3 Easy Steps to Make a Memory Quilt

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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.

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com
How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

Above is the Kris Kross quilt pattern, perfect for using old soft denim or chambray.

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

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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.

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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.

Upcycled denim quilt

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!
How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com
How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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.

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com
How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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. 

The Best Free Quilt Pattern for Beginners | Suzy Quilts https://suzyquilts.com/make-a-memory-quilt

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.

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.

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

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, 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!

How to make a memory quilt. suzyquilts.com

64 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.

  7. Desiree Campbell says:

    My twin sons have hundreds of beautiful 4-H rosettes they’ve won over the years at the county fair. Do you have any tips for sewing them into a quilt?

  8. Karen says:

    I want to do this with my beloved sons clothes I saved after he passed away. I’m so worried I’ll mess it all up but you sound very reassuring.
    I also have cotton t shirts and jeans. He didn’t wear much jersey.
    What type of thread do you recommend? What brand?
    Do I wash the background cotton first? I assume I do.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hi Karen,I’m so sorry for your loss. Making a memory quilt is a great idea. And think of it this way – you can try to make something special with his clothes, or keep them folded up in a box. Might as well try, right? And I think you’ll do a great job too. When choosing thread, think of it like this – natural fibers go best with natural fibers and synthetic fibers go best with other synthetic fibers. So if you are using a lot of cotton or denim, 100% cotton thread is a great choice. However, if he has any polyester or stretchy clothes, stick with poly thread.

      I have a couple articles on thread if you’re interested – https://suzyquilts.com/the-difference-between-cotton-and-poly-thread/ and https://suzyquilts.com/best-quality-sewing-thread/

      And yes, pre-wash your background fabric since I assume your son’s clothing has all been laundered as well. Good luck! xo

  9. Cindy Machovec says:

    Suzy I am making a memory lap quilt for myself and 3 daughters in memory of my mom and dad. I have some quilting experience so my question is where can I get an embroidered or printed poem to add to the quilts from my mom and dad. Any suggestions on where to get this?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      If you would like the text to be embroidered I would say that your two options would be to use a local embroidery shop (they are pretty common if you do a Google search) or you could contact an artist on Etsy who makes embroidery art and commission them for a custom project. The first option would be the less expensive route, but you may want to pay the money for handwork if this will be a really special quilt.

      Another option is uploading a design you layout on the computer to Spoonflower and having them print it on fabric. Then you could sew that fabric into the quilt. The great thing about Spoonflower is you can order fabric as small as a fat quarter, if that’s all you need.

      Good luck!

  10. Cyna says:

    I want to make a quilt out of my granddaughters clothes where you cut the shirt or sleeper in half front to back and use the entire front of the item. I’m not sure how to attach the clothes to the squares. Is it appliqué?

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      If you want to keep the original shape of the clothing item, appliqué will be your best option. If you plan on cutting each clothing item down so that they are each the same shape, piecing them together would be more efficient.

  11. Janet says:

    Suzy, thank you so much for this tutorial. I have never made a memory quilt and now as hard as it is going to be – I need to make 3. My sweet hubby of 46 years passed away 13 months ago and I saved all of his shirts – 47 of them, all darker plaids and then some extras that are solid. Natch these are poly/cotton. Saw a picture on FB that showed staggered bricks with a black and white 4 patch at each end of the brick. Was wondering what you thought about that pattern since the plaids are darker, of do I need to find some that are brighter to add to the collection? These shirts are all L to 2X, so have plenty of fabric. Thank you for your help.

    • Suzy Quilts says:

      Hi Janet,

      I’m so sorry for your loss. I hope sewing this quilt brings back lots of wonderful memories and healing. I think you should cut the staggered bricks portion of the quilt, since you sound confident about that part. I would then make a few different 4 patch blocks in varying colors. Lay those blocks next to the plaid fabrics and then decide what you like best. I bet seeing it laid out will help you decide.

    • Barb Way says:

      I made 4 log cabin quilts out of my husband’s plaid shirts. I cut the shirts apart and then blocked all of the plaid pieces before cutting so that the plaids would be running straight. I’ve been sleeping under that quilt for the past 17 years. It brings back happy memories and it is comforting. Get started. It will be a good experience.

  12. Mary Kay says:

    I am making a memory quilt for a relative using both 100% cotton fabric and old sweatshirts for the squares. The sweatshirts seem pretty stable but would you suggest using a stabilizer on either or both squares? I am not sure as the sweatshirt fabric is thicker than the cotton fabric.

  13. Eric says:

    Just wanted to say Thank You. I am new to quilting, only made 3 quilts thus far. A friend asked me, or actually begged me to make 3 memory lap quilts for her, her mom and her sister. She is giving me 2 boxes of the clothes and I had no idea what to do. now I am more confident. I like the idea of a poem, favorite scripture, or her late father’s favorite sayings embroidered on a square. Now the challenge will be cutting the fabric to span all 3 quilts and filling in with something else. Great website and LOVE your tutorials, even the hand quilting ones with messy hair:) You look great.

  14. Angie says:

    I lost my son nearly 7 years ago and I have had all of his clothes tucked away since then. I have a mixture of t-shirts, woven shirts, a couple of sweatshirts and several pairs of jeans. Have you ever done a quilt with shirts on the front and jeans for the backing? Is this a bad idea? Thank you for all of your information on working with the different fabrics.

  15. Phil Moriarty says:

    My friend wants me to make a memory quilt from her Mothers clothes but she wants them sewing as they are, but l think this is impossible my idea would be to cut them into a front and a back and sewing the sleeves to the sides of the blouses or pj tops with a border all the way around …Applicae … Would it work. …..

  16. Peggy says:

    Hi Suzy,
    I am a beginner quilter, and I love this quilt pattern. I am going to use it to make a memory quilt from my mom’s pants and tops. She had a variety of fabrics, including polyester, cotton, & lightweight denim. I will use an interfacing like you suggest on anything that is not cotton. Wondering what kind of thread to use, since there is a variety of fabrics. I read where you recommend this: “When choosing thread, think of it like this – natural fibers go best with natural fibers and synthetic fibers go best with other synthetic fibers. So if you are using a lot of cotton or denim, 100% cotton thread is a great choice. However, if he has any polyester or stretchy clothes, stick with poly thread.” When I will be using a blend of fabrics, what would you say? There is probably half cotton and half polyester or some sort of other fabric.
    Thank you so much for any advice you can give.

  17. Louise Chase says:

    Suzy, I have begun searching the web looking for help to make memory quilts for my daughters four teenagers who lost their Mom way to early. It’s been 1 1/2 years now and I am finally ready to cut into her clothing. Your site is THE BEST SITE I HAVE FOUND on the web!!! Thank you so much.

  18. Carol says:

    Dear Suzy- Thank you so much! So glad I found your site. My brother-in-law just sent me 4 boxes full of my sister’s clothes, from which I offered to try to make 3 memory quilts, for him & my niece & nephew. I’ve never made a quilt other than crochet but I have just finished sewing 80+ face masks (still making them) , so my sewing machine is warmed up! I’m taking notes from you & will be viewing everything on your site! 🙂

  19. Pat says:

    Thank you for all of the great ideas and suggestions. My question is when using knit material such as t-shirts, do you apply the fusible interfacing before cutting into blocks and/or strips or apply the interfacing after cutting and before piecing?

  20. Pamala says:

    Thanks for the great job you’re doing helping so many people!
    Have you discussed how to use a ballcap in a memory quilt?

  21. Gillian Leggett says:

    Thank you very much for all the information above. I am VERY new to quilting but I have had on my plan to make two memory quilts using my boys clothing. My question is once you have (eventually) stitched everything together what do you attach to the back of it; the part that would be touching their body. Thanks x

  22. Michelle says:

    I have a friend who wants me to make several lap quilts with her loved one’s shirts. Unfortunately she only gave me 2 small bags of shirts. What is the best pattern or square size to get the most out of the shirts and to still be able to get a few quilts. I plan to run edging/filler between all the squares so that I won’t need as much of the shirts but do you have any ideas on square size or pattern that could help with this? thanks

  23. wasadoll says:

    Super glad I found this blog last night, looks excellent…thorough and easy to understand. Going to pick up clothing tomorrow from a dear aunt who passed unexpectedly (heart attack) two weeks ago. Offered to make a memory quilt for her husband (maybe for her son and one for my dad too? depending on how many treasured pieces I gather). I can sew/quilt, mid level skilled. Really looking forward to this upcoming special project and will have this blog and all its links by my side!

    PS…how wonderful you are following your passion! Loved your story about learning to sew in your friend’s basement with her mom! ❤️

  24. Linda Fischer says:

    My daughter-in-law asked me to incorporate her old baby blanket into a new quilt for her new baby girl. I have quilted many items in the past. I am a bit apprehensive because the old blanket is very loosely woven, old & faded. Would using the soft interfacing work in this instance? Thanks in advance for your reply. I am already happy to have stumbled upon your website!

    MARCH 20, 2021 AT 9:16 AM REPLY

  25. Suman Rice says:

    Hi Suzy, I’d like some advice on using suits for a memory quilt. These are lined suits jackets and the trousers are unlined. Would it be better to just use the trousers?

      • Deborah McColloch says:

        I made three memory quilts this past summer from cut up flannel shirts belonging to a young man lost too soon- one for each of his children and one for his parents. I cut 2 1/2” inch strips and used them in different ways. Worn flannel is not easy to work with, but I found starching the strips first was helpful. The starch washes right out when you wash the finished quilt. Memory quilts are a labor of love.

  26. Joan says:

    Love this pattern – so versatile, and the wider sashing are perfect for “stories”. Using a fabric pen, I can write, “favorite fishing shirt,” “tie he wore to his daughter’s wedding”, and other people can add stories after my memory fades. “I remember when he wore that shirt on the cruise!” Even some of the stains, paint splotches, rips tell a story. How about quilting lines to write on? Thanks so much

  27. MARY ANN RICH says:

    Suzy, You are an amazing quilting STAR!! Thank you for all the inspiration with shapes, designs, colors and information on how to quilt!!

  28. Megan Jordan says:

    I needed this post back in January! After years of persuading my boyfriend, he finally “surrendered” (hahah) his camo hunting jacket he bought when he was 17! I incorporated the canvas jacket, a sweatshirt, and two t-shirts into his quilt. While I did find using the different weights of fabric a bit challenging at first, I was really happy with the finished project. It was the third memory quilt I have made I love saving the details…… the embroidered names, buttons, or other embellishments. My next one is going to be a denim one, so I found this blog very helpful!

  29. Consuelo Hecker says:

    So grateful I found your site. my husband passed a year ago, and I want to make my adult children a small memory quilt of their dad. I know this will help me too, . I look forward to following and learning from you.

  30. aoates says:

    Thanks for the great Memory Quilt pattern. I used the basic design and added applique hearts inside each block. The quilt is for a friend who lost his wife to cancer. The fabric for the hearts is from her clothes.

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