Sunday, May 7, 2017

Memorial Quilt from Tee Shirts, Button-Down Shirts, and a Bedsheet (or two)

One of the many helpful things a quilter can do in this world is comfort mourners with a quilt made from their loved one's garments. Last year, after my friend Wendy lost her father, and was going through the agony of sorting his possessions. I told her I would be honored to make a quilt from his clothing, if she wanted one. Not everyone does, but Wendy liked the idea. Here's the quilt I wound up making.

The first step for a quilt like this is to collect the clothing. Sometimes. if they ask, I help people go through their loved ones' closets; in this case, Wendy did it herself. She brought me a relatively small number of items, about 20 shirts, mostly button down and tees. There was a pair of jeans, some neckties, and a couple of bed sheets.

Back in my work room, before I start cutting or arranging, I light a candle, say a prayer, and have a chat with the deceased.
My next steps are to rough cut the garment fronts, lay them on the floor and figure out a preliminary layout. Then I press fusible interfacing to the back of the knit pieces to stabilize them. Fusing is a looooooong process.
The button-down shirts made from woven fabrics aren't stretchy, so they don't need interfacing. My first cut of those kinds of shirts looked something like this.
I strove to cut as far away from the buttons as possible. Knit shirts with buttons, on the other hand, do need interfacing. Here's how they look rough-cut with interfacing:
I usually arrange my tee shirt quilts in columns. I make it up as I go along, rearranging  for balance, cutting some shirts way down. The columns don't have to be the exact same width, but they do need to be the same length.

When necessary, I appliqué things to other things. Here a section of a Gold's Gym tee was appliquéd to the back of a button-down burgundy woven shirt. (And the crosshatched fabric to the left and below was a necktie.)

(Wendy's dad was a fitness buff, and that's one of the reasons Wendy became a stellar dancer and fitness professional. And because Wendy is such an outstanding trainer, I'm physically fit. So thank you Carl, your focus on health changed my life for the better!)

 Along the bottom of the quilt, and across the top, I created piano key stripes from shirt scraps and  neckties. I saved all the labels from the garments and appliquéd them on top of some of the keys. The back and the binding are made from a bedsheet (more on that later.)
Working on this quilt gave me a profound sense of calm. That had something to do with the many blues; but also I think to do with Wendy's dad.
One of the joys of a project like this is looking at outdated fashions. Remember teeny pockets? 
Carl had a special connection to the Philippines. 

To maintain the calm grid lines, I mostly stitched in the ditch, and also did straight vertical quilting lines about an inch to either side of the button plackets.
 There was one flannel shirt.
When the quilt was finished, I still had plenty of bedsheet material left. So I made Wendy a gigantic carry bag for the quilt.
 It bundles up into the pocket (my tutorial for making a magic pocket tote like this here.)
And there was still MORE bedsheet left, so what the heck, I tore it into strips, watched some tv, and crocheted this:
...A cheerful and fun basket for Wendy's family.

I loved making this project, and being helpful to Wendy. I never met Carl, but by the time I was finished, I felt like I knew him a little bit, and that he was okay with me cutting up his clothing!


  1. That is comforting and beautiful. I love what you did with all of the parts, bringing them into a cohesive memorial whole. Sorry for Wendy's deep loss, but I know you helped so much with the grief process...