Saturday, July 15, 2017

Remembering

QS and I used the time after camping to cut and sort clothing for memory quilts. Kaja at Sew Slowly used recycled clothing in several recent quilts. As she points out, each shirt contains a limited amount of fabric. It's difficult/impossible to make a preconceived vision since there probably won't be enough  of any one fabric. And while you can unsew the seams and darts, sometimes those folded areas are too weak to use.

Family Fabric versus Thrift Store Fabric

Using family clothing is different than any other quilting or sewing I've done in the past. The materials are softer, sometimes even frayed and easily moves off grain. When I purchase used clothing I choose less-worn pieces. Without connections to the previous owner, I pick colors I like in material that will last longer. Conversely, the "more worn" pieces of family fabric evoke stronger memories recalling our loved ones and happy events when they wore this clothing.

Another difference between generic used clothing and memorial clothing is that the colors and prints were already chosen by a special person. Although they might not be exactly what we'd choose, it's the memory of the previous owners we want to preserve. Previously, I've combined bits of my husband's shirts with new fabric and enjoyed pointing out those heritage pieces. But with beloved {now passed} relatives it seems exploitative/sacrilegious to mix their fabrics with new. {This may be only my odd outlook and certainly everyone should create whatever comforts themselves.}

It became important that all the fabric used had been owned by our relative(s). There is a need to wrap ourselves completely in memories, not search for a few pieces scattered throughout. {What a complete turnaround from my previous use of DH's shirts.} For the first time, the visual impact of a quilt is less relevant, although it would be a bonus if the fabrics look good together.

We saved woven shirts, skirts and dresses from our dear sister but waited until now to start in order to have some distance from our grief. {Not sure how well that worked. Working on this opened a new wellspring.} DS loved purples, pinks, and reds. Lovely but not much contrast, especially since we didn't include jeans. When we asked our brothers if they'd like a memory quilt, too, they donated some shirts from our father. The additional material gave us more than enough for five lap quilts and improved the contrast within the blocks. Dad's shirts are quite a bit older so they are thinner and more worn. DS and our dad were very close; it's comforting to have their clothing mingled this way.

Squares and Strings from old clothing

Originally I wanted to make free-form quilts with pockets, arm scythes, and improvisational piecing but I was overruled by all my siblings. It's important that everyone find only love and comfort in their quilt so we developed a plan everyone agreed upon. Each quilt will be slightly different although most started with six-inch squares {because that was the width of the large ruler}. The squares divided into four piles: more reds for the Bros and more pinks for the Sisters. When there was no longer enough width to cut the squares, we created strips. QS will combine them with t-shirt and sweatshirt centers to make a log cabin variation for herself.

The buttons are destined for the button jar.

Buttons

First Top

Each Broken Dishes block took four squares, two of each fabric cut into HSTs. The navy plaids are our dad's while the reds are our sister's. We added a few other colors from her clothing to lighten this top for Bro1.

Here's the working layout.

Broken Dishes layout 1
Final Caution

If you choose to make quilts from family clothing, check fiber content and test small pieces with your iron. These fabrics range from twill to almost gauze. They contain a variety of natural and man-made fibers including spandex. One was printed with flocking. It took special ironing because the flocking seemed to grab the iron. The best solution was low heat from the reverse.

EDIT: If you are interested in this topic, take time to read the comments. Several people have added great points and ideas.

Enjoy the day, Ann

28 comments:

  1. Thank you for some very valuable tips on using family clothing! I made quilts from my late FIL's jeans and signature flannel shirts for his 3 grandchildren. I was skeptical about how much usable fabric I would get, but didn't want to use any new material except for the backing & binding, so I laid out my simple squares for all the quilts first. Good thing I did, as it showed that I wouldn't have enough. I found pictures of each of the children individually with their grandfather, ranging from birth to adulthood. I transferred the pictures to Printed Treasures fabric sheets, cut them to a size that would replace several squares at once, and sprinkled them throughout the quilts. The grandchildren have a wonderful keepsake of their relationship with their grandfather, a very special man indeed. It was a sad, yet comforting, experience for me, too. I look at clothing piles of family members who pass with a different eye now.

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    1. BJ. That's a fabulous way to add to the memory and extend the amount of fabric. Tying the person with each grandchild using many years of photos made it more personally meaningful to each of them as well as to you. Your ingenuity is outstanding and must have helped you work through some of your grief. At least, that's what we found.
      This opens more avenues to use. For example, if the loved one had a special commemoration, such as a medal that couldn't be split or attached to a quilt, it could be photo-transferred each quilt.
      Thanks so much for sharing.

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  2. What a wonderful post, Ann. For those especially frail fabrics, you can use tricot fusible interfacing to help stabilize them (it is quite soft so it doesn't greatly alter the hand, but it does add stability for the fibers). It works well for t-shirts, too.

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    1. Good point, Julie. I've used interfacing on knit t-shirts but forgot about using them here. It would help stabilize these soft, weathered wovens, too.
      Thanks so much for sharing this point. It will be very helpful.

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  3. I love the plan you and your siblings came up with--your first layout is lovely. I've only ever made a Cathedral Window table topper by hand using my Dad's old ties...and have no memory clothing.
    I love the look of using clothing fabrics--somehow softer and cozier...nice work hugs, Julierose

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    1. I knew silk needed to be lined so declined to use the silk ties. Cathedral Window sounds like a great way to include them. Thanks for pointing that out for others to take advantage of.
      I find it very comforting that we can rub our hands over this quilt top and every piece evokes the owners.

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  4. You and your sister are off to a strong start with this new series. What a special way to celebrate family!

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    1. Thanks, Mel. It's amazing that there is enough fabric for this many quilts. I'm very fortunate that we all love each other, get along, visit and joke, and build memories daily.

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  5. they are going to be wonderful!! I appreciate getting to read about how you have proceeded, my husband has been gone over 3 years and I have kept all his clothing for just this purpose but haven't tried to do it yet, as you said not far enough from my grief. Look forward to seeing these precious keepsakes. Take care from Iowa

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    1. My condolences on the loss of your beloved husband, Melody. I'm glad you kept all his clothing. We asked my brothers to take what they wanted of dad's then donated the rest. While it felt good to share them with others {business suits that men could use right then} I wish we'd retained more for this quilt.
      Consider looking for Passage quilt by Sherri Lynn Woods. She has taught classes using these fabrics and still works using recycled material. If you like her style, try to find one of her classes. She teaches at some conventions and retreats although she lives in Oakland, CA.
      Take care of yourself, too.

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  6. For my daughter and her hubby's first Christmas I made a tree skirt for them using all fabrics from her past, clothing I made and her prolific sewing including bridesmaid dresses for,her own wedding. There were many green and rose scraps in it. They still use it every year after,twenty years. So it's a,family treasure for them.

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    1. What a meaningful Christmas tree skirt and a perfect use for her special clothing. Good for you, Paula.

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  7. A very interesting post Ann. These are going to be very special quilts that's for sure, so full of memeories & love.

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    1. I found how different it is to use memorial clothing and hope it helps others facing the same situation. I am blessed to have such a wonderful family and treasure all the times we shared.

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  8. No matter the time between losing your sister and beginning the journey with these quilts, the emotions will surface, sometimes happy sometimes sad. I'm sure that you and your siblings will find comfort when wrapped in your memory quilts.
    A lovely Broken Dishes quilt there Ann.

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    1. So true, Maureen. The memories spring up unexpectedly; fortunately the sorrow of their passing is offset by the many happy memories we had. We are a fortunate family.

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  9. What a lovely, thoughtful way to live with memories.

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    1. Thanks, Maureen. I've seen other people's version but nothing prepares us to face this ourselves.

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  10. I like the block you chose for this. I've seen a Broken Dishes quilt all in plaids and loved it but I think I like your combination of plaids and other fabrics even better. What a wonderful memorial and place to go snuggle and remember and feel the comfort. (As a side note: looks like your DS had some wild clothes in the mix. What fun.)

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    1. We chose blocks that used large pieces of fabric because we wanted to highlight them rather than any design. DS liked bright colors in her clothing and house. She was everyone's favorite.

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  11. It is good that you are tackling this work and have a plan for these quilts. I made one with my Dad's clothing for my sister using jeans, Dockers, a tie, a pair of suspenders, and a piece of a blouse of Mom's. I did add new fabric in two large pieces that supported the focal point of the improv pieced strip of clothing. I still have the quilt as I have not seen her since I finished it. I have piles of pants, jeans, dress shirts and polo shirts of Dad's for quilts for my other siblings.

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    1. It is much easier to work on these together although we may run out of time before the end of my vacation. Then we'll divide what's left and work on our own.
      The quilt you made for your sister looks wonderful. You are a champ of using heavy denim. I loved the photo you sent and hope you will post it on your blog. I think many people would enjoy looking at it and learn from your fabric use. I will remember the suspenders. Good luck with quilt for the rest of your family. We are fortunate to come from large families.

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  12. I've incorporated pieces of my deceased brothers shirts into several different quilts I've made, but never made a whole quilt. Your first version is lovely. What a treasure it will be. From what I've read {your story and others like it} the process can be quite overwhelming emotionally, but always, always so worthwhile by the end. I'm so happy the love will be spread around in your family. It's truly a labor of love.

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    1. Using vintage fabric adds to much to quilts. I'm sure yours are wonderful - they always are. Is it easier to use bits when and where they work best? I know I've enjoyed locating the triangles from DH's shirts in quilts. But he's still around to hug.
      We decided to use all these fabrics together in a group of family quilts and that probably adds to the emotional response. Hopefully our siblings will have a happier response. Thanks so much for writing. I was hesitant to post this topic.

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  13. A friend lost her husband suddenly - he was 54. I made baby quilts that were gifted to her two sons at the time of their first babies - you really miss loved ones at that time but they were able to hug them with a bit of their grand dad. I incorporated some fun bike fabric as it was his favorite hobby.

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    1. That's a wonderful way to include their grandfather and keep his memory alive. How kind of you, Linda.
      It's been very interesting to see other ways people incorporate memorial/remembrance clothing into quilts. So many thoughtfully unique ways to use them.

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  14. Wow. Thanks Ann for sharing your process. I had a bag of my dads shirts - hanging on to them thinking I'd use them in a quilt some day. Twenty years ago, in a minimalist clean-out - I dropped them in the Goodwill bin.

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    1. I'm so sorry they are gone but you still have wonderful memories. I'd have done the same thing in a few years since I can't stand keeping a large stash. Part of the reason I wanted to construct these this year is that I didn't want these to disappear or become clutter.

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