Designing memory quilts: summing up your memories in 12 squares

In November I was motivated to start a new project after reading a few inspiring quilting stories on a blog post (thanks, Country Girl!) and in the news. I knew what I would do, I would make a memory quilt for my brother. We have shared a pretty remarkable number of events over the past several years, along with our spouses, including several destination runs and some very special travel experiences. As it turns out, the older couple of the foursome – my husband and I – have had our bodies telling us lately that it’s time to say farewell to both the running and the exotic travel, so it’s a perfect time to commemorate these memories in fabric. (Well, when you think about it, what isn’t worth commemorating in fabric?!)

Once I started thinking about it, the concept came together quickly. I realized that it has been exactly 10 years since our first destination run together; our first half marathon – on the coldest January day Disney World had ever experienced – was in early January 2010. My husband and I thought about everything the 4 of us have done together in the past decade and came up with a very long list that included major activities in each year. Perfect. I was ready for action.

I googled “memory quilts” for ideas and found a picture of a quilt whose “look” spoke to me. That would be my “pattern”. I figured the ideal size for a quilt that my brother could use to keep him warm and cozy while he watches sports on TV would be about 4′ x 5.5′.  Twelve squares should do it: 3 squares by 4 squares with 16-inch squares. There, I was ready. Remaining question, aside from colours and fabrics (and how I am going to figure it all out, of course): What will I put in each of the 12 squares? What significant adventures will be represented, and how?

My squares start to take shape (hint: 3 of these represent races, three represent straight non-race travel)

In this case, it wasn’t too hard to decide. Seven of the squares would represent one or more races run together (and often other activities as well). The other five would represent several absolutely amazing trips we were privileged enough to take together during this past decade. It turns out that I have blogged about each of the events represented by these squares! Can you tell which squares represent races and which ones represent trips only? Can you tell which trips and which races? OK, I’ll give you the Chicago Marathon!

(L) Quilt top Internet pic used as pattern; (R) New quilt top, ready for quilting

I will admit that finishing a quilt in 4 weeks isn’t something that is necessarily to be recommended, or even possible for most people, even if you’d rather work on your project than anything else. But I happen to be in the enviable position of being able to do just that. I no longer have to go to work. I don’t have to take care of kids or grandkids. I haven’t decorated for Christmas at all (we’re going to our kids for Christmas, so it’s not compulsory). I haven’t done any Christmas baking (but then again, I never do). I haven’t written any Christmas cards (New Year’s cards work pretty well). And cleaning is a pretty forgiving art in our household, even though we lost our cleaning service. But I have done lots of sewing in the past month.

My husband displaying the finished quilt project, all quilted

Now that it’s done, I’m thinking about making something similar for us, a 12-square quilt commemorating our 54 years together. Certainly nothing would be put to better use by my husband than a quilt to keep him ultra-warm while he’s watching sports on TV or reading a book (or both at the same time more likely). The question then becomes: what should we choose for the 12 squares? Of course, the choices have to be objects that I can actually depict with fabric. There are limits! Thinking of the subjects for the 12 squares is one of the most fun parts of the project, that and seeing it all come together.

If you were going to design a 12-square memory quilt for yourself, what would you choose for the subjects of your 12 squares? What subject “snapshots” – in fabric – would most effectively invoke your fondest memories of your experiences? Think about it!

And while you’re having fun thinking about it, have a very happy holiday season, one and all.

My brother, my running buddy, practicing taking a nap with his new quilt

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17 Responses to Designing memory quilts: summing up your memories in 12 squares

  1. bernieLynne says:

    I did a memory quilt for my mom: based on birth stone colours and with family pictures. It turned out really well and she has used it so much (it’s now 15 years old) that I have had to repair it where she sits on it to put her shoes on. I actually used photos printed on to speciality material and I am amazed at how well it has lasted.
    Yours is beautiful! Did you make one for yourselves? It would be hard to pick just 12 photos wouldn’t it?

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Your memory quilt sounds beautiful. I have actually chosen 12 subjects for squares for a memory quilt for my husband and me, but that project hasn’t reached the top of my list yet. Hmm.

  2. Pingback: New Year’s reflections and resolutions, 2020 version | Robby Robin's Journey

  3. barryh says:

    very creative, and a wonderful way to cement those memories!

  4. Philip Currie says:

    I am the privileged recipient of the quilt and have to honestly say it is the nicest most thoughtful and loving gift I have ever been given.

  5. Jean Mayer says:

    Love this, Janie, and can’t believe you did it so fast! Merry, merry!

  6. I’m also retired but can’t imagine completing a project like that in such a short amount of time. Congratulations. It’s beautiful.

  7. The quilts are gorgeous and what a story you had to tell!!! Keep up the inspirational work!!!

  8. Beautifully designed filled with lots of love and happy memories

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