Use old clothes to make a memory quilt. No pattern required.
Have you ever gotten emotionally attached to a garment? Perhaps it reminds you of someone who has passed, or that one time you went to that crazy party… it isn’t unusual for humans to develop sentimental feelings toward particular clothing items. For me, it was my son’s clothing.
It started when he was a baby; as I folded up his tiny pajamas and little knit shirts, and lovingly placed them into large plastic tubs, which were then moved from apartment to apartment. At some point, probably while I was hauling the tub up a flight of stairs, it occurred to me: why am I saving these things? Sure, they held memories of that one time I had a baby, but what exactly was the point of saving them? I knew there would never be another baby in my home to use them. It then occurred to me that I could make a quilt from them. As a quilt, they would serve a purpose, and therefore, justified to save.
Recently, my son cleaned out his closet and piled up his discards on the living room floor. He works in food service, so as you can imagine, many of the pants were stained with bleach and other kitchen grime, meaning they could not be donated, and I dreaded the thought of them sitting in a landfill. The shirts were in better shape and had large logos, or other graphic designs, on them that have particular significance to him in his recent life adventures. Some of the dress shirts had once belonged to his father. Some of them were flannels from the 90s.
His first memory quilt, sadly, disappeared in a move 6 years ago, so I thought I would make him another one. Now, when my son was young, I would make a section of blocks every time I cleaned out his closet, but he is a man now, so I could just about make a full size quilt top from one closet purging.
The first thing I did to tackle this large project was to wash and dry everything. To get started, I separated the clothing into piles according to fiber: knits, cottons, denims, etc. The graphic elements of the shirts were cut out with a generous border and the backs and sleeves were put aside for a different project. Then it was time to tackle the pants. Strips of pants make a great stabilizer between knit quilt blocks and cut into long strips that can be especially useful for framing large blocks.
I cut the pant legs up the seams to the crotch and outer hip pocket. To get the most fabric possible, the front is cut just under the pocket and at the bottom of the zipper. In the back, the top of the leg is cut at least 3″ below the back pocket.
If you are very savvy with cutting, the only remaining piece of the pants should be the front with the zipper and pockets. There will be scraps from cutting the fabric and making it square for strips.
The leg can be folded in half and squared up with a rotary cutter and cut into strips. The width of the strips depends on preference. I typically stick with 2.5″-4″ strips. Smaller, and you can’t hide mistakes. Larger and it gets too heavy.
If you are using the graphic from a shirt, put it on a cutting mat and square it up. Cut strips for two opposing sides, pin and sew. Open the strips and press well.
Position strips on the two open sides and pin in place. Sew, open, and press well.
Features of the garment can be highlighted in the way they are cut, as well. For example, the back pocket of a pair of pants can become the center of the quilt block.
The front of a shirt makes a good frame for a block. Be sure to remove any buttons or other hardware from garments before deconstructing. Buttons are always a good notion to have on hand, so I keep them in a jar with my sewing supplies.
To get things started, I used one pair of pants to frame as many shirt fronts as I could. Then it was time to begin assembling the blocks into a larger section. To attach the blue and red blocks below, the blue piece needed to be cut the same length as the red. I cut the blue fabric 14.5″ long to accommodate a seam allowance, and attached measured strips to each of the short sides. Then, the blue and red blocks were sewn together along the frame.
Leaving one side unframed provides more opportunities for attaching prepared blocks. Sometimes when the blocks are sewn together, one block is slightly bigger. That’s ok! Just trim it up and make it square. Adjust as you go and be prepared for the unexpected. Piecing it all together will challenge your math brain.
Continue framing, measuring and attaching blocks until you are out of fabric, patience, or time. The project can be packed up at any time and revisited, sometimes with even more garments to add. I find rolling my finished blocks and tying them with left over jersey a convenient way to store the project neatly. Today, I was able to finish a section of about 3.5’x4′ and I’m determined to finish the top by the end of the week.
Once the top is finished, I will sew it (face down) to a thick blanket, leaving a small opening. The quilt will be turned right side out, top stitched around the edge and hand tacked. I will update pictures when the project is completed, but until then – I hope I have inspired you!
PS- making this quilt will result is buckets of scraps. I recommend using them to stuff animal beds. My cats LOVE them. Like laying in the laundry basket.