Quilting a Memory – Part One

June 11, 2015

image1I’d been carrying around clothes and ties belonging to my grandfather since he passed away in 2004, meaning to use them for a quilt. When my grandmother (who I counted on living forever) passed in 2013, I cherry-picked a few of her favorite shirts, nighties, and her satin pillowcase (slick so it wouldn’t mess up her hair).

I’ve never been a big fan of the memory quilts that look like a bunch of clothes sewn together – not that there’s anything wrong with them – they’re just not my style. I wanted a quilt that was designed with memory in mind, but with a style of its own. So, how to do that with a drawer-full of old clothes and soup-spotted ties?

Choosing materials for your memory quilt.

A memory quilt is the perfect first foray into designing your own quilts or creating an art quilt. There are really no rules, and since you’re almost certainly creating an heirloom or decorative piece instead of something you plan to use on a bed or a lap, you’ve got free reign to just PLAY without worrying about size or function. 

993588_10201180898021581_1348734649_nGrandpa had more ties than he had hairs on his head (seriously, take a look!), but I only chose ones that I could picture him wearing – ones he wore frequently enough that they said “Grandpa” to me. If you’d like proof, check out the stains on a few of them! I figure that’s just value-added historical authenticity. Right?

The same for Grandma. After asking for clothes, I received a giant bag that looked to have been emptied directly from her closet. My mom grabbed me her pillowcase (because if there were ever a more fitting tribute to her, I can’t think of one), and along with that, I went through and pulled the shirts and nighties that said Grandma to me. Shirts she wore a lot, shirts I had special pictures of her wearing, and anything that was old (think summery button-down sleeveless shirts I SWEAR she wore every year since about 1984). Everything else – including lots of nearly-new nice things – I donated to charity so someone could get more use out of them.

Designing your memory quilt.

My very technical drawing of the quilt design. As you can see, I'm quite the artist.

My very technical drawing of the quilt design. As you can see, I’m quite the artist.

Looking over what I had to work with, I knew I wanted to create something that was meaningful (to me! it didn’t have to have grand meaning beyond just remembering these two people that I adore) and something that was as fun and creative as they were.

After many sketches, I decided on a general design, and since I’m not worried about size (aside from it needing to be smaller than the wall I want to hang it on), I’m going to let it tell me how big it wants to be as we go.

The center will be a circle of suiting fabric surrounded by Grandpa’s ties, Dresden Plate-style. I didn’t get any of his suits, though I wish I had, so I will be using new polyester suiting (of COURSE the suits were all polyester!) for a little dose of that historical authenticity.

IMG_7777I’ll applique them to…something (this is the one bit I haven’t decided yet!) and square it up. Because I’m far too literal for my own good, I’ll be surrounding the square with blocks of low-volume prints featuring hand-pieced hexagon flowers in the centers made of Grandma’s clothes. It’ll be the ultimate Grandmother’s Flower Garden.

I’ve been blessed to receive several of my great-grandmother’s famous crazy quilts, and I’ll do little crazy quilt blocks as the four cornerstones in her honor. I figured this was also a great way to embellish with shirt buttons and some hand-stitching.

Finally, the outer border will be using up leftover bits of fabric from the clothes in small shapes – maybe squares, maybe strips, we’ll see how much is left.

And of course, I’ll use the rest of the ties sewn together in strips to bind the quilt.


If you rolled your eyes so hard there that they accidentally fell out of your head, blame my grandpa. He loved a good pun and passed that terrible character flaw on to me!

This pile of random clothing will be a gorgeous quilt. Really!

This pile of random clothing will be a gorgeous quilt. Really!

Stay tuned – in part two I’ll be creating the center medallion and showing how to use ties (an oh, so popular memory quilt material) to create a stunning part of the quilt. I hope you’ll follow along with me throughout the process – ah, who am I kidding! I NEED you to follow along and keep me accountable! This is one project that I very very much want to keep OUT of my works-in-progress basket.

If you feel inspired, gather the materials for YOUR next memory quilt and share them in the comments. Have you ever made one? Share a finished photo! I’d love to see…

Until next time!


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