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How to Make Story Quilts

Updated on December 8, 2012
Millionaire Tips profile image

A lover of arts and crafts, Shasta Matova enjoys making artistic, applique, pieced, traditional, miniature, modern, and crazy quilts.

Princess Diana Story Quilt uses applique, photo transfer, fabric marker, thread painting, and embroidery to tell its story.
Princess Diana Story Quilt uses applique, photo transfer, fabric marker, thread painting, and embroidery to tell its story. | Source

Tell a Story with a Quilt

A story quilt is an art quilt that tells a story that is obvious to anyone who is viewing it. It can be used to tell stories to children at nighttime or to leave a legacy for future generations. It can be used to make a political message, share a part of history, or share your values. It can also tell a joke or funny story.

What Kinds of Stories are In Quilts?

There are stories all around us - stories from the news, funny things our kids or pets said or did, stories from folk tales, stories we watch at the movies or read in books. Any of these stories can be told in a quilt. You can choose one story to tell, or combine several into one quilt.

You even can make up your own story, for example, of your child's encounter with her favorite character from television. Imagine sharing your favorite stories from the Bible with your grandchildren on a quilt. You have a great visual to show the kids while they learn valuable lessons. How about the story of the family memorialized in a quilt for future generations.

This memory quilt is made from T-shirts fabric that has been worn by a loved one.
This memory quilt is made from T-shirts fabric that has been worn by a loved one. | Source

Memory Quilts

Memory quilts often use fabric that has been used by a loved one. A quilt can be made from overgrown baby clothes, or t-shirts a graduate has used while she was in school. Ties a retiree has used throughout his career also make great material for quilts. The story in these quilts, unfortunately, only last as long as there is someone to remember the history of the fabric, unless the information is written on the back of the quilt.

Another option for memory quilts is to portray a memory or a sense of the person through the use of motifs and words to tell a particular story. You can use the special fabric that has been used by the loved one, or purchase fabric to go with the story.

How to Make a Story Quilt

There are many ways to tell your story in a quilt. While it is possible to buy patterns for some story quilts, I enjoy designing my own. The stories I want to take are more personal, and a lot of the enjoyment in making them is from the design process.

The first step in making a story quilt is to choose the story. Think of the details you want to share in the quilt. You can opt to tell the story or stories in one piece, or make different blocks to tell a number of stories.

Next, think about what motifs are necessary to tell the story. You can draw them free hand, but don't worry if you can't draw. You can find simple motifs from coloring books, images on the internet, use photographs, or find fabric that has the motifs you would like to use. There are also many websites and books that specifically show you how to make story quilts.

Think about the setting for the story. You may want to add fun little details that will really get the story across and add more depth to the story.

Once you have chosen your story and the motifs that are necessary, you can choose the techniques you want to use. Most quilters will use a combination of these techniques.

Fabric Choice for Story Quilts

Fabric choice is an important consideration since it sets the mood of the quilt as well as providing a medium for the story. Fabric from clothing that has been used by family members will bring back memories in a historic quilt.

Fabric can also be used to portray a sense of location. For example, if your character is outside on a clear day, blue fabric can be used as a background to represent the sky. Fabric that has been printed with clouds on it can be used for even more realism.

Color choice is also important. Bright colors will make a cheerful and lively quilt, while toned down colors will add to a sense of nostalgia.

This quilt by Susan Schrott uses photo transfer, appliquéd and printed words, and appliquéd leaves, birds, hands and other motifs.
This quilt by Susan Schrott uses photo transfer, appliquéd and printed words, and appliquéd leaves, birds, hands and other motifs. | Source

Photo Transfer in Story Quilts

If you have photographs of your subject, photo transfer is an effective way to add them to your quilt. You can press some fabric on some freezer paper and print your photograph on it using an inkjet printer. To make sure that the photo will not wash away, press it to set the ink with heat.

Photo transfer is also useful for words. You can print a poem, quotation, story, or whatever words you want to add from a word processing program using a font and frame as you desire, then print that on the fabric for use in your quilt.

Fabric that has been pretreated specifically for photo transfer is available for purchase. In addition, if you want to use your own fabric, you can purchase paper that is treated for photo transfer that you can then apply to your t-shirts or other fabric.

Thread Stories uses fabric that has been for clothing and embroidery.
Thread Stories uses fabric that has been for clothing and embroidery. | Source

Words in Story Quilts

A common way to make sure that your story is properly conveyed is to use words. These words can be added to the quilt using a variety of techniques. They can be written on a quilt using a fabric marker, they can be painted using fabric paint. They can be embroidered by hand or using an embroidery machine. They can be created on the computer using a word processing, scrapbook or photo program and printed using an inkjet fabric on fabric that has been prepared fabric. They can also be pieced as shown in the photo below.

Most quilters like to limit the number of words they use so they can make the quilt more striking with visual images.

The directions for these free pieced words are in the book Word Play Quilts by Tonya Ricucci.
The directions for these free pieced words are in the book Word Play Quilts by Tonya Ricucci. | Source

Appliqué in Story Quilts

Appliqué is frequently used to tell a story. It can be used in many ways to convey the action and characters.

For example, you may decide that you need a horse in the story. You can consider buying fabric that has a horse printed on it. You can then use the whole piece, or cut out the horse and appliqué it to your background fabric. Alternatively, you can draw your own horse and cut out the pieces to appliqué on a background fabric. Or you can use a photograph you have and transfer it to fabric, and then appliqué that to the background.

This 1898 Bible Quilt by Harriet Powers uses appliqué as its primary method.
This 1898 Bible Quilt by Harriet Powers uses appliqué as its primary method. | Source
This house was created by using colored thread on a sewing machine.
This house was created by using colored thread on a sewing machine. | Source

Embroidery and Embellishments in Story Quilts

Embroidery is often used to embellish a story quilt. It can be used to add beautiful designs on the seams, add words and dates, as well as motifs that help tell the story. The embroidery can be done by hand, by a regular sewing machine, or an embroidery machine. Some stores also offer motifs that have been embroidered that can be attached to a quilt using an adhesive.

Story quilts can also include embellishments to help tell the story. Items like buttons used in clothing, patches earned in Girl Scouts or the military, pins representing community service, and pieces of jewelry can all be added to help show the history of a loved one.

The crazy quilt below shows a variety of names and a few motifs that have been added using embroidery.

This 1897 crazy quilt uses embroidery and embellishments to share its message.
This 1897 crazy quilt uses embroidery and embellishments to share its message. | Source

Story Quilts

Story quilts are a unique art form since most of them are created by the designer to tell the story, and don't lend themselves to be mass produced. They can be serious or humorous, bold or subdued. The choice of the fabric, color, and the choice of techniques can tell us a lot about the designer and maker as well as the story that the quilt is intended to tell.

Comments: "What is a Story Quilt? How to Make Story Quilts"

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    • Millionaire Tips profile image
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      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks sen.such23. I really enjoy looking at story quilts and imagine a grandparent using them to tell generational stories to their grandchildren.

    • sen.sush23 profile image

      Sushmita 5 years ago from Kolkata, India

      Shasta, quilting is one form of art from the home, from the women, and that has a metaphorical integrity with the status of women in all society. I liked this idea of the story quilt, and though I have heard of such in our culture too, I had never seen one. I must thank you for the pictures included, particularly that old bible quilt for clarifying the subject of your hub. Please keep writing more of these. Voted up and sharing too.

    • Millionaire Tips profile image
      Author

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks Dolores. I have seen some beautiful anniversary quilts at quilt shows and it is such treasures. I can imagine how much more value they would have as they go down the generations.

    • Dolores Monet profile image

      Dolores Monet 5 years ago from East Coast, United States

      It seems like the art of quilting is quite popular and there are so many wonderful styles. Making a story quilt is an excellent idea for a gift, a new grandchild, a wedding, a special birthday or anniversary. I love this hub. It's so inspiring. What a beautiful way to express yourself!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image
      Author

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks Nell Rose, story quilts are awesome to look at as well as to make.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 5 years ago from England

      I haven't seen any story quilts before, so its totally new and awesome to me! I wish I had the patience and talent to tackle one! lol! wonderful, and voted up! nell

    • Millionaire Tips profile image
      Author

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Thanks GTF - I love looking at them as well. Each Story quilt can pack so much information and feeling in one piece.

      Thanks Aurelio, I had admired these and didn't think about making my own either until I saw Mary Lou Weidman's blog. She has example after example of different story quilts that people in her workshops make. There is so much variety, and so many choices of stories than I had imagined.

    • alocsin profile image

      alocsin 5 years ago from Orange County, CA

      I have seen some of these in history and art museums, but it never occurred to me that you could make them for yourself. Voting this Up and Useful.

    • Glimmer Twin Fan profile image

      Claudia Mitchell 5 years ago

      Really interesting hub here! I love to look at story quilts and am always amazed at the work and thought that goes into them. Voted up!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image
      Author

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      Paula, I hadn't heard about the domestic violence show but story quilts are a great way to bring a message like that to the forefront. I would have loved to see them.

      Kris, I haven't used photo transfer much either, but I recently came across some photographs I would love to see in a quilt. At a quilt class my daughter took, they added her photograph on the label. I thought it was a superb idea to show the her age when she made the quilt.

      Rose, thanks. I enjoy writing these. There are so many beautiful and different types of quilts.

      Dianna, I was happy to find these photographs of the variety of quilts to show. Harriet Powers made at least two of those Bible quilts and many people have recreated them.

      Thank you all for your visit and comment.

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 5 years ago

      I have heard of people making story quilts has heirlooms and I think it is a wonderful way to pass on a bit of history to future generations. I like the featured quilts in your photo posts, especially the thread stories and Bible quilt. Thanks for sharing these ideas with us.

    • randomcreative profile image

      Rose Clearfield 5 years ago from Milwaukee, Wisconsin

      I love your quilt articles! Great job with this topic.

    • Kris Heeter profile image

      Kris Heeter 5 years ago from Indiana

      I love quilts that use photo transfer. I've not tried that yet myself but I think they can be very neat personalized family heirlooms. Very nice hub!

    • fpherj48 profile image

      Paula 5 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      MT......I have seen many of these lovely "story quilts," displayed at Bizarres and various functions. They are beautiful and quite fascinating, when you can read the story/intention behind the quilt. There was entire room full of story quilts, I was able to browse through, in Albany. I had attended a State Wide assembly of Legislators, in Albany, NY, with our group, The Coalition on Domestic Violence.

      Groups of women, all ages, had made these quilts as projects and fund raiser for various Safe Havens, for women and children of Domestic abuse, throughout the State. They were just gorgeous and each told of very touching tales, relating to the thoughts and feelings of these women and children......They had hung them on the walls, all the way around the room. Great hub..+++ UP!

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