Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Memory Quilts Deconstructed

Above - Memory Quilt #1

T-shirt and Memory Quilts are a fun challenge. This post will explain my design process and method for anyone who is interested in making a T-shirt or Memory Quilt.  

 I was contacted last year by my customer, whose mother had died.   She wanted to know if I could make some memory quilts using some of her mother's garments.  She wanted three quilts, one for herself, one for her brother and one for her mother's sister.  She brought me 19 garments.  They wanted each of the garments represented in each quilt and basic blocks - nothing fancy.  

Then, just as I was about to begin, she sent me a note with a pix attached of a sort of south-western looking design and said her mom had liked that type of design and could I work at least one block of that design motif into the quilts?

There were a variety of garment types, although at least half were made of T-shirt or T-shirt-type knit.  There were three fleece type jackets, a gauzy sort of summer dress, two silky (not silk but I don't know how else to describe - light weight and flimsy) tops, two very stretchy knit tops, a pair of pants made from a tough knit with spandex, and a plaid work shirt.

When I went through the garments with her, I asked if she would like me to keep some of the functional features such as buttons, zippers, and pockets because I thought that would be a cool addition to the quilts.  She agreed.

So with that, I started work (well, not right away, I had some other things to finish first!).

Here are my making steps:

1 - cut the garments apart.  I generally cut up the side seams and the underarm sleeve seam.  In this case, I left the jackets, pants and work shirt until I figured out how I would use them.

2 - evaluate each garment for interesting features such as graphic designs, logos, text, functional features (pockets, zips, buttons).  This will determine how the garments will be cut initially.  

3 - with the exception of the plaid work shirt, all garments were either knit or some other fabric that on it's own would not be suitable for a quilt top.  T - knit is too stretchy so needs to be stabilized.  Some of the other fabrics were either too "flimsy" (I don't know how else to describe them) or just not treatable in the usual fashion.  Once I determined how I was going to use each garment, I pressed medium weight fusible interfacing on the back of the sections I wanted to cut into.  I set aside the "non-treatable" garments for later (to be discussed when we get to the photos below).

4 - cut all the "special" blocks

5 - cut basic blocks with what remains of the garments.  

6 - how do you determine block size?  These quilts are all 60" x 72" or 5' x 6'.  It seems logical to choose a 12" x 12" block as the basic size (note: I'm using finished sizes in all descriptions - seam allowances would be added to the numbers I use here).  However, you'll notice that there really aren't that many actual 12" x 12" blocks in there.  But 12 is evenly divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4 and 6.  So cutting blocks in any combination of these numbers will allow building 12" blocks.  Of course it doesn't always work out due to fabric availability and/or cutting errors.  Because fabric is limited to the garments, any cutting errors get used anyway (more on this later, too).   I cut as many pieces as I could using these sizes, starting with 6" x 6" blocks.

7 - there wasn't enough fabric in 19 garments to make 3 quilts.  So I had to purchase some neutral fabric to "fill in the blanks".  Hence the plain grey in all quilts (up close it is actually a print that looks like a knit, which I thought was appropriate as the dark purple fleece looks like knit on the outside).  

8 - of course each quilt should have a roughly equal share of each garment.  Once I had all the garments cut and the feature blocks constructed, I divided the lot into three piles trying to give an equal number of "interesting" blocks to each quilt top.  

9- then I started sewing.  The Devil is in the details, which will be described below.

From Memory Quilt #1:

Above: a couple of the garments were Alia tops that had some text (place names, etc.) and some graphic representations of the places.  I didn't want to cut them into small pieces so did some fussy cutting.  The building in the block above is an example.  Since none of these illustrations conveniently fell into my mathematical requirements, I had to add to them (or subtract from adjacent blocks depending on the situation).  You can see the 2" strip to the right of the block above - this would make the width 12".  Height = 6" so two 6" blocks added below bring it up to a 12" x 12" block.

Above: some more fussy cutting but this one actually made a 6" block.

Above: "San Francisco" featuring the Golden Gate Bridge.  I didn't want to cut into that, either.

Above: One top had these great birds on it.  This is the back one and I was able to make this into a 12" x 12" block.

I asked my customer if she wanted a customized special block since I have the technology.  She settled on "Family" so I found a few embroidery designs and used this one for two of the three quilts.  One result is above.

Above left: a south-western type block to meet the request for same.  Again, I wanted to max the interesting parts of the garments so fussy cut "Spain" into the centre (Spain has sparkles!).  I used the pattern for a 12" block but knit is a lot heavier than regular quilting cotton so the many seams in this block ate up quite a bit of fabric and the block ended up being more like 11" x 11".  So I had to add an inch on two sides.  Not enough garment fabric for a re-do.  The question would be what size should I have made it?  13"? - maybe... But hard to say.  In any event, making such a detailed block is a challenge with heavier fabric, which is why I only made two - this one and one for another quilt - also I really didn't have enough fabric to make any more!  The third block was similar, but different, as you will see. 

Above right: the graphic on the front of a T-shirt.  Only one of these and this quilt got it.  The other quilts got only the blue background fabric.


Memory Quilt #2

Above: another fancy "Spain" block and bird block.  You can see that to get the entire bird in, I had to piece some extra fabric onto the corner where the sleeve was and also in behind the neck line.  This bird has "sparkles"!  So two quilts with sparkles, in an effort to spread things out equally.

Above: the "Family" block for this quilt.

Above: square in square - fussy cut San Francisco.  The pants are the solid blue around the outside.

Above: more Spain - fussy cut the large scene.  Again - trying to give each quilt an equal share of the fun bits.


Memory Quilt #3

Above: graphic on the front of a T-shrit - only one and this quilt got it.

Above: the last of the the three south western blocks.  This one was a lot easier - larger pieces and not as many of them.  Fussy cut "Madrid" into the centre.  And it ended up about the right size.

Above: a word about these half-square triangle blocks.  I wanted to create an easy "echo" of the southwestern block idea for each quilt so this is what I came up with.  I intended that each of the HSTs would be 6" finished, but got cutting with 6" in my head and it was only after I had a bunch cut I realized that I was cutting them 6" square, not 6.5"!  Not enough fabric to cut them again, so in they went  in as 11" blocks - you can see that I added 1" on two sides of each block.  

The solid blue block on the bottom is the "Family" block for this quilt - there is a better pix of it below.


It was a great sunny day today so I had some nice sun coming in the living room window and could get some not bad close up pix of the quilting for the quilting geeks out there!  Also, some details about how I handled the more difficult fabrics.

These quilts are really a dog's breakfast in a way so in an effort to unify them somewhat, I chose a couple of basic quilting motifs and used them throughout each quilt.  You can see both of them in the above pix: the "flower" that I created using two circle "rulers" - a 5" for the diagonal "petals" and a 3" for the vertical/horizontal "petals".  The other motif is a sort of curly orange peel.  I used these motifs in the basic 6" blocks as well as other places where they would work well.  However, as you will see, there are many other designs scattered around each quilt - depending on the block.

Also, note in the above pix the "scoop" in the purple/green block (centre left of pix).  This is part of the neckline of that gauzy dress I mentioned at the beginning.  I layered it on to a piece of the grey quilting cotton.  It was just too thin to go in on it's own.  The 12" navy/white/blue block on the right is one of the fleece jackets.  I ended up pressing the same fusible stabilizer to that as I used for the T-shirt type fabrics on all three fleece jackets.  It worked.  Of course the fleece was a lot thicker so I didn't try anything fancy in terms of piecing using the fleece.

Above: showing the quilting and some examples of blocks built of smaller pieces.

Above: note the purple strip in the centre purple/blue block.  That purple is actually the knit collar of one of the knit tops - sort of a golf shirt.  There were two of these shirts - the other was white with black diamonds and I used the collar/cuffs from both of them.  

Then there is that island of stuff in the upper right.  that is the very "flimsy" fabric from those two blouses.  In the end I decided to make blocks using the buttons and button holes.  The buttons are functional and I backed the whole thing on a piece of quilting fabric.  I quilted a line between each button.

Above: you can see the "Family" block a bit better here.  Also, just below Family is an "Archaeopteryx" pocket.  I did a quilting line around the outside of the pocket so the zip still works and the pocket is functional.  Keeping these functional bits amuses me.  Having them sort of turns the quilts into "fidget quilts".  Also - that long narrow strip of dark purple is the front zipper of  the Archaeopteryx jacket -also fully functional.

Above: a functional pocket of that dark blue fleece jacket.  And to the bottom right of it, a functional pants pocket.

Above: Here is how I dealt with the super stretchy fabric for two of the quilts.  I cut some wide strips and braided them together into a "rope" then stitched the rope onto a piece of grey quilting fabric.

Above: large grey block on the left.  There simply wasn't enough fabric for three quilts, so I used this grey fabric to fill in the the blanks.  Although I tried very hard not to have large areas of grey, here is one spot where I couldn't figure out a better way.  But the way around it is is to do some interesting quilting.  This is probably the largest grey area in any of the three quilts.

Above: this is a close up of the HST blocks.  The fabric for all of them is the same, quilting is similar but different across the three quilts.

Above: the front pockets of the work shirt - I kept the front buttoned up and cut one block that included both pockets and the joining section of the buttons.  To the right is another pocket - this one from the red fleece.

Above and Below:  I really tried to use as much of the garment fabric as possible, right down to (above) 2" squares in the red cross and (below) using a botched corner from one of the south-western blocks.  I'd made that section upside down and it would have taken way too long to take it apart and put it back together the correct way so I made a new one.  This botched one got to be half of a HST - the other half was cut from a roughly triangular left over bit of the San Francisco shirt.

Above & below: another example of functional buttons.

Above: a pants pocket and another example of quilting in the grey filler blocks.

Above: I ended up needing to use as much garment fabric as I could.  I just didn't have enough for three quilts.  I initially didn't want to use too much of that gauzy dress, but it was the only thing I had left.  So in the end I pressed stabilizer on the back and treated it as a T-shirt.  I think it will be OK.

Above: a note about quilting "sparkles".  These are "crystals" so DON'T try quilting over them - you'll break your needle - or worse!  (And no, this is not one thing I had to learn the hard way!)

Above and Below: a few examples of sashing/border quilting.

Above:  I kept the back pleat in the work shirt -again and interesting feature.  I basted it flat before I cut it out and left the basting in until after it was all quilted.  I left only a narrow strip unquilted so the pleat will open a bit.

Above: on the first top I made, I thought I'd try "draping" the stretchy fabrics and the gauzy fabric.  So the turquise/black and rusty looking bunches are the results.  I gathered a longish strip and stitched those to the ends of some grey background fabric. Then I did a running stitch on both sides of the centre and pulled them up to form the bunchy things.  There are three of them on the quilt.  For the other two quilts I made the "ropes" as describe elsewhere.

Above: more of the "flimsy" fabric - buttons.

Above: and finally, a shot of the label - same label design for each of the three quilts.  

I hope if you are planning to try a T-shirt or memory quilt, you will find some of the above useful for your process.  I don't mind answering any questions - email me - email link is on the right sidebar of this blog.