How to make a memory quilt

Memory or album quilts have a long and wonderful history. They were first made in the eighteenth century when people spent a lot of time moving from place to place. It was not uncommon for these quilts to be made for a young woman starting a new life with a husband, or for a family that was moving from one part of the country to another. The friends of the recipient would get together, each bringing a quilt block with their name embroidered on it. They would then piece the quilt together, quilt it, and then give it for a gift. In other cases, friends would just give scraps of fabric to a recipient, who in turn would make the blocks, then embroider the names of the giver’s on each block.

A memory quilt was generally made in the memory of a deceased person. Bits of their clothing would be used to form the quilt blocks, which, when completed, would be a lasting remembrance of that person. In any of these cases, the quilt would be treasured by everyone and also turned old clothing and fabric scraps into a useful household item.

In today’s world memory quilts can still serve a very useful purpose. While now they are most often made into a wall hanging, they can be used in a variety of ways. Several of the most common use these days is to give an album quilt as a gift for either a baby shower or an anniversary. In this article I am going to deal with a basic wall hanging idea, to be given to a couple to celebrate their anniversary. But as with anything, this idea can be expanded on and changed to suit your purpose. I am going to give you several options depending on whether your family happens to live near each other or are separated by many miles.

The first thing that you will need to do is decide on a quilt pattern to use for your wall hanging. I would suggest something rather simple such as a Four Patch or Irish Chain pattern. You will need to make sure to choose a pattern that will have plenty of background space in which the participants to sign each block, or certain spaces within a block. You will also need to decide how many blocks you will need. If you have a small family, you will not need as many blocks as people with a larger family.

Also, if you have a larger family you can use smaller quilt blocks to make sure that you have enough blocks to include everyone. If using a Four Patch pattern, each square in the pattern can be turned into a place to sign, as long as all of the colors are fairly light. Or if using a Four Patch pattern with alternating light and dark blocks, there should still be plenty of space for the signature blocks.

At this stage you can select one or two people to make the blocks, or if you have a large number of sewers in your group, each person or family can make their own blocks. Just be sure that all the blocks will finish up being the same size.

Making the blocks can again take on a variety of ideas. You can choose to make a quilt that will compliment the decor of the recipient, or you can have a “sampler” type quilt, by allowing the quilters to make their blocks in a variety of colors.

Once the blocks are completed you will need to have the family members sign their blocks. If your family is rather spread out, it is not difficult to mail these blocks, along with a permanent marking pen. When choosing a marking pen, a black or brown fine line permanent marker will work the best here. Be sure also that your pen will not “run” on the fabric. Just ask each person to sign their block, and perhaps even add their birth date.

Allow even small children with the ability to write their name to sign their block If you would prefer not to ship the pen with the blocks, you can simply ask each person to use a pencil to sign their names, then when the blocks are returned, you can trace over the pencil lines with the permanent marker. It would also be possible to embroider the names onto the blocks if you have used a pencil.

Once all of the blocks have been signed, you will now just need to put the quilt together, layer and quilt it.

If your family lives closer you may prefer to host an “Album Quilt Party” to get your quilt put together; here is how to do this. You will of course need to choose a date in which all of your participants are able to come. Have a few sewing machines available, as well as a place to cut and assemble your quilt blocks, and several places set up to iron.

You can ask everyone to bring a bit of material, either in the colors of their choice, or certain colors. You can even go as far as to have them pre-cut their pieces before they arrive. Or you can supply all of the fabric that you will need. The possibilities are endless with this idea.

At this party, everyone can have a job, including people that do not sew. Allow the non-sewers to cut the fabric or do the ironing. I would recommend having experienced sewers do the sewing. You can actually set up an assembly line, for cutting, sewing, ironing, then sewing again. This will really speed up the process in putting one of these quilts together. After the blocks are completed, again allow all the participants to sign the blocks. Then simply assemble the blocks into a quilt top.

One of these tops can either be quilted or tied. Quilting of course will take a bit more time, but tying will be quick and easy, particularly while you have the help there to do it. Layer the top with the backing and batting, and then using embroidery floss, ribbon or yarn, tie the layers together. You should place these ties fairly close together to keep your quilt fairly tight. It is now just a matter of adding the binding, and giving your completed quilt as a gift.

One tip, if you would happen to “lose” a family member, for example through a divorce. It is not difficult to remove that person’s name from your quilt if you so choose. Simply applique another square over top of the previously signed one. If you have someone that appliques well, a block can be covered over so well that you would never know that there is another block underneath. If you do not have someone that appliques well, use a bit of fusible bond web to iron another square over top of the old one. Just have the new spouse or someone else new to the family sign that block.

One tip

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