Memory Quilt Instructions - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Memory Quilt Instructions


Making a quilt from a loved one's shirts is a wonderful way to make a memory that you'll use forever. The size quilt that you want to make and the pattern that you choose will determine the number of shirts that you'll need.

If you're an experienced quilter, this will be an easy task. If you're new to quilting, keeping it simple is the best way to make sure that you end up with a great quilt that was a fun project.

Here are the instructions for a simple quilt.


  • Cotton shirts - it is best not to mix heavier weight flannel or corduroy with regular cotton
  • Hobb's Heirloom Fusible cotton batting (Available from
  • 100% cotton fabric for backing
  • 100% cotton fabric for borders
  • 8 1/2" square acrylic quilter's ruler works best. Use with a rotary cutter and mat.
  • 100% cotton thread (usually white for lighter fabrics; beige or grey for darker fabrics)
  • White and blue Washout fabric marking pencils
  • Measuring tape 
  • Two special feet for your sewing machine:
  • 1/4" foot for sewing 1/4" seams
  • Walking foot (special foot for quilting)

Making the Quilt top

1. Choose shirts that you want to use for your quilt. Only select shirts that are 100% cotton.

2. Wash and iron all of the shirts.

3. Cut the sleeves from the body of the shirt then cut the seams so that the sleeve lies flat. Cut closely to the seams.

4. For this quilt, we need 48 blocks that are cut 8 1/2" x 8 1/2". You can use any template to cut around as long as it's 8 1/2" x 8 1/2", but the acrylic square is best if you have one. Use it with the rotary cutter and mat. Depending on the number of shirts you have, 2 blocks from each shirt could be plenty.

5. Lay out your blocks on the floor and spend some time arranging and rearranging until you have a pleasing pattern. If you have an easily accessible 8' high wall, you can push-pin a large piece of batting or thermalam to the wall to create a design area. The blocks will cling to the design wall and you can easily rearrange them. Since you're working with shirts instead of quilting fabric that you've selected specifically for a project, it's a little more challenging to get the various colors and patterns to work together well. What you have in your favor is that all of these shirts have meaning and convey a memory so ultimately, no arrangement is wrong.

6. Once you've settled on an arrangement, pick up your pieces row by row working from left to right and top to bottom. You will end up with 8 stacks of squares. Pin a note to the top of each stack with its row number written on it. The piece of fabric on the top of each stack will be the square on the left of the row. Put an arrow on your note pointing to the top of the blocks.

7. Sew 6 squares into a row. Place first 2 squares with right sides facing and sew them together with a 1/4" seam. Sew the third square to the second one with right sides facing. Sew the fourth square to the third with right sides facing. Sew the fifth square to the fourth with right sides facing. Sew the sixth square to the fifth with right sides facing. Now you have one complete row. Sew the next seven rows in the same way. Pin a note to each row with it's number on it.

8. Press the seams of the rows before you sew the rows to each other. Press all odd numbered rows with the seams facing right. Press all even numbered rows with the seams facing left. When you pin and sew the rows together, the seams will be facing away from each other reducing bulk, causing the quilt to lie flatter and smoother.

9. Once you've pressed the seams, start sewing each row to the next one with right sides facing with a 1/4" seam. When sewing over the seams, take a moment and feel to make sure that the seams are laying flat and facing opposite directions. Press all horizontal seams toward the top of the quilt. Now your quilt top is ready for a border(s) if you chose to add one or more.

Making the borders

1. If using 2 borders, you could cut the inner border in 1 1/2" strips and the outer border in 3" strips. With the 1/4" seam your finished borders will be 1" and 2 1/2". Pin and stitch the narrow border to the longest sides of the quilt right sides together, trim even with the top and the bottom of the quilt top and press the seam toward the border strip. Now apply the narrow border strip to the top and bottom as instructed above.

2. Now you are ready for the wider border. Measure twice from the top to the bottom of the quilt through the center of the quilt and cut the length of the wide outside borders to this exact measurement. Fold the border in half lengthwise and press the fold to mark the center point. Fold again and press the fold to mark the quarter point of the border length. Fold and press a mark on each side of the quilt separately for the center point and the quarter points. Right sides together, match the center fold mark of the border to the center fold mark of the quilt top and pin together. Match and pin the quarter marks and the ends. The border should not extend beyond the quilt top at the ends. Now pin half-way between the quarter marks and the end, between the quarter marks and the center. Add more pins as needed so that the entire border is pinned in place about every 3-4". Stitch the border to the quilt top. Press the seam toward the border.

3. Repeat the above procedure for the borders for the top and bottom beginning by measuring through the center of the quilt, this time from side to side. This will be the length of the top and bottom borders. You may need to ease some extra fullness from the quilt top into place when stitching the borders on. This extra fullness is a result of not making seam widths precisely 1/4" or stretching the blocks out of shape when pressing.

Putting it together

1. Cut fabric for the backing of your quilt. The backing needs to be 60"x80". If you are using a piece of 100% cotton backing that is 60" wide, buy 2.5 yards and you should have enough. If the backing you choose is 45" wide, you'll need to buy 5 yards and sew two pieces together to get a back that's large enough. 1 bag of fusible cotton batting should also be enough.

2. Now you want to layer the quilt top, the fusible batting and the backing. Carefully lay out the backing on a padded ironing surface board. Lay the backing down first, WRONG side up. Use masking tape to secure in place on the sides and top. Place the fusible fabric over the backing and smooth out the wrinkles as carefully as possible. Place the quilt top on the fusible fabric RIGHT side up and check to make sure that the fusible fabric and the backing extend further on all sides than the quilt top.

2. Press the quilt top. It's best to iron by picking up the iron and placing it more than running the iron back and forth over the fabric. The heat will secure both the quilt top and the backing to the batting. If you have wrinkles, you can pull all the pieces apart easily and iron that section again. Remove the masking tape and move the quilt layers up to proceed on the next section as above smoothing everything carefully in place.

3. Safety pin around the boarder securing the layers of the quilt.

4. Draw your grid lines for the quilting pattern that you plan to sew using the washable fabric pencils. I used diagonal lines from corner to corner of each block making sure the line continued in the same manner into the next block, etc.

5. Using the walking foot begin quilting the layers together. Begin with the longest diagonal middle lines and work your way outward. Now stitch in the ditch both vertically and horizontally. This is right next to the stitched edges where one block joins another. Start in the center stitching from one side of the quilt all the way across to the other side. Continue moving outward until all the horizontal lines are finished. Follow the same procedure for the lengthwise lines from top to bottom of the quilt. Each diagonal line should continue all the way past the outside edge of the binding.

6. Using a rotary cutter and ruler, trim off the excess batting and backing around all 4 sides. Use the square ruler to trim the corners, making sure they are square.

The Binding

For the binding you need 5/8 yard of 45" wide fabric. (That's a little more to allow for straightening the edges & to have an extra strip in case you need it) You will cut 6 strips each 2 1/2" wide

1. Cut the binding strips 2 1/2" wide, cutting - cut from selvage to selvage. Join the strips together with either a straight seam or a diagonal seam. Press the seams to one side. Fold the binding in half lengthwise WRONG sides together and carefully press on the fold. Your binding should now be 1 1/4" wide and more than long enough to go all the way around the quilt. The easiest way for a beginner is to bind each side separately. Open the end of the binding and turn under about 1/2" to the inside. Refold to the 1 1/4" width. Lay the binding on the top side of the quilt matching the cut edges of the quilt and the binding. The fold of the binding will be toward the inside of the quilt. Pin in place and stitch a 1/4" seam with the regular presser foot. 3-4" before you get to the end, stop, trim the binding to 1/2" longer than the quilt top, open and turn the edge to the inside. Fold the binding back to the 1 1/4" width and continue sewing to the end. Do the same thing for the opposite end.

2. On the sides of the quilt, attach the binding in the same way except leave a tail of about 2 " beyond the end on both ends. The bindings you sewed on first should be turned back away from the quilt. Start stitching the binding on right at the point that meets the seam where the binding was sewn on to the ends of the quilt. Stop at the same point at the end of that side leaving a 2" tail. Cut the fabric and sew the binding on the other side in the same manner.

3. Now you are ready to fold the binding over to the back of the quilt and hand stitch it down. Notice that the folded edge of the binding makes a nice finished edge on the back of the quilt. Hand stitch the first two bindings in place first. Then stitch down the last two bindings, turning under the tails and trimming to 1/2". This binding should continue out and cover the top edge of the binding perpendicular to it. If you are adding a label, decide which corner of the quilt you are going to place it in and do not hand stitch around this corner. Leave it open for several inches on both sides so that the label can be enclosed in the seam on 2 sides and then finish hand stitching the binding.

Finishing Touches

Make a label for the back. This can be anything you choose. Once you have it together, whip stitch it by hand through the backing and the batting making sure not to stitch through the quilt top. Finish hand stitching the binding around the label.

If this is your first quilting experience and you can afford to buy one quilting book, get this one at The Art of Classic Quiltmaking by Harriet Hargrave & Sharyn Craig. ISBN 1-57120-079-7

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