A memory quilt is made up of many elements all gathered together to form a story. Although the origins of memory quilts are a little hazy, after the second world war in the United Kingdom, memory quilts were made from all the elements which reminded a family of its roots. The first dress worn to Sunday school, or the first school uniform shirt were all put aside to make quilts. The one thing that all of these had in common was that they were cotton based. Made as a gift to give the children when they leave home, or even made for the home itself, these quilts told a story, and when the children looked at the quilts, what they saw were little glimpses of their past, preserved in a way which embraces tradition.
The Modern Memory Quilt
The craft has evolved and these now take on new formats and are used to celebrate different aspects of life, preserving memories for the future. The new baby born as grandchildren can be snuggled into a quilt made out of clothing their parents wore as babies. It’s almost as if the circle is complete. Students going off to college can have quilts which serve as a reminder of home, and which evoke memories of childhood and the roots of the family from which they are separated.
How to Make a Memory Quilt
Whatever the memory, a quilt made for a special purpose to celebrate something which has happened is a memory quilt. To make one is relatively easy. Simply decide on the format the quilt will take. Look in craft shops for templates as these are very useful for these quilts made out of scraps of cotton fabric from the past. If you want to machine stitch a quilt with different sections, this can be done instead, but the first work goes into the planning. If you draw this out on a piece of graph paper, it helps to get things into perspective and to measure how much fabric is needed for the overall quilt. The reason why people have difficulty in knowing how much fabric to purchase is that each piece of the quilt loses a little volume because it is folded over and joined to the next piece.
Usually, a memory quilt is made over a period of time, and the only fabric which actually needs purchasing is the backing which is determined by measurement plus a little extra for the seam.
Ideas for making a memory quilt
In this day and age, there are many methods of making memory quilts, including those which incorporate photographs. Photographs of a child’s first party can be printed onto fabric using transfer sheets which are used in a printer. If making a collage of pictures, be sure to use clear backgrounds for the printed work, to get better results. Photograph memory quilts can be made as wall hangings, or bed quilts and incorporate photographs placed into a grid of a darker contrasting fabric. Each of the photographic elements is better in the same size, since this allows the quilter to lay out the photos and form lines of another fabric between them, horizontally and diagonally. The edging of these kinds of quilts is simple because the maker doesn’t want the eye to be distracted from the whole purpose of the quilt, which is to display memories.
A simple cord could be used which is hand stitched to the quilt after it has all been machined together. A word of advice here is to lay out the strips which form the gridwork on the quilt and form straight lines. Fold the hems against these lines on either side, as this makes them much easier to work with and to tack into place before machining. You will also need a border of the same fabric so that this acts as a frame for the photographs being used.
Childhood memory quilts
These can be made by getting the children to participate. If you cut cotton fabric into squares and get the children to make handprints in fabric paints, these make wonderful additions to the memory quilt to be made later in their lives. Children, in general, love painting. Cotton fabric is not expensive, and if the children practice on paper first and are then given the fabric once their skills are a little more honed, they can be encouraged to draw pictures, their first letters and little things special to them on the fabric squares. Again, in this case, the pictures would be gathered until there were sufficient to form a quilt. This may take years, but it’s a worthwhile exercise, since when the quilt is made in their future, each square forms a talking point that involves them in the memory it evokes.
To preserve school or college memories, images of all those who played a part in that special time in a lifetime can be gathered and used on a quilt. Just as yearbooks are created, with technology allowing the printing of pictures on fabric, the images are scanned into the computer. These are then enhanced to their best exposure levels so that the results will be at their best quality. You will need to purchase a couple of packs of tee shirt transfers for your printer. By using your photographic program, you simply print the photos to the required size format on your printer, and then iron the images onto a plain background. Good quality fabric is required, and purchasing cream colored cotton with a good crisp finish when ironed is ideal.
To check out the quality of the fabric in the shop, scrunch a little in your hand and see whether those creases stay, or whether the fabric is sufficiently stiff to resist creases. The best fabrics are those which have a tight weave and can resist crinkling.
Make all images the same size. This is important and since prints are done on standard sized paper this is also very easy to achieve. Put all the images away stored flat.
Making the quilt
To make the quilt, place the photographs onto a flat surface, and ensure that you have enough to form an even layout. Make a paper pattern if you wish to, as this helps to cut out all the dividing strips which will be machined into place. Draw lines around the photographs to ensure that each is marked at exactly the same size. Cut out the strips which divide the photographs and iron the hems so that the strips form an exact width which is uniform over the whole quilt.
Pin and tack all the strips to incorporate the photos, and look to see if more photos are needed to complete the quilt. If so, print more images. Once you have tacked the quilt it’s time to machine stitch all the elements together with a cotton which matches the fabric being used as a framework.
Adding the quilting fabric
Behind every quilt, there is a layer of wadding. This is what gives the quilt its added thickness and a quilted effect. This is tacked onto the back of the quilt before the backing is sewn onto the quilt. Make sure that it is completely flat. For a memory quilt which incorporates images, it’s possible that this may be wall hung and will need a wadding which isn’t too thick. If you are making a wall hanging quilt, you may incorporate loops at the top of the quilt which will take a curtain pole which is used to hold the wall hanging in place.
To make loops simply use the main material, and cut it into strips, iron the hems and then stitch them. Fold the loop in half and tack to the top of the front side of the quilt. Add the fabric for the backing, the right side of fabric, against the right side of the quilt. Machine stitch all the way around the quilt leaving a little gap to turn the quilt back on itself.
When the quilt is the right side out, iron it, being careful of the photo panels. Here, use a cotton cloth to avoid any burning or damage to the images. Top stitch all around the quilt very neatly to give the quilt a really nice finish.
Memory quilts take a little bit of history and place it into the lives of those who may have forgotten faces, colors, and fabrics which formed a part of their past. In future years, these will evoke memories, and become family heirlooms, valuable to the family as bringing back family stories. They are well worth making and will delight family members for years to come.
Pin this for later!