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How to Make a Memory Quilt

Updated on October 28, 2017

Make a Memory Quilt From Your Loved One's Clothes

Creating a memory quilt is a beautiful way to honor a beautiful person. Memory quilts are made from up-cycled clothing, sometimes they're items from someone who has passed away, but they can also be made from t-shirts, baby clothes, vintage sheets or specials bits of fabric that you've squirreled away. Each piece of fabric will have special memories and sentimental meaning for the recipient and their entire family. Memory quilts aren't not only beautiful objects made to be loved and touched, they can provide years of fond memories and enjoyment. Read on to learn how to make your own memory quilt.

If you'd like to make a T-shirt quilt instead, check out my tutorial here.

Materials - Things to Gather Before You Begin

Before you begin your memory quilt, you will need the following materials.

  • Articles of clothing (preferably woven cotton)
  • Backing fabric and any supplementary yardage for binding
  • Quality 80 percent cotton quilt batting
  • Quilting thread (preferably cotton)
  • Spray starch of your choosing (I like Niagara non-aerosol and Faultless aerosol)

Warm Company Batting 2391 72-Inch by 90-Inch Warm and Natural Cotton Batting, Twin
Warm Company Batting 2391 72-Inch by 90-Inch Warm and Natural Cotton Batting, Twin
Warm and Natural is my favorite batting for everyday use. It has minimal polyester content in the form of scrim, a thin layer of invisible material that is designed to wash away with use. It's all natural, unbleached and a close as it gets to pure. Unlike polyester batting, this needle-punched cotton has a felt-like consistency, so it never shifts.

Tools and Supplies - Here's what you'll need to make a memory quilt.

  • A good pair of sewing scissors or dressmaker shears.
  • A rotary cutter (optional)
  • A cutting mat (optional)
  • A quilting ruler
  • A hot iron
  • A good ironing board
  • A sewing machine
  • Thread snips
  • Quilting or sewing pins
  • A good seam ripper

Step One: Disassembling Your Garments

Once you have selected several complementary items of clothing, it's time to cut them apart. For pants and skirts, you'll want to start by removing the waist band. Then, you can begin methodically deconstructing the clothing along the seams.

For pants, you'll end up with four individual pieces, including two fronts, two backs and possibly the pockets. For shirts, jackets and tops, you'll end up with two front panels, one large back panel and two sizable sleeves.

At this point, it's time to iron the fabrics using plenty of spray starch and allowing it to penetrate with fabric before pressing with an iron adjusted to the appropriate temperature.

Step Two: Squaring Up and Cutting Strips

Squaring up your fabric is one of the most important skills a quilter can have.

To do this, you'll need to establish a straight edge along one end of your fabric. When using striped or checkered fabric, right-angle lines are more apparent.

You want to establish a straight line perpendicular to the woven threads, not on the bias. It's important to stay on grain so that your blocks and strips don't get distorted.

After you have one straight edge, you may fold the fabric in half, aligning the fold with a line on your cutting mat.

Place your ruler perpendicular to the fold and begin cutting your strips.

For this quilt, I used five-inch wide strips, which is the same width as the O'Lipfa ruler.

Repeat this process with each of your fabrics/garments.

Step Three: Arranging and Sewing Your Strips

Once you have cut your strips, you'll need to arrange them in the order that will appear on the quilt. For this project, I am using four fabrics.

These four fabrics will be repeated throughout the pattern. To assemble the strips, sew strip one and two together, and sew strips three and four together.

If you're using more fabrics, repeat the process of sewing the strips into two-unit groups. After the strips are in two-unit groups, press the seam flat with the right side of the fabrics together. This will set the seam. Next, open the two strips like a book and press the seam flat.

At this point, it's important to ensure that seams from strips one and three are both pressed under and that the seams from strips two and four as pressed over. This will ensure that your seams are strong and lock together when the units are joined.

Repeat this process to join strips one and two with strips three and four. Press the seams flat and then press open. Use ample starch to assist with the process.

Step Four: Create a Tube of Strips

After you have sewn your strips together, it's time to create an endless tube.

This will allow you to open the tube at the desired intersection to ensure your units match the staggered trip around the world pattern.

To complete this step, you will be sewing the raw edges of the first and last strips together. In this case, that would be strip one and strip four.

Step Five: Cut Your Strips into Squares

Alight your ruler with the raw edge of your fabric tube, and cut a series of squares. Because each strip is five-inches wide, each slice must also be five inches wide.

Due to the size limitations of apparel, you will most likely get three or four slices from each fabric tube. The excess fabric from longer strips can be saved for later parts of the assembly process.

These circular slices will be opened as the appropriate seam to create the stepped quadrants needed for the trip around the world pattern.

Step Six: Open Your Slices and Arrange in Quadrants

Trip around the world is a unique pattern that has four quadrants. The upper left and lower right quadrants are the same as are the lower left and upper right quadrants. To create these larger units, you will be opening your tube slices at incremental seams that will shift the blocks over one space.

These sliced units will be assembled in the same manner as your strips. Combine two units together, press flat, and then press your seams open . When sewing these units together, each seam should lock together and lay flat.

Trip Around The World Memory Quilt Assembly Instructions

As you can see, once your quadrants are together, you'll have two uphill panels and two downhill panels that will be arranged opposite each other.

These panels will be joined together by two vertical strips, two horizontal strips and one center block. These can be made from excess end cuts or cut from the tube that follows the same fabric order.

Once the quilt top is in two halves, they can be joined together along the central strips, which continue the same fabric order.

Now your quilt top is together! Give yourself a big congratulations and a pat on the back!!

Step 7: Making the Quilt Sandwich

Once your quilt top is assembled, you need to create the "quilt sandwich" before your can quilt all of the layers together. The sandwich consists on the backing, batting and the quilt top. These layers can be basted by hand or you can speed things up by using a spray adhesive.

First, lay your backing fabric on the floor. Fabric stores sell special 108" wide fabric just for this purpose.

Then, lay the batting on top.

Finally, position the top in the center on the batting.

Make sure all the layers are smooth before you baste them. If you're using spray basting, lift up the top two layers, fold them back over the project and spray a 12 inch swath. Lay the fabric back down, fold it back up and repeat. The, baste the other side using the same technique.

Double Irish Chain Memory Quilt

Double Irish Chain Memory Quilt
Double Irish Chain Memory Quilt

Double Irish Chain

This traditional quilt pattern is ideal for making a quilt with a limited number of fabrics. For this quilt, I used two men's button-down shirts and solid white yardage. This pattern requires several large solid-colored blocks that cannot be practically cut from garments.

Trip Around the World Memory Quilt

Trip Around the World Memory Quilt
Trip Around the World Memory Quilt

Trip Around the World

Like the Double Irish Chain, Trip Around the World is a great pattern for strip piecing, which will help you create a quilt faster. The beauty of this pattern lies in its versatility. Use as many colors as you like. This one features five prints, but you can use as few as two or three or as many as you can keep track of!

Massive Queen-Sized Memory Quilt

Massive Queen-Sized Memory Quilt
Massive Queen-Sized Memory Quilt

Make a Large Memory Quilt

The more fabrics you have the bigger the quilt you can make. This particular quilt features countless up-cycled fabrics, plus wide borders made from solid yardage. Memory quilts can be made in nearly any pattern. The only limit is your imagination.

Memory Quilt Sampler

Memory Quilt Sampler
Memory Quilt Sampler

Make a Memory Quilt Sampler

Samplers are very unique quilts that feature unique blocks. They are great for learning new skills and practicing traditional blocks. Because the blocks aren't repetitive, the construction is considerably more challenging. You'll need to have exact measurements for each unit. This was actually the second quilt I made. I used my husband's shirts (yes, he is alive and well!) and sent it off to his mom. Samplers are ideal for experienced quilters and confident beginners.

Tips and Tricks for Making a Beautiful Memory Quilt

Here's what you need to know to make a beautiful quilt quickly, easily and with any difficulties.

  • Select woven fabrics (not knits like jersey tees.) These fabrics hold up well without stretching or distorting. Cotton fabrics should be your top choice, but blends work well too. If you're using rayon or polyester blends, make sure to adjust your iron to medium-low heat.
  • When disassembling your garments, a pair of scissors can be used instead of a seam ripper. I will usually cut the seam off altogether, but if you need every inch of the fabric, you can carefully cut the threads depending on the construction method being used. Jeans, work shirts and pants typically used flat-felled seams that must be cut off for practicality.
  • Use ample spray starch and water. Heavy fabrics and lightweight fabrics both require extra starch. For best results, allow the spray starch to penetrate in fabric and relax the fibers. Lightweight fabrics should be starched and ironed before cutting and again after the strips are cut. Heavyweight fabrics require extra starch or water to relax the fabric and help the seams lay flat.
  • After your strips are sewn together in two-unit pieces, iron the seam with the two pieces facing each other to set the seam before opening the strips.
  • To ensure your seams lay flat, press seams in alternate directions. For example, press the seams from strip two and strip four to the outside, and press the seams from strip one and strip three to the inside.

Share your comments and experiences here!

© 2012 QuiltFinger

Do you like the idea of making a memory quilt? - Have you made one for your family?

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have never made one, but they are so beautiful. I have incorporated photos into my quilts but never tried this pattern. Thanks for making it look easy enough that even I could do it!

    • QuiltFinger profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Tennessee

      @anonymous: Hi there Wendy, I would love to help you. I can't give out my email address to the whole wide world, but you can contact me directly through my profile if you click the contact button.

      Since you're using your grandsons clothes, they are probably in a wide variety of colors. There are three primary color schemes.

      1. Opposing. These are on the opposite sides of the color wheel. For example Golden-yellow and purple. Navy and orange.

      2. Triads, these are gathered from a triangle that is placed of the color wheel. For example, red, yellow, blue.

      3. Complimentary colors. These are the nearby colors. They are generally all from the same warm of color colored group. As in, blue, green, yellow.

      In fact, I imagine that you could even sort them into a rainbow array of color.

      Good luck!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I would love help on colour schemes for making my memory quilt containing my grandsons.

    • profile image

      davenjilli lm 

      8 years ago

      Love quilting, but don't do much of it...nice lens on the how to of this wonderful hobby.


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