Memory Quilts

Memory quilts have been made for centuries as part of the grieving process after a loved ones’ death or to celebrate important occasions in the life of the quilter or their friends and family. Although we can’t deny that quilts are ultimately utilitarian objects meant to be used, it can also be argued that in cases, the quilt maker chooses to create a deep emotional connection with the quilt being made, as in the case of memory quilts.

Migration and Memory Quilts

In the United States during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, waves of migration westward took place, driving memory quiltpeople from their home states to the new territories, to settle and create communities. This westward expansion happened in stages, from the first migration movements to settle states like Kentucky and Tennessee to the mid nineteenth century migrations to settle the West all the way to California. To these women leaving friends and family behind, and taking a few possessions to their new homes, quilts must have provided a strong emotional connection to the ones they left behind. Friends would have made memory quilts as parting gifts. Death was a part of this trip, both because of accidents and disease. A mourning quilt would be made with bits of leftover cloth from the deceased person’s clothes, to remember them by. Quilts were often times used as shrouds, when there was nothing else available.

In general, during the Victorian Era mortality rate was high, especially child mortality rates. The mourning rituals of memory quiltthe time were elaborate and there was a whole set of practices and customs related to death. Women who had to move West, could not follow these practices, for the austere life during the trip and the years of settling, with no neighbors nearby or the possibility of support from family. Often times, a mourning quilt would have been the only way these women had to remember a loved one by and to help cope with grief in circumstances of loneliness and isolation. A story from a young woman in Nebraska, Ellen Maxwell, who lost her baby daughter to a diphtheria epidemic and her inability to cope with the grief, is a poignant one. Her husband appealed to an elderly neighbor for help. This neighbor brought her own fabric scraps and taught Ellen how to make a quilt. The quilt was completed in 1893 but never used, for it brought too many sad memories, but it was passed down within the family until our time.

Contemporary Memory Quilts

Memory quilts continued being made during the twentieth century. One of these types of memory/mourning quiltsmemory quilt that have remained popular all the way to present time are necktie quilts. These quilts are made with the silk neckties belonging to a loved one. Many times, due to the shape of these ties, a circular pattern like the Dresden Plate with blades roughly the same shape as the necktie is the choice to make the most of the silk fabric, since ties are cut on the bias and they have to be taken apart to cut pieces for piecing. The Dresden Plate is not the only pattern used to make memory quilts to remember a deceased loved one, since other items of clothing can be used, such as wool trousers to make tied comforters, T-shirts, cotton shirts or dresses. Any pattern can become a memory quilt. Treat the fabric as you would when making any other type of quilt. Pre wash when possible and try not to mix different fabric weights or fiber contents to make the quilt durable.

Innovation in image transferring methods to fabric has added a new dimension to memory quilts both for mourning and other memory quilts to celebrate happy occasions. To use photographs as part of a memory quilt, the photograph needs to be transferred to fabric in a way that will become permanent and will not fade with time. The photos need to be saved on a computer in digital form, if the photos wanted for a memory quilt are paper fabrics, they need to be scanned and converted to digital images with the highest quality possible (dpi). The higher the dpi, the clearer the image will be when transferred. Once the image is in digital form, an inkjet printer and especially treated fabric sheets need to be used. The image can be manipulated in a photo program to fit the desired area that is needed to make the patch that will become part of the quilt.

Once the image is the right size and corrections to color or brightness have been made, the photo fabric sheets need memory quiltto be loaded in the printer according to manufacturers’ instructions. The special fabric is backed with paper to be able to be used in a printer. Then, the fabric sheet is printed with the photograph and the paper is removed. Most manufacturers recommend soaking to remove paper. Once the paper is removed, the fabric with the photograph can be ironed with a dry iron and trimmed to the right size to be used as part of a memory quilt. There are also products used to set the image and keep it from fading. And if unsure, the are professional services that allow you to send a digital image and get it printed.

 

For more information on making a quilting block click here!

 

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