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Making a T-shirt Memory Quilt, part I

20150501 - Quilt ExampleLast time I finished up talking about how to make easy rag throws from sweatshirts. Now let’s talk about those T-shirts again. T-shirt quilts, also often called memory quilts, are fun to make and are a great way to save special memories for all ages. They are wonderful for children of all ages to mark landmark occasions – sports, scouts, dance – all those activities they engaged in during their school years can be made into special quilts that can then follow them off to college. The pictured quilt features T-shirts from a charter school made for a teacher that was leaving … memories.

Another way to make memory quilts is using the clothing of a loved one who has passed to make a quilt full of fond memories of happy times together. This is a warm and gentle way to wrap yourself or another in the warmth and love of someone who is no longer with us.

When I first heard of this type of Memory quilt, I was a little taken aback, but have since talked to many people who assure me they love having pieces of that favorite shirt or dress to bring comfort and smiles. When offering your services to make one of these special quilts, a soft word given with a hug has worked for me. I usually say something like: “Don’t worry about this right now, there is no hurry, but I just want to tell you that later on, if you would like, I would be honored to make you a memory quilt from some of [your loved one’s] clothes. Call me any time you want to talk about it.” The offer needs to be made soon because some people are faster than others in getting rid of things.

add special itemswrite something relativeThe quilt pieces I am showing you for this blog are in fact part of a memory quilt for the widow of a dear friend of my husband and son. I am making three, one each for his wife and two sons.

Because I have to make the clothes cover three quilts, I am using some backs of the shirts. These plain squares work fine as is, but sometimes I will add special items or write something with thread on them (pictured).
I selected one bedskirt and two different plaid sheets for sashing and borders. I like the idea of using all the same fabric for each quilt, and making each quilt different.

Cutting Your Blocks

showing backing fabricIf you review the rag throw blogs, you will find directions for the basic cutting of the designs printed on the T-shirts. You will need scissors or rotary cutter, ruler, a pencil or marker and safe cutting surface.

Almost everyone who makes T-shirt quilts of any kind will insist you need lightweight iron on backing to add stability to the knitted fabric. While I won’t deny it is very helpful, it is also expensive if you make a lot of these quilts. I have made at least five, and these will make eight. I anticipate a few more in my future as well. Aside from the cost, there is no reusing or recycling to cut down on the cost. So, I have come up with an alternate solution.

back quilting

This red block shows the polyfiber backing and the simple stitching around the motif of a bear.

I use, successfully I must add, the material from the tops of bed skirts. The fabric or polyfiber used in these tops are usually thin and not good for much. They are not stretchy, which makes them great for backing the knit fabrics. I do a rough cut to the sizes of my blocks. They won’t show so you don’t have to be perfect with this.

(Note: If you use the polyfiber, it is more papery feeling and has pin sized holes all over it. It is perfectly washable; however, it doesn’t like to be ironed. If you are going to press your block, be sure to press from the T-shirt side. I don’t know why, but it will tolerate the heat that way, but will melt right to your iron if it is applied directly to the polyfiber side. Ask me how I know!! LOL)

When I pin the two layers together, I use several pins within the design but far enough inside that I won’t be sewing over the pins. To hold the layers together and quilt the design in the block, I stitch around the motif. It is not necessary to use great detail, just enough to add interest and highlight the design.

Now all your blocks are backed and outlined. Good job!!

Next time we will talk about laying out your blocks and filling in blank areas in your design.

This blog was written by Linda Wedge White, a regular blog contributor to our Thrifty Shopper website! If you would like to offer fashion advice and tips, share unique finds and what you used them for and/or stories you would simply like to share with other like-minded people, we want to hear from you! Contact us at!

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