3 Easy Steps to Make a Memory Quilt

How-to-Make-a-Memory-Quilt

I must have a kind and approachable face, because people love coming to me with their questions. Like, “Suzy, how do you build a website from scratch?” "Suzy, will you look at my quilt top at tell me how to quilt it?" “Suzy, what’s the best Halo Top ice cream flavor?” That last question has an easy answer – mash chocolate and peanut butter together. But there’s another question I hear quite a bit: “Suzy, will you sew me a custom memory quilt?”

Now, you know I would just LOVE to wade through all of your memory-rich fabrics and wonder what memories are actually attached to them… but wouldn’t it be so much better if you did it? You know, since you could actually reminisce? It just seems like the whole process would be more meaningful for the rememberer!

Cover photo credit: Vuntu

Little Girl Memory Quilt

I can hear you responding now with, "But I don't know how!" Don’t worry. I have good news! If you have a sewing machine, you can make a memory quilt on your own. YES, YOU. 

Keep reading, and I’ll walk you through the finer points of making a memory quilt. We’ll even make some memories of our own while we’re at it. In fact, when you’re done reading this tutorial, you might want to make a memory quilt about all of the good times you had while reading it. Just a thought.

Make-a-Memory-Quilt

Quilt above credit: Making More with Less, Flickr

Basic Sewing Supplies to Make a Memory Quilt

Remembering the Memories: Step 1. Gathering Fabric

There are sooo many different places you can find fabric for a memory quilt, because we attach so many memories to clothing and textiles. It all starts at the very beginning… that’s right. Birth. I think Moms everywhere have stashes of newborn blankets (she came home in this one!), baby clothes (he wore this during his first steps!), and even pillow cases (her first drool!) that remind them of those magical first days of their kids lives.

It’s like a rule in Mom-land. These bits of old, possibly stained fabric are the perfect place to start, since there’s a pretty good chance the kid in question can’t actually wear those clothes anymore, and probs doesn’t want that Raggedy Ann pillowcase. 

Trending patterns!

100% cotton fabrics of similar weight are the ideal scraps for a memory quilt. But I know, I know the classic t-shirt quilt has slowly and steadily risen in popularity, and is now the memory quilt of choice. Since jersey (the fancy name for a popular t-shirt material) is a bit stretchy and slippery, it can be tricky to quilt with. Tricky, but definitely still possible. 

If you’re using some jersey fabrics, brush up on your jersey-sewing skills with this blog post: How to Sew with Jersey.

The Least Fun Part: Step 2. Preparing the Fabric 

I titled this section "The Least Fun Part" because I wanted to give you a heads up – it's a lot of ironing. Maybe ironing is your jam and Step 2 is going to be a the most exciting part of this process. However, if ironing is kind of a bummer, let me tell you that it's really really important and can make or break your memory quilt.

  • Wash all of the memory fabric. Maybe that's an obvious one, but especially if some of these garments have been in storage for a long time, better give them a nice freshening up.
  • If sewing with jersey T-shirts, use interfacing: Preparing your fabric involves ironing something a bit sturdier than 20-year-old jersey to the back of it. I'm talking about some light-weight fusible interfacing such as this Pellon Shape-Flex. This stuff is really easy to use – just steam iron it to the back of your T-shirts. Because it's light-weight, it won't make your finished quilt feel crunchy.
  • If sewing with synthetic fabrics, change your iron setting. I'm going to repeat that because it's SO IMPORTANT. Change your iron setting. I don't want you to accidentally scorch a meaningful item of clothing because your iron was still on the cotton setting. Acrylic, polyester, nylon, silk – all of those fabrics require a lower heat than your classic quilting cotton. Click the links above to read about more fabric-specific instructions.

Memory Quilting: Step 3. Cutting and Piecing

While making a memory quilt, it’s helpful to stay focused on why you’re using all of this old fabric in the first place: because of the memories. Right? Remember? This is important to keep in mind during the cutting and piecing process.

When cutting fabric for a memory quilt, cut pieces from the most distinctive parts of the cloth. This may sound obvious, but it’s still a good reminder. Look for the lacy bits, the special embroidery, or the detailed hem of the clothing that gives it its charm, and brings back the best memories.

And since this quilt is all about the memories, and not about choosing fabric that actually matches… may I recommend a simple square quilt? Squared is a free quilt pattern I wrote and can be adapted to 12 ½” squares of fabric or a square inside of a square.

If you wish to adapt this quilt to 12 ½” squares, simply ignore the block piecing instructions and cut your fabric to 12 ½” squares. 

The Best Free Quilt Pattern for Beginners

Why I recommend this pattern is because of the white border between the blocks. In the quilt world, we call that border, sashing. This will separate your memories kind of like pages in a scrapbook. There's a reason people make scrapbooks and not collaged scrapwalls. Know what I mean?

Fussy Cutting

Fussy cutting is a fancy term for cutting out a specific area of fabric rather than laying out the fabric and slicing it willy nilly with a ruler and rotary cutter. Fussy cutting is very very easy if you have a clear quilting ruler that is the exact size of your quilt block.

If you are going to make this free Squared quilt pattern as a memory quilt, and adapt it to 12 ½”  blocks, absolutely get yourself a 12 ½” square ruler. When you can see what you are cutting, you won't accidentally slice off the logo of a T-shirt or a sweet old patch on grandpa's jeans.

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Quilting 101

If you are an absolute beginner and this will be your very first quilt, hip hip hooray! Welcome to the club! We love new comers and hope you keep making more and more quilts. Don't be scared about embarking on this journey. I've compiled a travel guide just for you!

Check out the Quilting 101 tab at the top of the page. Also, my YouTube channel has video tutorials on the very basics, like How to Cut Fabric and How to Chain Piece. (Just be warned that the volume quality is terrible...so...only use it as a last resort ;))


Have you made a memory quilt and have tips to share? I'd love to hear about your upcycled and sentimental sewing projects. Let's inspire each other!

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15 thoughts on “3 Easy Steps to Make a Memory Quilt

  1. Jessica Rampelburg says:

    You have a YouTube channel?! 😃❤ This was a fantastic post because I’ve never sewn with Jersey! Thanks Susy

  2. Samantha Rosin says:

    I have made quite a few memory quilts now! From baby clothes to swim suits to beach towels – I’ve incorporated a ton of different fabrics together. I agree – stabilize stabilize stabilize. I use the same lightweight fusible interfacing that you recommend. Also, I find that when I’m piecing different types of fabrics together and things get bulky, it helps to switch to walking foot (I’m a scrap-wall memory quilt kinda gal! Wouldn’t run into so many of the “bulk” problems with the sashig though, so I might have to rethink the way I’m doing things in the future). Pinning also helps. Happy quilting!

  3. Judy says:

    What a wonderful post!! I am sharing with hospice volunteers who sew memory quilts for patients’ families. Thank you for taking the time to outline the steps and problematic areas that could be overlooked but make such a difference in the finished product!!

  4. Shannon says:

    Hello! First timer here and I have some material I have been holding onto for quite a while to make a quilt for my nephew after my brother’s passing. I’m
    Looking for some help in dealing with the different materials; denim jeans, one or two t shirts, and some work shirts (one made from ring spun cotton and one polyester).
    My questions are;
    Is it feesible to make one quilt with this mish mash of fabric types
    The fabrics are quite dark (grey, black, dark blue), would sewing squares of flannel in between the clothing squares be doable to break up the dark colours??

    Thank you!

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hi Shannon, I’m so sorry for your loss. A memory quilt is a great idea and it is doable to sew all of those different fabrics together. You can add borders of neutral fabric, or your could cut the fabrics into squares and sew them to each other that way. I suggest using a 90/14 needle on your machine and sewing with a 1/2″ seam allowance, rather than the classic 1/4″ for quilting. Since some of these fabrics are more prone to fraying, I wouldn’t want any of them falling apart shortly after sewing them into a quilt.

      If you would like to sew a border fabric between the memory fabric, I suggest trying a linen/cotton blend such as Essex Linen. It is heavy enough to pair well with denim, but also light enough to sew to cotton and flannel.

      • Shannon says:

        Thank you for your help! Should I put interfacing on the back of any of those materials or should they hold up? I was thinking of cutting out small squares of the shirts and sewing them into bigger squares of a cotton material do you think that would work? Your help is greatly appreciated

  5. Bambi Pearson says:

    I am in the process of making your “Squared Quilt” right now. I will make sure to show pic on Instagram when done.

  6. Vicky says:

    Hello. Thank you so much for all of your articles. You speak about starching fabric, however, do you still starch jersey fabric that has fusion interfacing? Thank you.

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