Many people start their quilting journey because of a desire to make a memory quilt. Memory quilts incorporate sentimental fabrics or clothing in a way that can be used and enjoyed for years. I've actually been asked many times to make memory quilts for people, but know what I would much rather do? Teach you how to make a memory quilt!
You know I would 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!
In this post, I give you 3 steps for making a memory quilt, tips on upcycling fabric and also how to pick the right quilt pattern for your special textiles.
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.
Basic Sewing Supplies to Make a Memory Quilt
- Basic Sewing Machine
- Thread to match your fabric (I usually grab a color that matches the lightest fabric in the quilt)
- Memory Fabric
- Batting – you probably want to pick a low-loft batting. Low-loft is relatively flat and very easy for a first time quilter to quilt on a domestic machine. Pellon 100% cotton is my favorite inexpensive cotton batting.
- Cutting Mat
- Rotary Cutter
- Straight Pins
- Iron and Ironing board
Are you remembering someone who loved to garden? The Perennial quilt pattern is wonderful as a memory quilt because it uses small scrap pieces of fabric for the "flowers."
How to Make a Memory Quilt
Step 1: Gather 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 Momland. 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.
Since you going to be sewing with fabric from unknown sources and possibly even made with unknown materials, I highly recommend reading this post, The Ultimate Guide to Upcycling Fabric. It talks about how to handle old and even mystery fabric.
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.
Do you have a lot of knit baby clothes or blankets you'd like to reuse? Try the Bohemian Garden quilt pattern—designed specifically for knits!
If your Memory Quilt uses all different kinds of fabrics, I got you covered!
Patterns that Make Great Memory Quilts
When looking for a quilt pattern for your memory quilt, you need to first think about the fabric. If you are using large pieces of denim from old jeans, you can use a pattern like Fishing Net seen below.
However, more often than not, you have little pieces of fabric cut from shirts, pillows and textile scraps. Here's a list of some patterns that would work really well as a memory quilt with those:
- Summer Haze - Turn your memories into half square triangles.
- Thrive - Use small touches of your refurbished fabric with new fabric. This will also add stability to the quilt.
- Perennial - This is perfect for remembering a lover of flowers and using small pieces of fabric from their life.
- Mod Mountains - Was your loved one a lover of nature and the great outdoors? Maybe they were strong and sturdy like a mountain. What a lovely gift to remember them in that way!
Above is the Thrive quilt pattern. For added tips on making it, check out the Thrive sew along! To make this quilt a memory quilt, you could use refurbished fabric in just the accent squares (white squares in this quilt) or make the chevron motif scrappy with lots of memory fabric!
This pattern is good for using older fabric because aside from the background, the pieces are simple squares and rectangles cut on grain. Below is a picture of my 11 year old niece making a Thrive quilt.
Step 2: Prepare the Fabric
I almost 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.
Step 3: Cut and Piece
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.
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 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.
Make a Memory Pillow!
Committing to making a memory quilt is a large undertaking. If you are wavering on whether or not to jump in, why not start with a memory pillow! There are lots of pillow patterns in the SQ shop, including the Modern Fans pattern which includes instructions for an 18" pillow.
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, the Suzy Quilts 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!