Monday, July 16, 2018

How to Start Making a Memory Quilt

When a family member passed away suddenly last year, I had the reaction so many quilters do. I wanted to give the widow something handmade. I thought a quilt made from her late husband's shirts would be a tangible way to remember him and to offer comfort. This is my first time making such a special quilt, so I thought I'd offer my thoughts on the process for those considering making one too.

The first step in making a memory quilt is simply to offer to do so. Understand that the bereaved may have very different reactions to your offer, however kindly meant. They may not want to keep the old clothing around or to even have the daily reminder presented by such a quilt, at least for a while. They may not be able to let go of the clothing for some time. Simply offer and let them get back to you when they are ready.
The next step is to obtain the old clothing from the bereaved, which can be difficult for those grieving. Some people may want to go through each item and share its significance, while some may not be able to bear looking at it. You may find going through the clothing emotional too. Take your time. Once you have the clothing, you will need to be selective about which items or types of material to use. For example, some quilters are happy to work with knits, while I prefer to stick to woven cotton clothing. I suggest you avoid mixing different types of fabrics in a single quilt because they will wear differently. A larger selection of clothing items is best, as it will allow you to choose those that will work best together in your quilt design. You can always offer to return any unused items, although the bereaved may prefer any leftovers be donated. Be sure to ask.

How many items of clothing will you need? It will depend on the size of the quilt and the pattern you choose. I suggest you make these choices based on what clothing times you receive, instead of the the way around. Let the bereaved give you what they want, rather than dictating what you need. See what you can make with what they offer. Maybe it's only enough for a pillow or a set of pillows for a sibling group. That's fine. Maybe it will be enough for a throw or a twin quilt. Since it is primarily for comfort, I chose to make a throw quilt.

When you have chosen the clothing items you will use, you will need to deconstruct each item. This can be a sad process, but I promise it gets easier as you start thinking about the snuggley quilt to come. After contemplating using a seam ripper to take apart a large stack of dress shirts, I quickly realized I would be better off cutting the seams out. It's much quicker, and the fabric in the seams is often less faded that the rest of the shirt or hopelessly marred by thread holes. I cut off collars and cuffs and discarded them, but you may wish to preserve pockets if you want to feature them in your design. Once the clothing has been cut into usable pieces of fabric, press it well. Using starch makes cutting and piecing even more precise later.
As you think about the design of the quilt, it may be a good idea to ask the bereaved about their preferences. You may show them a few examples of quilts you have enjoyed making in the past or easy patterns they can see online. I was fortunate to have been given free rein to make whatever design I thought best, but I suggest you select a simple pattern that will both allow the fabrics to be the focus and can be completed fairly quickly. You want to give the quilt as a comfort as soon as you can, after all.
I welcome your experience and advice on making memory quilts, and read more in my next post about Finishing a Memory Quilt.


Debbie said...

What a lovely idea for a post - thank you.

FlourishingPalms said...

You have certainly done a thorough job of understanding the process for making a memory quilt. I have never made a memory quilt, per se. The closest I've come is to take the handkerchiefs of my deceased grandmother and mother, to make four wall-hanging mini quilts. The nice part about those is that I was entirely free to do as I wished, and that particular type of "quilt" made it possible for family members to affix other items to it - pins, earrings, stick pins, and even a bracelet. While I haven't seen any of these handkerchief quilts being displayed, I know they hold loving remembrances. The quilt labels I made include photos of both relatives, along with their birth and death dates, and locations of each. While I understand the difficulties involved in making such a project, for me at least, it was cathartic. I hope you find this to be a good experience for you, and your family member. Blessings.

BJ said...

My mother passed away while visiting my uncle in a different state, so no one but him had a chance to say goodbye. To lessen the sudden pain, I decided to make memory quilts for her 2 granddaughters using her jeans, her ever-present post-retirement uniform. She was crafty (but not a quilter) so she also had a collection of fat quarters. I kept the quilts very simple because of the fabric weight difference. I cut 6.5" squares and alternated denim with cotton, using each of the girl's favorite colors in their quilt. I found pictures of Mom with each of the girls from their birth to the end and sprinkled them throughout the quilts. I appliqued a large heart on one cotton square in each quilt. Using a half inch seam allowance made working with denim easier, and the assembly went quickly. Keep it simple, make it thoughtful and it's hard to go wrong. I love what you had to work with.