A Memory Quilt is a great way to re-purpose sentimental clothing. You can use really anything including t-shirts, jackets, pants, tops or childrens wear. Your first step is to think about what you want this quilt to commemorate- a graduation, childhood, a lost family member? Sort through the clothing and select several pieces to use- look for a similar theme or color scheme. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” to make your quilt. This is purely a guide to assist you in creating your own unique memory quilt. There are no specific measurements given, as each quilt will vary.
T- shirts: 12-16 shirts minimum
Adult clothing: 4-6 pieces minimum
Child clothing: 8-12 pieces minimum
Infant/toddler clothing: 12-20 pieces minimum
*it’s better to have more pieces and edit out what you don’t want
Fusible Stabilizer: for any materials that are made of jersey/knit, rayon, silk or other lightweight fabric. The stabilizer will help keep the shape of your squares and prevent shifting, bunching or puckering when you sew. There are tons of options for stabilizer, bit I prefer Pellon SF101 Woven Stabilizer for this project. Tip- When you cut out the stabilizer squares, you can use the remnants- just line them up and iron on.
Batting : you can purchase pre-packaged or by-the-yard batting. It comes in a variety of loft, and blends- for this project I recommend a “crib size” (45” x 60”) or Twin Size pre-packaged batting that is a thin loft of cotton/poly blend. You can also use a layer of flannel or fleece fabric as your batting.
Backer Fabric: you can use any type fabric for the back side of the quilt. “Quilting weight” cotton fabrics work well because they are typically a standard 45” wide which happens to be the same width of the crib size batting. If you are making a larger size quilt, you may have to sew 2 pieces of backer fabric together to equal the correct width. Flannel or fleece also works well. Buy equal length/width backer fabric as your batting layer.
Embroidery Thread: also called DMC Floss, this will need to coordinate with colors of the quilt.
Large Safety Pins
Thread (white and/or coordinating)
Rotary Cutting System (or you can make a paper template for tracing your squares)
Before you start cutting up your clothes, think about what you want this quilt to look like. Are all the squares the same size? Are they large, small? Are there rectangles and squares? The possibilities are endless. But you need to think about the overall design so you have a mental guide before you start cutting.
Step 1: Cut up your clothing. I like to cut the sleeves off shirts first, and then cut along the seams (or the sides), and then the collar to get individual panels of fabric to work with. T-shirts can yield front and back panels. Long sleeve shirts can yield front, back, plus 2 thinner sleeve panels (good for smaller squares). Pants- I cut along the inner seam and open up the leg, skirts cut on one side and open up. Be creative and don’t be afraid to include decorative trims like pockets, embellished seaming or buttons.
Step 2: Take a look at your fabric pieces. Sort them by size and decide which pieces you want to use.
Step 3: Iron on the fusible stabilizer (according to the manufacturer’s directions) to the back side of any pieces that need it. T-shirts (knits), silk, jersey and rayon should all be stabilized. Men’s dress shirts, and similar weight fabrics do not need to be stabilized, but give them a quick press to get out any wrinkles.
Step 4: Decide on your square size. Make sure your pieces will accommodate this size. It’s best to use a rotary cutting system for this but you can also make paper templates to trace around. 10" x 10" - 12” x 12” squares are good for t-shirts, but don’t be intimidated to cut smaller squares so you can mix/match. Basically any size square between 6” – 12” is ideal. If you are going to piece smaller squares together to make a larger square, make sure you add extra seam allowance. For example, your squares are 12” x 12” but you want to make a 12” square panel out of 4 smaller squares. Each smaller square should be 6.25” x 6.25”, so when you sew them together (with a 1/4“ seam allowance) the final piece will equal 12” x 12”. You may need to do a little math to figure it all out.
Step 5: Lay out your squares. Find a large flat surface (floor, dining room table, etc.) and start laying out your pieces. It might take a few tries to get everything matched up, but once you are happy with the layout TAKE A PICTURE. (Even if it’s a poor quality picture with your camera phone.) This will be a helpful reference if the pieces get out of order when sewing, or if you have to store the project while you are working on it.
Step 6: Sew the squares. Working across one row at a time, pin the squares together. You can do one square at a time, or pin all the squares in an entire row at once…whatever you are most comfortable with. Use a 3/8” seam allowance. Once you have a row sewn, press the seams (either open or to the left or right- whatever works best for you).
Step 7: Sew the rows. Working from top to bottom (or bottom to top) -take one row and pin to the next row. When pinning it’s best to start in the center and work your way out lining up the seams as you go. This will give you nice, aligned corners once all the pieces are sewn together. Once all the rows are sewn together, press the seams.
Step 8: Batting. Lay the batting down on your large flat surface and do your best to smooth it out. Lay the quilted squares front panel on top – SO THE RIGHT SIDE IS FACING YOU (and the wrong side is facing the batting). Take your large safety pins and pin every 6” to 10” through the top panel AND the batting layer. This will help prevent shifting. Trim away any excess batting from the edges.
Step 9: Backer fabric. Lay your backer fabric FACE DOWN (so right side of backer fabric and right side of quilted squares are facing) and pin all around perimeter. Trim away any excess fabric.
Step 10: Sewing and Quick-turning. Sew along the perimeter of your quilt, with a 3/8” seam allowance; leave an opening of around 8” – 10” on one edge. If you are making a quilt larger than 45” x 60” leave a slightly larger opening. After the perimeter is sewn, cut the excess fabric from the corners. Removing the fabric here will aid in getting nice “pointy” corners. Be sure that you DO NOT cut through the stitching. Make sure you have removed all the straight pins from perimeter. Put your hand through the opening and turn the quilt “right side out”. Poke your finger in each corner to push the corners out. You might also want to run your hand along the inside of the quilt along the seams to get everything straight and lined up.
Step 11: Press and top-stitch. Pressing at this step is completely optional but I think it makes topstitching easier. Press the edges along the entire perimeter of the quilt. Fold in the fabric along the opening and pin closed. Using a coordinating color thread, topstitch along the entire perimeter of the quilt, making sure you “catch” the opening and sew it closed. A topstitch should be around 1/4” to 3/8” from the edge.
Step 12: Hand tying. You will use a coordinating color embroidery thread and a needle for this step. Decide if you want the “ties” to show on the front side of the quilt or the back side. (I prefer the back). At regular intervals (typically at the corners of each square, but around every 6” or so) you want to sew up and down through all 3 layers and make a double or triple knot. Trim the ends so they are about 1” long. Repeat this until the entire quilt is tied. *Tip- you can also embellish the hand tying with buttons.
Step 13: Finishing touches. Remove all the safety pins and look for any threads that need trimming.
*Note - I am not a quilter... I am a "practical sewer". This project is simplified so anyone with basic sewing skills can complete this project without feeling overwhelmed. I have taught this project at the ACPPA Community Art Center located in Norristown, PA and for the Spring-Ford Community Education Department. Here's one of my student's finished quilt: