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Mesmerizing Memory Quilts

Quilting for customers has given me the opportunity to work on several interesting projects that I might not have otherwise gotten to do. For instance, a few months ago I did a binding on a quilt that had pointed edges. Several years ago I became acquainted with the fantastic paper-pieced patterns designed by Violet Craft. And recently I made two memory quilts out of Navy uniforms.

Last spring a customer contacted me to make a few quilts for her out of her grandparent’s clothing. She ended up bringing me four huge totes from which I would make a total of eight quilts. She wanted three quilts from her grandparents’ clothes and three quilts from clothes that were from other family members. The last two quilts would come from a tote filled with her father’s Navy uniforms.

At our first meeting the customer decided that the size of the quilts should measure 45” x 60”. In order to keep the cost of construction down I then designed the quilts in increments of 5” - ex. 5” x 5”, 5” x 10”, 15” x 15”. My next task was to look through the tote of uniforms to find interesting things that I could make into a block - patches, pockets, buttons and flaps on the fronts of pants, ties on the backs of pants, iconic flaps on the backs of the shirts. I measured these items and placed them symmetrically throughout the quilt. I then filled in the rest of the quilt top with plain blocks in the navy wool and white canvas fabrics. I also made the decision to cut all of the blocks 1” larger on all sides in order to have a 1/2” seam rather than the 1/4” that is usually used in quilts. Because the fabric is thicker than is usually used to make quilts I thought that pressing the seams open would help to reduce the bulk at those points. I also designed the quilt so that there were very few places where four seams came together at one point.

As I was cutting out the white fabrics I noticed that there were quite a few spots which is typical for fabrics that have been stored for awhile. As a result I decided to bleach them after they were cut. I started with just a few of the blocks and was very pleased with the results until I ironed them. At that point the fabrics turned yellow. Oh no! That was not what I had intended! According to Google - what would we do without Google? - I had used too much bleach but luckily a soak in undiluted white vinegar returned the blocks to their bright white color. My metal drying rack worked perfectly to hang the blocks on while they dried.

I was fortunate to have plenty of white and navy fabric to use as backgrounds for some of the details that I chose to highlight on the blocks. For instance, I removed some small labels and repositioned them onto 5” x 5” blocks. I cut the rough edges off of the stenciled labels and zigzagged them onto 5” x 10” blocks. I removed the embroidered mermaids from the inside of the cuffs and repositioned them onto 5” x 15” blocks. I cut out the iconic flaps from the backs of the shirts and stitched them onto 15” x 15” blocks.

I had planned to use only white thread in the quilting of these tops but ultimately thought that the white would stand out too much on the navy blocks. As a result I used both white and navy threads to match the colors of the blocks. I used small loops on one quilt and larger loops on the other for the quilting design. The smaller loops were a little easier to do but both looked fine on the finished quilts.

This was a fun project to do and the customer was very pleased with the results. Stay tuned for the next unique project that comes my way!

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