I’ve always thought that the idea of making memory quilts was an excellent one. Clothes are not much good after your baby has grown out of them, or after a beloved person has passed on. But by making a quilt that uses elements of clothing, we don’t only create something that lovingly preserves our memories. We also get something that is practical, useful and beautiful for the here and now.
I’ve never before made a memory quilt, so it says something for my friend Melissa’s trust that she gave me a bag of her most treasured baby clothes that no longer fitted her two small girls and let me get on with it.
My model was Sew Very Easy‘s stunning T-Shirt Quilt (click here for the video tutorial). I mostly followed Laura’s method, except for a couple of tweaks, beginning with the size of the squares…
Step 1: Destroy a pile of baby clothes.
This is where it’s kinda good that you yourself don’t have fond memories of the clothes you’re destroying. And do it thoroughly. Depending on size, the clothes were either big enough for my squares (6.5″ – the size chosen because I have a convenient ruler of that size), and when they weren’t, I cut out figures and motifs in order to appliqué them on squares in turn. I even kept the little buttons off a dress – you’ll see what I used them for below.
Step 2: after cutting the squares and if the fabric is either flimsy or made from stretchy fabrics, stabilise them.
I decided to spray-starch them, something I’ve not done before but which worked well. Now I just need to find an alternative way of starching fabric than by means of stuff in a spray can. The other thing I did which you can just about make out in the third picture above is attach 1 cm strips made from iron-on interfacing all around the edges of my squares. This is a departure from Laura’s video tutorial, as she irons on stabiliser on the whole square. I’m not sure which stabiliser she’s using, but mine was a medium weight and I felt that it would make the square far too stiff. But stabilising the edges definitely helped keeping the squares in shape – vital if you’re trying to piece them. These prepping steps take a longish time, but it’s definitely worth not cutting corners here.
Step 3: add appliqué and free-motion sewing elements if you want to
As mentioned above, some of the clothes were just too tiny to be used for 6.5″ squares, but the appliqué/pattern on them was meaningful to my friend. I decided to cut them out and use the rough-edge appliqué method to sew them to some of the squares – mostly to squares that came from the backs of shirts and which didn’t have a pattern or a prominent motif on them.
I mostly used free-motion sewing to attach the appliqué, so that it looked ‘artistic’ rather than uneven. I hope I succeeded…
The third design element were added bits of background to make the appliqué more interesting.
I only just learnt to ‘draw’ with my sewing machine, and it’s so much fun that I’m definitely planning to do more of it. Spot the little buttons I kept from Step 1…
Step 4: after all the squares are designed to your satisfaction, add borders.
As you’re doing your borders, you will soon realise why stabilising the fabric is such a good idea. Jersey is notorious for stretching all over the place and in ways you hadn’t anticipated. Patchwork with unstabilised jersey is a nightmare. It may help to lower the pressure on the foot if your sewing machine has that option, but I prefer a walking foot any day – also in order to keep the squares as nearly perfectly square as you can manage.
Also really important – pressing your edges as you go – this makes accurate sewing so much easier. If you don’t have a small ironing board to place next to your sewing machine, it may be a good idea to drag the ironing board to your sewing table and place it right next to it. You’ll be doing a lot of getting up and sitting down again.
Step 5: after you’ve finished the quilt top, make a quilt sandwich with your favourite wadding and, as they say in the books, quilt as desired.
I opted for a very simple, stitch-in-the-ditch, square quilting design. This is where it really helps to have a walking foot, as the layers making up the quilt sandwich may also start to wander despite your best efforts. I opted against a more complex quilting design because I felt that the squares (and the motifs on them) should attract the attention of the viewer, not the quilting design. I tend to think that quilts with busy patchwork that also have very a very ‘busy’ quilting design look a bit over the top.
Step 6: attach binding.
And finally, my favourite task: doing the binding. Other people find it dull, but I love attaching binding and really trying to get the corners straight.
Even if my design is a bit wobbly, my corners are dead straight. Ha!
Step 7: stepping back and admiring your work.
Here’s the first quilt for the older little girl.
And here’s the second one for her younger sister. Same but different.
I’m really pleased with these two quilts. Want to see some close-ups? Ooh, go on…
I’m glad to say that my friend and her little girls were pleased with the quilts. The girls are still very little and I’ve heard that they’re going to be given the quilts when they’re older, so that they can appreciate the significance of every single square. I hope the quilts will act as springboards for stories that begin “And when you came home from the hospital you wore this…” or “And when we celebrated your first birthday, you had this t-shirt on…” With any luck, the quilts will cover these girls’ beds for some time to come…