Three Memory Quilts

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.

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My sewing area has terrible lighting.  I really should fix that. 

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!

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Memory Quilt Prayer

For the most part, my quilting hobby is fun, especially the t-shirt quilt commissions.  I love the look on someone’s face (usually a sneaky mom who smuggled shirts to me) when they see those shirts made into a quilt their senior will take to college.  But sometimes the quilt commissions can take a more somber tone.  Sometimes I’m tasked with a commission to make a memory quilt from clothes from a loved one that has passed on.  I’ve made memory quilts from clothes of both deceased younger and older folks, and it’s a profound task, preserving memories of someone else’s loved one.

My first t-shirt quilts were from my father’s clothes, and they showed me the healing power of a memory quilt.  My father died unexpectedly, and I had a lot of anger mixed in with my grief.  It was an anger that I didn’t know what to do with, and I felt powerless to confront.  And then my grandmother told me I’d be making four t-shirt quilts for myself, her, and my two other sisters.  And it was in the making of these that I found a degree of peace and finally felt like I could say goodbye. Clothes are probably the hardest part of a loved one to reliquish.  We remember what they looked like in them, which ones they favored, and they even smell like that person for a long time afterwards.

I was nervous when I made a memory quilt for someone outside of my own family.  It was for a young man who had passed away from cancer.  I remember gulping a bit as I finished up the design process and was ready to make those initial cuts into the shirts.  Again, the idea of preserving those memories for someone else is daunting.  So I prayed.  I placed my hand on the bags of clothes and prayed for guidance, peace for the grieving family, and the ability to do that person’s memory justice.  Whenever I have a quilt that has a similar back story, I take the time to pray beforehand, asking for the same guidance.

I thought I would share that prayer with you all in case you find yourself faced with a similar challenge. Feel free to use, adjust, or change as needed.

“Heavenly Father, I pray your guidance as I make this quilt.  Please guide my hands that I may do justice to this person’s memory.  May this quilt bring their family comfort in their grief and remind them of more joyful times.  In your name I pray, amen.”

 

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A memory quilt made from nice business causal clothes. This lady was an artist, so I arranged it by color and placed her own artwork in the middle.
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A memory quilt made from dress shirts. I managed to keep the collars on and featured.
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A memory quilt for a friend using the shirts her father-in-law gave her over the years.
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A memory quilt made from dress shirts and t-shirts. This is the mother holding it after it was gifted to her as a surprise.

What to look for when buying a t-shirt quilt – a published article

I’m very excited that my article on what to look for in a t-shirt quilt was published in my local community magazine.  I’m going to post the link to it, but I’m also going to post the article itself here.

Online link to magazine 

Link to information about ordering a t-shirt quilt from me. 

Article

With the availability and affordability of screen printing, t-shirts have become more popular than ever.  It seems they are the most common souvenir these days – outpacing coffee mugs, key chains, and bumper stickers. Does anyone even collect snow globes anymore?  We even say, “Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.” They now come with most events: road races, family reunions, clubs, concerts, VBS, school, and especially anything sports-related.  For many of us, our closets are bursting with t-shirts of which, as a guess, only a small percentage actually get worn. It’s common to have a sacred collection of shirts, be it from high school, college, a fraternity, or otherwise, that we simply refuse to throw away.  But while our memories may be plentiful, storage often is not. Walk through any second-hand store, and you’ll see plenty of discarded shirts from various occasions.  Particularly sad are the uniforms that are donated.

As graduation season looms, many parents may be nervously looking at those piles of shirts their senior has collected over the years, shirt they aren’t “allowed” to get rid of, and wondering what will become of them.  Bags of clothes sit around in closets, garages, and attics, waiting for nothing.  So what’s to be done with these fabric memories?  A lot of people have found that making them into t-shirt and memory quilts is an excellent alternative.  The shirts are seen once again and put to good use.

There are plenty of local folks who offer this service in addition to several online companies.  However, since quilting itself is an art form, not all services will result in the same product or quality.  If you’re interested in getting a quilt made from your t-shirts, uniforms, or any other clothes, here’s a helpful guide on how to ensure the best quality product.

Blanket – is it actually a quilt or a blanket?  A quilt is different from a blanket in a couple of major ways.  A blanket may have one or two layers, but a quilt will have three: a front, back, and middle (called batting). It will have those three layers sewn together with a design.  This sewing of the layers together is called “quilting”, and it’s what separates a quilt from a regular blanket.  It’s why they last many years more than a blanket.

Materials – what’s included with the price? The batting and backing of a quilt can be quite expensive.  Quality batting can go anywhere from $30-$60+.  The backing fabric can require anywhere from 4-8 yards of fabric, and quality fabric from run anywhere from $8-$15 a yard.  So when you look at a price, remember to check and see what that price includes.  A seemingly small price can add up quickly if it doesn’t include the backing and batting.

Stabilizer – do they use it?  If you’ve ever cut a t-shirt, you’ll notice that the material, jersey knit, rolls and shifts a lot.  When making a quilt from fabric like this, a quilter needs to use a material called “stabilizer” to ensure the fabric doesn’t roll, shift, or bunch up as the quilt is sewn together and later on quilted.  Seams that bulge and twist and aren’t straight are usually signs that someone didn’t use stabilizer.  When used, stabilizer gives the shirts a clean look that is flat and straight.

Batting – what kind of batting do they use? Batting can be made of several different materials.  Polyester is the most cost effective, but it doesn’t last over the years as well and isn’t as warm.  Cotton is warm and washes well over the years.  Wool batting is the most expensive as well as the warmest, but it does come with the same tricky washing guidelines that all wool products do.  Most t-shirt quilts will go for polyester or cotton.  Cotton is generally more reliable and longer-lasting.

Quilting – the closer the quilting design the longer it’ll last.  The quilting that goes throughout a quilt holds it together and makes it last over the years.  That being said, most batting does well with a quilting pattern that is spaced 10” or closer.  It also drapes better and lasts through multiple washes longer.  Quilting patterns spaced too far apart will often result in batting that shifts or bunches after a short while, leaving a lumpy and unattractive quilt.

The “Movie Test” – A short self-check that is an easy gauge of a t-shirt quilt or t-shirt blanket’s quality is called the “movie test.”  If you put on a full-length movie and sat down with scissors and a seam-ripper, would you be able to disassemble that entire quilt or blanket by the end of the credits?  If you can disassemble it in that short amount of time, then the quality is lower.  A good quilt takes ages to take apart because of the materials and close-set quilting design.

These are some of the basic elements that will vary greatly among t-shirt quilt services.  Don’t be afraid to ask them for specifics and options.  Pinterest as a lot of great ideas, but be careful in matching your design expectations to costs.  The fancier the design, the more time and materials invested in to it.  Online services offer lower prices, but local services can offer more customization.  Whichever way you decide, here’s to reviving those happy memories and freeing up storage space all in one product!

Hockey Jersey Quilt

*A quick note to say that the picture at the top is one of the in-progress pictures. I forgot to get a final picture.  That happens a lot.

This quilt was a first for me in regards to theme.  It’s a hockey quilt.  If you know anything about the state of Georgia, you’ll understand why I don’t have more of these.  Georgia’s climate specializes in heat and humidity, and what’s “cold” to us is a fair day up in Vermont.  So yeah, it’s amazing I’ve even gotten one hockey quilt.

That being said, hockey jersey material really is like no other, and I loved working with it.  You know when you get your hands on some high quality copy paper?  The good stuff?  You know how you can tell by its texture and thickness that it was made to last?  These hockey jerseys felt the same way – only in fabric form.

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I’ve worked with football, baseball, and softball jerseys aplenty, but the hockey jersey presented one big problem those others didn’t.  A big problem.  Big.  The jersey fonts and numbers were huge because they needed to go over all that padding.  I ended up using my standard block size for all of the rows except the last one.  If you look carefully, you’ll notice the bottom row is slightly longer.  That was the only way I was going to be able to get everything fitted in.  And even then I had to shorten and rearrange some of the trim and names.  But in the end I think it worked out just fine.

There was one element on this quilt that was completely new for me.  The client gave me a couple of pairs of hockey socks and said something along the lines of, “I don’t know if you can do anything with these, but here they are.”  I told her I’d see what I could manage because I had an idea.  I was able to sew them together with no issues, but I sure did bite my lip when my quilting machine went over them, afraid for all parties involved.  But the machine took the knitted socks in stride, and I simply avoided the bulky seam part when possible.  I love pointing to those two blocks and telling people that those were socks.  I think it’s so funny.

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Related blogs and posts:

#quiltsforbroncos – Humboldt Hockey Players

Little Bear’s Quilt

Sew Ottawa!

York Heritage Quilt Show

Crawfish T-shirt Quilt

This t-shirt quilt was for a friend in memory of her father-in-law.  Apparently it was a tradition for him to get her funny shirts from the crawfish shacks he frequented.  I’ll admit some of them were pretty funny.

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I liked this one for another reason, too.  If I’m correct in my thinking, this is the first quilt where we picked out fabric via online; she lives in a different state.  I liked the whimsical fabric choice for the backing, and I used a coordinating fabric for the sashing.

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It was a nice thematic change of pace for me.  I’m in Georgia, so I probably won’t get the chance to make many crawfish quilts.

Related posts and blogs:

Southern Belly: Crawfish

Beyond Gumbo: My Lousiana Crawfish Po-boys

 

 

Hope Memory Quilt

*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.

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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.

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There was a shirt included with a lot of signatures, so I cut them out and placed them around the quilt so as not to lose any.

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.

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I was asked to include this label. I realized a signature would be perfect, and they were able to scan one for me.

This is also one of the few pictures I have with the recipient holding it.

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A memory quilt made from dress shirts and t-shirts. This is the mother holding it after it was gifted to her as a surprise.