Memory Quilts

If you’ve been quilting long, chances are someone has asked you to make a memory quilt. The most common request is to use the clothing of a deceased relative, though I’ve also seen memory quilts made from baby clothes, napkins used for a wedding reception, and even wedding dresses.

My grandmother made what I call the original memory quilt–I can find in her quilts a few scraps from dresses I remember.

vintage quilt

Some of the pieces I inherited; I recall some of this fabric as dresses!

So what do you do when asked to make a memory quilt? I have one friend who just made several and considered it an honor to be asked. Another friend has made several but I believe she was “guilted” into them.

People who make these requests are not quilters, so have no idea of the hours of work and financial cost of making a quilt. Figuring it was information we could all use, I asked a few friends to estimate the cost in hours and materials of making a lap-size quilt (approximately 60″ x 72″), assuming all the fabric for the quilt top came from clothing provided.

Here’s what I came up with:

How many hours does it take to make a lap-size quilt from a simple pattern? Please include the time required to deconstruct the clothing and prepare it for use.

Estimates ranged from about 80 hours to about 160 hours. Several people noted that preparing the clothing for use in quilt construction takes a considerable amount of time.

quilt blocks

Shirt fabrics made into blocks

How much would you typically spend on batting and backing for a lap-size quilt?

$45 – $75, though one quilter noted that she uses up stash for quilt backs so considers this a benefit rather than a cost!

tutorial quilt from shirts

Quilt from clothing fabric including khaki pants and pockets from both a shirt and a pair of jeans. Tutorial here

How much would you typically pay to have a lap-size quilt professionally quilted?

$90 to $115, with quilting thread included in this price

What other costs should be considered?

Thread for piecing and quilting is expensive, with Aurifil currently $13 a spool!

Many clothing fabrics need a special iron-on backing to be usable, and that can be expensive.

Some clothing fabric requires research and problem-solving. For example, one quilter recently backed an eyelet fabric with plain fabric after researching her options.

One quilter noted the “cause-and-effect cycle” as a cost 😀  She notes that any quilt leaves just enough fabric to start another quilt, which will require buying additional fabric to complete it, which will leave scraps…you get the picture!

What other issues should be considered?

A couple of quilters noted that it is meaningful to both the family and the quilter for someone familiar with the deceased to volunteer to make a quilt, vs hiring someone outside the family.

One quilter noted that she included stained clothing in a quilt because she knew the source of the stains and that makes her smile.

One quilter noted that it is a privilege to have the skills, materials, and time to make a quilt and she feels it is an honor to use those to help other people.

Memory quilt blocks made by Jerri Szlizewski. Each block has 77 pieces! But she selected the design and wanted to do it.

And a final note from me: I read an article many years ago suggesting that, if someone asks you to make a quilt, it’s fine to say yes, BUT specify that you must be the one to select the design. I think this is wise advice for many reasons.

So, what do you think? Do you make memory quilts? Why or why not?

Thanks to Chela, Jerri, Laura, and Linda for taking time to answer my questions.

18 thoughts on “Memory Quilts

  1. Great article!! Tough topic. I have a friend who does and always says never again. I’ve made one, a t-shirt quilt for a former coworker and logged about 70 hours. (My hubby recommended keeping track of the time at the start). When others ask I suggest I am worth at least $15/hour + materials and when they do the math the change their mind. The recipient paid for all the supplies ahead of time, and gifted me with a gift card after the fact. I didn’t want her to pay me. But, you can’t turn down a fabric store gift card that comes in the mail. I’ve heard some say they find comfort in doing it when they know the deceased.

  2. As a teacher, reading and writing were my favorite subjects. I loved getting students involved in the process of creating a story, retelling memories, or just writing about their thoughts or daily life subjects. I believe quilts are the textile version of communicating our stories and thoughts.
    I made a quilt that told the story of my grandson’s first five years. I remember him showing this to a friend and telling him “This is the story of my life so far.”…then he proceeded to tell this friend exactly what each part of the quilt represented. Witnessing this interaction just reinforced my interest and love of making memory quilts.

  3. Such an interesting topic! You’ve done a nice review of it, and it’s good to know what others, who’ve made memory quilts have noted about the process. In more than 40 years of quiltmaking, I’ve never been asked to make a memory quilt. Hmm. Not sure what that says about me (!) but I guess I’d consider doing so. The only sort of remembrance items I’ve made are Hanky-Panky Crazy Quilts (book by Cindy Brick) for making small keepsake quilts using old handkerchiefs and linens (I also added earrings and pins from the deceased), and Kawandi made from a family member’s vintage fabric scraps. In my opinion, for a quiltmaker, making a memory quilt is only significant if one knows the deceased. Otherwise, it would feel like a job.

  4. I made one memory quilt and I picked the design. Most of the time I make t shirt quilts and I really enjoy the process. It takes about 60 to 80 hours to complete and I usually tell my clients about 3 months. I love making quilts!

  5. We’re with you. When we choose to create a jewelry piece or a knitted or woven piece for someone else, we allow them to make some choices but reserve artistic license for ourselves. Come with Karen to choose the yarn and color, tell her the desired size of the Afghan, then let her determine the pattern and the stitch, or provide Steve with the stone and tell him if you want a pendant, ring, etc. but the rest of the design ours. This allows is to give you the gift of our creativity rather than being asked to produce a piece that doesn’t feel like ours at all.

  6. Great post with the realities of time and costs. I’ve made memory quilts as gifts – for example when my Dad passed, he left behind his huge collection of funny T-shirts. I made a lap quilt for my sister and one for my brother with them. An old neighbor’s husband died late spring and when I was talking to her the other day I offered to make a memory quilt (when she is ready) from her late husband’s collection of t-shirts but she would pay for the quilting and she of course agreed. Not sure if I would do one for someone I do not know for a commission unless I did like a friend of mine did where the person pleaded and she said $1000 and they said yes.

  7. I have not been asked to make a memory quilt, but I think I would do it. Most of the quilts I make are donated to people I will never see — I don’t know if they value those quilts or not. So I wouldn’t mind spending the time to make a quilt for someone I actually know. I do think I would ask them to pay for the batting and backing though.

    • I like the idea of asking them to pay for the batting and backing. I think I might ask them to pay for the quilting, too. I suspect as we get older there may be more requests for memorial quilts!

      • Yes, if I sent things to a longarm quilter, I would certainly ask for that! So far I have just used my domestic sewing machine but I usually make just small quilts.

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