogs, bicycles, cutlery….  Just a simple, calming pattern, with an array of happy prints, and basic pearl cotton ties.  It’s nothing like what I would normally think of as a memory quilt and that’s why I love it.

Modern Memory Quilt 03

So if you notice the darkest patches throughout- they’re navy flannel that I cut from some very special flannel pants, that hold very special memories of a very special person for this family.  And I’ve scattered them throughout the quilt, next to cheery chevrons and perky polka dots.  I think they’re happy in their new home, don’t you?

Modern Memory Quilt 02

It’s not that I don’t love memory quilts- I do- but sometimes I feel like they can be so incredibly serious and somber that I’m afraid they won’t be enjoyed in the way that I know that loved one would want.  We look at them and say, um, wow, this quilt is made from clothing, and then we fold it up and tuck it in the chest, never to be seen or heard from again.  So I’m hoping I was able to create something with a little more day-to-day appeal for this sweet little boy.

Modern Memory Quilt 04

This week the girls and I sent this happy memory quilt off to it’s rightful new owner, and I really hope that he will not only be receiving a gift full of meaning and family history that he can cherish his entire life, but that makes him feel happy.

Have you ever made a memory quilt from clothing, and if so, how did you feel about it?  Do you have any fun ideas for new and creative ways to incorporate meaningful fabrics like this into a project?  Please share!  I’d love to hear them!

Thanks for stopping by, friend!

XO

Comments

  1. Alison G says:

    That’s just lovely – I agree, memory quilts have the potential to be a teensy bit dull. This is MUCH better. I like the way you’ve just tied it instead of quilting it too.

  2. What a happy memory quilt you made Amy. This is a great idea for a child! Very cheerful. :)

    I’ve made 2 memory quilts. One for a friend when her Dad passed away (out of his cotton shirts.) She asked me to make this quilt for her Mom. Her parents had been married for 70 + years and had known each other since they were teenagers. I gave this quilt to her Mom on her Mom’s 93rd birthday with her children and grandchildren surrounding her. They had flown in from around the country to be with their Mom on this special day. The other memory quilt was for a friend and her husband after her Mom passed away (out of her Mom’s cotton dresses.) I was happy with how both quilts turned out. More importantly my friends were ecstatic. I have to say the first cut into these fabrics was emotional for me. But after the first cut it was much easier. Of all the quilts I’ve made for people these were the most well received and cherished quilts. On the day(s) I gave my friends their quilts there were happy tears (tissues are a must when giving a memory quilt), laughter, hugs, hugs and more hugs, and so much talking about happy memories of their loved ones. It was a trip down memory lane for my friends and their family as they looked at the different fabrics in their quilt and remembered their loved one. They talked about places they had been and things they had done together while their loved one was wearing specific clothing in the quilt. You would have thought I gave them a million dollars. The fabrics I used weren’t typical of the fabric I usually use (I usually work with brighter more cheerful colors) but I didn’t mind working with these different fabrics.

  3. Eileen DiPietro says:

    I’m currently working on a quilt for a 4 year old who recently lost her dad. I too wanted to make it something fun rather than focus on her loss, so I made an “I spy churn dash” quilt with lots of cute little four year old fun spy blocks and pieced some things of her dads which were mostly soft cotton knits and flannels into the quilt back, being this is the part of the quilt that actually will cover her and hopefully give the sense of her dad with her. I will do the same for her brother as soon as I come up with an idea for a top for a five year old boy.

  4. Barbara Levine says:

    I love your memory quilt and you have given me an idea! I am new to quilting although not new to sewing. I’ve watched many of your videos and love to read your posts so I am hooked on quilts now! I am almost finished with my first quilt top and thinking ahead to my next project… A baby quilt for friends having their first baby, The new parents both went to the same college as my son. My son has a million college tshirts that he’d be happy to donate for a baby quilt with Rutgers colors and logos scattered all around it. How hard is it to sew with t shirt material and to make it work with other fabrics too? Also, is there anything I should know before making a baby quilt? Do you use special batting or anything else that is safe for a baby?

    • Terrie Scharf says:

      Barbara I’ve heard you will need to use interfacing on the tshirts to give them stability. There are tons of instructions on the internet.

      • Thank you Terrie! Yes, I went to my local quilting shop and they gave me something called “Pellon” fusible interfacing and it worked like a charm. Once I ironed on the interfacing, it was like cutting and sewing through felt, a little thicker but nice and stiff. I found that I had to iron my seams away from the T shirt squares since it there was so much bulk but I think when I’m all done, it will look flat. I am so excited!!!! This is only my 2nd full quilt and I’ve learned so much with this one. Thank you Amy for your ideas and blog!

      • I didn’t add interfacing to my t-shirt quilt and it is probably why it is a softer, more puffy appearance when I hand quilted it. If you do want a stiffer, tighter, thinner quilt, you should add the stabilizer. Fortunately, my son was happy to curl up in the softer, puffy quilt.

        • HI Carolyn,
          I can appreciate how you and your son would like it to be softer! As a new quilter, though, I was happy to have the material more stable to work with (I’m still trying to figure out how to get regular fabric from weaving all over the place!) plus the t-shirt squares in my quilt top are really small… just 3″. Anyway, I just finished machine quilting the baby quilt tonight and I’m so happy with it. It is soft all over and you can’t tell that the t-shirt squares were stiffer than the rest. The edges of those squares must sink into the batting and with the batting behind everything, it feels soft all over and cuddly in every spot. When I touch the t-shirt squares, I only feel the soft fabric of the tee. The only thing I regret is that my son’s college T’s had the plastic painted lettering they use all the time on shirts. It was weird ironing on top of the letters and it feels different to the touch in that area. Oh well!

          Does your T-shirt quilt have large blocks of the shirts in it? I’d love to try that out too someday!

          • Good for you, Barbara for finishing the quilt. And I’m glad it turned out so soft and cuddly. Yes, my squares were 12 1/2 inches. What are you going to work on for your next quilt? I’m paper piecing Disappearing Hexagons–has a 3-D look. Kinda tricky for me, so wish me luck.

          • Barbara Levine says:

            I wish you lots of luck Carolyn! I love starting something new… Love the challenge and feeling creative. I just finished hand sewing the binding on my quilt. It looks so wonderful and now I hate to give it away, but I did make it for my son’s friends. You said you hand quilted your t-shirt quilt. Was that fun to do? I love the homemade look of that and want to try it out.

  5. You are right about memory quilts usually feeling a bit drab – maybe some bright sashings can liven them up, but I do know those little hands do. In fact, my grand girls are coming next week, and I want to take lots of photos with just their little hands or giggles, it’s the best backdrop for a quilt!

  6. charity pallo says:

    Made my first memory quilt last year for a co worker who had lost her dad several years ago. She had one flannel shirt. It was difficult to figure out what to do for sure and I put a lot of planning into it. Turned out to be very nice and well received. Wish I could post on here.. Will have to do on Fb. Her mom has it on her bed… She has lung cancer. She didn’t think that mom realized in the chaos of Christmas just what the quilt was. The next day she pointed out the pieces of her husband’s shirt. This one touched & blessed 2 people. That’s what I hope for.
    The one in working on now is for another co worker who lost mom in January. I have knit tops, seersucker tops, sweatshirts, chambray tops, and jeans. I asked her to make list of things that her mom liked.. What represented her. I’m working on some paper piecing things.. Seem to work well with the knit. Making some applique blocks with the denim as the background. Don’t know how I’m going to put it together for sure but there’s time for that. It’s s creative experience for me.. Rather newly uncovered. And I pray what I make will bless the recipient.

  7. Yes Amy, I too feel like that and I love what you have created ‘around’ the memory fabrics. When my mom passed away – I wanted to make a table topper for my children and my brother with his children (as a memory from both my parents – as dad had passed away a number of years before my mother). I had decided to use her items of clothing, but when it came time to cut into them – I just couldn’t! First it just felt too awful to cut them up and Second of all, nothing seemed to want to ‘match’ up. Like you said – it needed something to brighten it all up and I just didn’t know how.
    Instead I used all new Fabric with the Bake Sale Line by Lori Holt and made ‘house’ blocks (in memory of their little red bungalow) and courthouse blocks. On the back I made a label using an old honeymoon picture of theirs – transferred onto fabric. Everyone loved them.
    Yes, I might still make a quilt using mom’s clothing, but at this point it’s still too hard, but you have given me an idea. Thank You!!

  8. Janet Green says:

    My Mom died January 2010 less than a year after I moved back to the states for good. We lived in Europe. She was here visiting me when she died. My Dad was devastated and left all her clothes with me when he went home. I soon went to her house and got more clothes. I have made a memory quilt. Kind of. I made a sampler quilt that went through the stages of her life. It has 12 blocks and is made from her clothes, with one cotton print to tie it together. I created the top and basted it together and thats as far as I got. The idea was to hand quilt it and give it to Dad. but every time I try to get it out and quilt I can’t see through my tears. I’m supposed to make 5 of Them!!! I now think I will machine quilt it and hopefully looking at one little part as I quilt will make it easier.

  9. jenetamasson says:

    Oh Amy – you have expressed the fabrics and the sentiment so well! Beautifully created and beautifully written.

  10. Laura Mattick says:

    What a beautiful job! You achieved your goal of a happy quilt that will be loved!

  11. Deborah French says:

    Well – I can see by the posts that it is not a new idea, but I made a tee shirt quilt for my nephew after his father passed. He was nine years old, has Aspergers Syndrome and his father was a big part of his world. I used his tee shirts from some of the places they had gone together. The quilt was certainly a labor of love for me (and lots of tears), and something I know he will cherish forever. I also used a few tee shirts for the pillow cases. It certainly didn’t get put away, from what I am told, it is used daily, and starts many conversations about times they spent together. When she is ready (the death was just a year ago) I am going to make one for my sister with some of his other shirts. I only pray it can bring my sister some of the comfort his quilt has brought my nephew. Of all the quilts I have ever made, this one means the most to me. Thanks for the chance to share!

  12. CJ Hines says:

    I made a memory quilt for my great niece after her mom died–my great niece was only two months old but I made the quilt for her second birthday. I used her mom’s clothing and used an applique pattern of a paper doll–the clothing was used for the dresses. On the label, I printed a photo of my niece. My nephew and other relatives loved the quilt and I know my great niece will appreciate it more when she is older.

  13. Louie Zellner says:

    Thank you for sharing this idea! I have lots of scraps from toddler dresses, baby quilts and clothes I made for my grand daughter.

  14. I have loads of my dad’s ties, and some of his fave shirts (which are, frankly, awful) and have always wanted to come up with a fab project, but so far, they’re too painful to touch.

  15. What a beautiful quilt! I love the first picture of your daughters holding it :) I think you did a great job of mixing the flannel with fun prints to make this a quilt that will be used and enjoyed!

  16. Kathy Fair says:

    I like the idea of adding fabrics to those ‘in memory’ fabrics. What a great idea.

  17. Great quilt Amy. Most of my clothes would make a very bright colorful quilt. It would have almost all the shades of pink, reds, purples,silver and blues. I have added some black recently.

  18. Janet Siler says:

    I love your quilt. I’m sure it will be cherished for many years.
    My mother loved to iron. I didn’t get that gene BTW. When she passed away there were a number of cotton or mainly cotton blouses in bright colors waiting to be ironed. We bagged them all up and took them to Goodwill to tidy the house before everyone came for one last dinner at Grandma’s. About a week later it hit me I could have made memory quilts for the 4 children and 7 grandchildren. Another week went by before my daughter and I went to Goodwill looking for mom’s blouses. We looked for any that we remembered she wore and/or had the tags cut out of the neck (she hated all the tags). We came home with about 18 blouses and I paid $63 for blouses I could have had for free if I’d been thinking a little clearer that day. The good news was it was Senior Citizen Discount Day so I got them at a discounted price. I made 6″ string blocks put into 11 quilts. Her buttons went into the corner stones The children’s included a pocket with a bit of hankie in it (which she always carried) and the grandchildren’s had a chunk of apron we’d made for her with a picture they’d drawn and their name in crayon by their quilt label. Quilt label included the Good News/Bad News story and one of the price tags from Goodwill. It was a very tearful Christmas. But some wonderful memories.

  19. Phyllis Bates says:

    I saved fabric from dresses that I made for my daughter while she was growing up with the idea of someday using them to make a quilt for her. I finally accomplished that last year and included pictures of her at different ages in some of the quilt blocks which, incidentally, were blocks from your Craftsy 2012 block of the month class. I gave the quilt to her for her 37th birthday this past February and she was very surprised and happy.

  20. I recently made a memory quilt for my husbands grandmother with grandpa’s flannel and western shirts. They are from Texas so I made 2 paper pieced cowboy boots out of a couple of the shirts for corner blocks. Since he played the fiddle, I appliqued violins in the other two corners. I use Caroline Freelanders shirt pattern and made some cute mini shirt blocks. Then I made large 4 patch blocks with beige squares next to four patch flannel blocks. In the beige I added photos of Grandpa. I loved the way it turned out and I loved making it for Grandma. I don’t think I would’ve enjoyed it as much if I had made a traditional memory quilt. Now I am working on a military retirement quilt for a friend and I’m making nontraditional blocks out of uniforms for it.

  21. Beautiful… You did a great job!

    I’m actually working on memory quilts for myself and friends with baby clothes and baby blankets. The kids haven’t passed, just a way for moms to let go of their clutter but still have a bit of things to hang on too. I think they are very fun and festive. :-)

  22. I made a child’s quilt from their baby clothes and mom’s pregnancy outfits. I did a rag type of quilt, yours looks a great deal better. I had issues with the clothes not being cotton. It was very difficult for me to cut up clothes that were in perfect condition. I learned a lot from the process.

  23. Oh my gosh what an awesome idea. I have not made a memory quilt of clothing, not sure I could. Tears would totally get in my way, even if not in circle of loved and caring ones.

    I sure hope they let him use it lol. Your girls sure loved it, so I am sure the 2 year old will too! What a wonderful thing to do for them.

  24. I have just been put in charge of crazy quilt with a couple of regular blocks. This quilt is coming to me in pretty bad shape worn, torn and very dirty (granddaughter got a hold of it and loved it to death). My challenge is to reconstruct, embellish and to present this back to a very special friend…This isn’t just an ordinary quilt, it’s a quilt that 4 Generations of women have worked on it. With clothing scraps. Amish Grandmother, left Amish, Mother, Daughter and Granddaughter. My part is to patch, repair, embellish it with machine quilt stitches, lace, embroidered designs and words of history. And to add a few motiffs. All this to incorporate the past and the present… I am excited to be a part of this project…

  25. Toni Stone says:

    I am currently planning on making a quilt for my daughter’s 30th birthday next year with my mother-in-laws fabric that she had when she passed 16 years ago. She (my mother-in-law) would always make pillows, animals, etc out of the printed fabric and my daughter would sit with her and help her when she was little. My daughter hasn’t been able to let the fabric go so it has been stored for these many years. I am thinking of making a scrappy quilt for her to be able to keep her memories just not in boxes in the garage. I know it will bring back happy memories for her and at the same time be a little sad but I think I am making the right decision. Thanks for listening. your post came right when I have been thinking about it.

  26. Kimberly says:

    I made a memory quilt for a dear friend and her daughter (2 quilts) whose 8 month old grandson/son died of SIDS. I printed pictures of him on photo fabric with the date of his birth and death and a couple of Bible verses/promises printed at the bottom. They live in another State so it was like sending them a hug across the miles. I am currently working on completing a quilt for my sister in-love that my mother in-love started before she passed away from cancer. July will be the 3rd anniversary of her death. Every block is hand embroidered. I only had about 8 blocks to complete but it has taken me this long to put together partly because it is the only thing I have left that belonged to her and I just wanted to touch it for just a little while longer. With every stitch I am reminded of her sweet spirit and in helping to finish it, I have experienced much comfort. My hope is that my sister in-law will be as blessed in receiving it as I have been through the journey of completing it. She doesn’t know I have been working on it. Through it I hope that it will be a sweet reminder of her life, love and laughter and that when my sister in-law wraps up in it that it will also be like she’s being hugged from heaven.

  27. I made a memory quilt for my MIL out of her husband’s flannel shirts. I incorporated the pockets in the quilt and put things that he always carried in his pockets (like a pen or toothpicks). She wouldn’t let me put the TV remote in it but when she has it on her lap, she can slide the remote into one of the pockets (like he always did) for quick access.

  28. ylmommyx4 says:

    This turned out very happy. The only memory quilt I’ve ever made was a St. Louis 16 patch made from a friends Hawaiian shirts. I was happy with it.

  29. I made a memory quilt for a former co-worker after her grandmother passed away. I completed the top and then was told the grandfather passed as well. I was asked to add some of his clothing to the quilt as well. There were 3 solid color flannel shirts that I cut into a piano-key border that went around the top made of the grandmothers clothes. On the back I pieced several blocks with clothing from both grandparents – I chose blocks with a significant name i.e. maple leaf, simplicity etc.. I was pleased with the quilt, but I got the impression that I did not meet the recipients expectations. I’m not sure if I will ever do this type of quilt again – too much emotional energy goes into a project like this to make it worthwhile. Your quilts are very nice, and obviously well received!

  30. What a creative idea and a truly touching way for him to have something from his grandfather.

  31. Hi Amy

    Sorry for the lack of comments, life has kind of taken over, have been reading all your posts though and they have been wonderful as usual. Love you are home schooling and love this beautiful quilt. Hope you and the family are all well K xx

  32. I made a memory quilt for my daughter’s friend when her father passed. The family gave me his old pajamas and shirts and I made a simple 12 block quilt from them. I had fun incorporating the pockets of the pj tops. My second memory quilt I just finished this month for my 30 year old son. He had a pile of old t-shirts he didn’t want to wear anymore but couldn’t part with. They were from his karate school and had deep memories for him. I hand quilted the top and he reported back that he was ‘reading a book, happily wrapped up in his old t-shirts.’ Now my daughter has a pile of t-shirts for me. . . this may go on and on.