"Memory is more than a dustbin of time, stuffed with yesterday's trash. Rather, memory is a glorious grab bag of the past from which one can at leisure pluck bittersweet experiences of time gone by and relive them." Hal Boyle, 1971
I recently lost my dear brother to cancer and when I think about him and the very large foot print he left behind, the nostalgia is almost overwhelming. His life was a reminder that the things we do, our works and our deeds on planet earth will continue to live on in others. So I started thinking of a way to make something to keep so that his memory can linger on for years to come. Which brought me to the idea of a memory quilt.
Where do memory quilts come from?:
According to Douglas Gray, many years ago, before we had the luxury of doctors and modern medicine, death and the loss of beloved ones was a normal part of everyday life. Even childbirth was dangerous and many husbands, fathers and brothers lost their lives through wars and accidents. When someone died, the remaining family often made a quilt from bits of clothing belongingto the deceased as a sense of connection to the loved one, which sometimes was used to drape over the coffin at the funeral. Often these quilts had inscriptions by friends and families and the more modern memory quilt will even have photo's of the deceased transferred to the fabric. The Amish memory quilts included fabrics from items like dresses, shirts, ties, tee shirts, pants and suits and the type of material was not of importance. These quilts served as a reminder of a loved one.
My own experience with memory quilts:
Some time ago I was commissioned by a friend, who's husband died tragically, to make a memory quilt from his old clothing. She brought along bags of clothing - shirts, trousers, sports clothing, T-shirts and a whole bunch of ties. From the looks of it, he must have been a very fashionable man, who had good taste in clothing, including big brand names like Polo, Jeep and Diesel.
*I started by sorting the clothes into heaps of the same colour, T-shirts, stretchy fabric and ties apart. Because ties are cut on the bias, I decided not to use them at first. Most of the shirts were made of pure cotton, with the main colours being shades of blue, white and reds.
*I kept every button from the shirts and labelsfrom the ties, to sew in as highlights here and there.
*My friend was a lovely young woman at the time, whom I suspected to get married again in future and therefore I had to plan the quilt in such a way that the clothing must be hardly recognizable as such, yet every part of it must remind her of him. I decided to start on a medallion in the center of the quilt, framed by a striped sashing from a blue and white shirt. The medallion was meant to be symbolic of his life, the stripes as an extension of him.
*To bring all the bits and pieces together, I bought a brown fabric for borders and background fabric behind some of the blocks.
*Flying geese in a quilt provide a sense of excitement and motion and gives the illusion of outspread wings in a flock of migrating birds. I wanted to illustrate the freedom that wings offer, similar to the freedom I suppose that we experience in death. Thus a row of flying geese were made from all the blues to represent the sky, and the brown to represent the earth.
*I found one fun shirt that possibly originated from an island holiday, totally different from all the other fabrics, in a shade of red and decided to use that in a border to act as a metaphor for the exchange between the life that was left behind and the afterlife that follows.
*To represent the flowers the owner of the clothes brought to others in his life and also to bring a little more "woman" to the quilt. I followed with a row of fabric folded blocks that resembled flowers and sewed the shirt buttons to the flower centers. In the quilting process, flowers were quilted over the half triangle blocks between the folded flowers.
*To be symbolic of the variety of things in this man's life, all the rest of the fabric were then sewn around in strips till the desired size of the quilt was reached.
The end result was everything about this man, yet not recognizable as his clothing by anybody else.
The ties were still not used and because there were so many of them, it felt like a waste not to use them. Eventually my friend and I decided to make a quilt for her late husband's daughter (from a previous marriage) with the ties.
Because ties are cut on the bias of the fabric, it is extremely stretchy and difficult to work with. Each tie was unpicked and then ironed to an iron-on stabilizer. I decided to cut out some of the designs from the T-shirts to applique to this quilt. Again I bought a piece of black, mottled fabric for the background and used something from my stash to add as a border to the quilt. The quilt had a diagonal design and I left open areas on the background for the applique work and some labels from the ties. Again, flying geese and stars were used as symbols on the quilt. I was very happy with the end result, which came to the size of a lap quilt.
There was still a lot of fabric left...it was beautiful fabrics and a quilter never wastes any fabric. My friend had a previous attempt for a memory quilt made for her son, which was not totally what she had in mind. So we decided to unpick the quilt, which gave us enough background fabric (light denim) to work with and use all the rest of the fabric to make a quilt for her son. I had a railway track in mind, as we literally had hundreds of different colours in bits and pieces available. The end result was a double bed quilt, manly enough for her son to use.
These quilts were a joy to put together and the joy with which they were received by my friend, made it all the more pleasurable.
My brother was a marathon runner and had heaps of T-shirts from all the races he took part in. The plan is to make two quilts out of the shirts for his two daughters, something from which they can get comfort when they miss him too much.
Does anyone have a plan what to do with the hundreds of rosettes my brother got from his horse riding days? If anyone can think of a way to put them all into a singular piece as a reminder, please let me know.
Yours in quilting
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!