A dear friend and fellow teacher and church member asked me to make memory quilts from her parents’ clothes. This commission was particularly loaded because I knew some of the back story and had seen at least some of the struggle this family faced.
The father had been through a long struggle with Lewy Body Dementia. As a side note, March is Lewy Body Dementia Awareness Month. For more information about this condition and the fight it involves, click here. Having seen the family go alongside the father in this fight, I knew it had taken a huge emotional toll. The mother’s passing was most unexpected. She was a huge figure in the Agnes Scott College community, and friends who I knew from different circles knew of her simply because they were Agnes Scott alumni. For more information on this fantastic college, click here. So yes, the family and community lost two special souls in a short amount of time.
So when my friend brought in three bags of sorted clothes to make three lap quilts, I knew this commission would need to be perfect. Before beginning this quilt, like many of my memory quilts for lost loved ones, I said my memory quilt prayer and then got to work.
The colors were chosen as an homage to both parents, green for dad and purple for mom. Of course, there are numerous shades of green and purple, so we had to get the right one.
After that was the layout and switching around anything that my friend wanted to shift.
Then I sent one picture of one of the pinned quilts and then a last picture of them all ready and folded up. I like to save the final reveal for in-person. We met up, and I was thrilled at how happy she was. It’s a strange hobby when tears mean a job well done.
She sent me follow up pictures of the quilts as they were gifted to her siblings and one of herself underneath her own quilt. Overall, it was a gratifying commission, and I’m thankful to have helped give a wonderful family some degree of comfort. Love you, Abby!
*Quick note – the top photo is one of the in-progress ones. I forgot to get a picture of the finished project due to various reasons.
This quilt was hard. Not the design. No, this one was hard because of who it was for. This was the first quilt I ever made for a mother. Emotionally, I felt a huge responsibility to make sure this quilt was 100% perfect. It needed to do justice to her son’s memory and who he was.
So I took stock of what I had – about half and half t-shirts and dress shirts. The son had done mission work and had a ton of HOPE shirts. He also had bold taste in dress shirts – wearing some pretty gorgeous pastel stripes. It was almost a shame to cut them up. Almost.
I’d shown my friend who commissioned this pictures of a previous quilt I’d done that kept the collars attached, but she went for a simpler look. I used the front of the shirts, sewing down the fronts so the shirts wouldn’t come open.
The HOPE shirts were a pretty easy element as well. The problem came in with one special shirt that had a lot of well-wishes on it. They were all over the shirt – front, back, sleeves, etc. There was nowhere I could make a block that wouldn’t leave out a LOT of people’s messages, so I was stumped. I looked back at the other t-shirts and realized I had a fair amount of free space beneath the HOPE logo, so I went for it. I cut out each and every well wish, ironed it on with double-sided fusible interfacing, and placed them all throughout the quilt. I was worried about the ink running off, so I soaked the shirt in salt water in an attempt to set the ink better. For the most part it worked, but my arch-nemesis, the color red, struck again. It made a bleed spot on the quilt that I caught after washing it, and I panicked. However, with some localized scrubbing I was able to get it out.
This quilt was also a bit funny in that I didn’t do my usual process of meeting my friend at JoAnn’s. She picked out the backing fabric from some scraps and squares I had to my house. It worked, though, and the blue fabric complimented the pastel dress shirts nicely.
One last element that was new was the message block. My friend found an idea online that involved having a sweet message “from” the son. When I read the message, something seemed off. It had his name typed out, and I wondered if I could possibly go one step further. I asked her if it was possible to get me a copy of his signature. She was able to, and after adding it the message looked more sincere. There was something about that signature that felt perfect.
This is also one of the few pictures I have with the recipient holding it.
This was another memory quilt that was particularly loaded with emotion. A cousin asked me to make two memory quilts from her husband’s clothes for her children. I’d grown up seeing my second cousins off and on throughout the years, but it had been way too long since we’d last met up. In fact, the last time I’d seen them was when my boy cousin was going through his “girls are icky” phase, and he wouldn’t talk to me. Since he was one of the few cousins close to my age, you’ll understand when I tell you that it was YEARS before I forgave him this slight.
I’m 35 now. I suppose I’m over it.
Anyhow, when their mother, my beloved cousin (who has never gone through a phase where girls were icky) asked me to make memory quilts, of course I agreed. When she gave me the clothes, I noticed that there were no t-shirts at all. The bags were a huge lot of collared dress shirts.
Well we looked at a lot of options for how to incorporate dress shirts into a memory quilt, and in the end we decided there was something about the collar on the shirt that needed to stay. That being said, did you know that collared shirts weren’t meant to lie flat? They were a bit of a doozy to finally get right, but I managed to get it situated in the end, including a quick stitch down the front to ensure the shirt front didn’t open up. I used patches and other parts of the shirts to make the borders and sashing intersections.
I did add in three pictures for each quilt.
I have been assured by the same guy cousin that his quilt gets a lot of use and has held up well to its constant use. That always makes me happy to hear that 1. a quilt I made is regularly used and 2. it’s holding up well.
In the end, I tried to do honor to the father’s memory and make sure his shirts reflected him. It was a different challenge with all those curves, collars, and buttons, but I loved the end result!
This quilt goes down as one of the most emotional quilts I’ve done. For starters, I was asked to complete it by another quilter, so I felt like it needed to be perfect. Another consideration was the fact that it was a memory quilt in memory of a younger person. I’d done memory quilts before, and it wasn’t the first one I’d made for a mother. But this one felt different, and I wanted more than anything to do the lady’s memory justice. After all, I remembered her memorial service because I volunteered to help in the church nursery while it was going on.
Some things that stood out, however, were that my normal medium was gone. This was not a standard t-shirt quilt. In fact, there wasn’t a single t-shirt in any of the bags of clothes I was given! But what I DID have was dress clothes. Clothes with cool textures. Clothes with beautiful embroidery. Clothes with unique colors. So I sat on the quilt idea and wondered what to do.
The mother, being a quilter, had suggested something akin to a “crazy quilt” style, but none of the patterns or images I found online seemed to be exactly right. I looked around and must have seen 100 different ideas on how a crazy quilt can look. And then one morning during my shower, where I do my best thinking, I thought of the 101st crazy quilt pattern!
Here’s the premise. The lady was an artist. Artists are all about color and balance and placement. So I would make a sort of art gallery out of her clothes. I would help to emphasize the “gallery” part by adding a shadowbox element to each of the sections. This would also allow all her different colors, textures, and details to be featured.
I started by going through the clothes. I’d just gotten a new/old dining table to use as a craft table. It was in my garage, so I stood there that night, listening to the chirping of crickets, at peace, sorting the clothes into the different color stacks. I had enough for eight different color panels. That left one empty block. Then I had an idea I hoped would work for the last block.
Since she was an artist, and this was her gallery, I went through her old Facebook posts until I found exactly what I’d hoped to find – her artwork! There’s some debate on whether the picture is a self-portrait or Tori Amos. She wasn’t exactly distant comparison. It was one of the few pieces I found, and I downloaded it immediately.
Now that I knew how many stacks I had and how many blocks I could make, I sent the mother a draft layout. We worked and switched a couple of color sections, and then I got the green light to start cutting.
One of the first ones I did was red. I’d been told she loved red; it was her favorite color. So it seemed natural to begin here. After that, I got better at my blocks and was able to knock out the other seven faster than I anticipated.
A close up of the pink square.
After that, I enlarged the artwork and used two pieces of fabric paper to print it out. It was still smaller than I needed, so I added a red border to make it the same size as the other panels and began piecing the top together.
I added the shadow boxes and was happy to see them coming together. It wasn’t long before I was able to send her a picture of the completed top.
Now the next challenge was with the quilting. I thought long and hard about doing a simple stipple pattern, but then I had another idea. I decided to revive the circle-swirl quilting pattern because I wanted to add some whimsy to it. I also didn’t want to distract from the clothing panels, so I kept the main part of the quilting to the white area. I used the dreaded “invisible thread” to reinforce the clothing panels and make sure they didn’t shift or bubble up. (Imagine trying to sew with fishing line and you’ll understand why this kind of thread is a last resort.)
We went back and forth on the backing and finally settled on a black, white, and red pattern. From there, I had to complete the last element – but maybe the most important. I had to make the label. That took some thinking because I didn’t want it to be a let down. I remembered that the mother was happy I’d chosen to focus on colors because her daughter’s memorial service featured a homily from a friend who described her in terms of color. I loved it and was startled because, as said before, I wasn’t at the actual service. I was in the nursery.
Keeping that in mind, I asked for a copy of the friend’s homily. I used phrases and created a label based on that. Now the lady’s sister deals in graphics, so she worked her magic and made my original label look far better.
I printed the label on fabric and sewed it to the back corner.
This quilt was a long journey, filled with emotion. But it was also filled with creativity and pushed me to new limits. In many ways, the artist from whom it was made inspired it, and I feel like she had a hand in its making. In the end, it was and remains an honor to have been tasked with making this. It is one of my favorite and proudest works.
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