Memories of making a memory quilt (get the tissues)

PaperGirlIn March, PaperGirl (aka Mary Fons) put out a challenge to her followers: write about the last quilt you made. Our director of marketing (aka Karen Johnson) was up for the challenge.

You see, Karen was in the midst of making a very special quilt. A quilt for her parents’ 60th wedding anniversary. A quilt that was going to capture her parents’ history—their family, their loves, their life. And when you’re creating a quilt like that, you want to share the story of its making. And so Karen did.

After blessings from her parents and from PaperGirl—and from Karen, of course!—we’re sharing Karen’s story with you today. (And because her quilt is now stitched, signed, and delivered, we get to show you lots of photos of it, too!) Perhaps Karen’s story about her quilt will inspire you to put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and share the stories behind your quilts too.

Karen JohnsonOne night in February, I woke from a sound sleep and sat straight up in bed. I have to make a quilt for my parents, I thought.

You see, my parents’ 60th wedding anniversary is fast approaching. Their milestone is coming more quickly than I’d expected, especially for preparing a suitable gift. But now I had the perfect idea. I began planning a quilt in my head.

It would be a memory quilt, with photos.

I suddenly had an immense amount of work to do, and a very tight deadline. Since I work full time, it all needed to be done during weekends and evenings. It took three weekends just to gather all the photos. Many came from my brother and were already digital, but many more were safely tucked away in my storage unit, and they needed to be sorted, selected, and scanned.

I scanned and printed the photos onto fabric-transfer sheets (I used these)—and then I read the instructions. Apparently, printing colorfast photos on fabric is a two-step process. Over two weeknights, every available surface in my small apartment was covered with fabric-transfer sheets. All needed to be heat-set, cooled, and then rinsed, dabbed, and heat-set again.

I’ve always loved these photos, but making the quilt brought me even closer to them, and of course, to the people in them. I handpicked each photo for its meaning to my parents and to our family. I carefully ironed and washed each fabric-transferred photo, and then ironed them again. Each fabric photo was cut by hand, ensuring no one’s ears were chopped off by my rotary blade.

Finally, I began to piece the quilt together, planning the layout as I went. First was my parents’ wedding photo: front and center. I surrounded the beautiful old photograph with strips of fabric and pressed the seams away from their smiling faces. Then, I added their baby pictures. My baby pictures. My brother’s baby pictures. My daughter’s baby pictures. As the quilt grew, so did my memories of every stage of my life, through my parents’ eyes and through the pictures.

This quilt is filled with meaning. Joy, laughter, and sadness for those who are no longer with us. Graduations, weddings, and other milestone moments. There’s one photo where my dad has his hand on my mom’s shoulder in a quiet moment, when they didn’t know a camera was near. Love shining through. The forced smiles in many of the posed shots—everyone hating something about their face. More smiling babies, messy toddlers, a first missing tooth, bad haircuts, old friends. Life. My family’s life.


I don’t often spend time with these photos. They’re usually tucked away and aren’t regularly appreciated. A quilt will change that.

The quilt will soon be off to a long-arm quilter and I won’t be carefully ironing my brother’s smiling face any more. In a few short weeks it will be in my parents’ hands, and likely hang on a wall in their living room (though I’d prefer they snuggle under it). We’ll all admire it, but never again will I feel so close to those photos. So involved with them.

It’s a special thing we quilters do when we make a quilt for someone we love. But toss in precious photos and it becomes something else entirely. More than a photo album, more than a quilt. A family. A memory. A quilt.

As I snap myself out of my reverie, I realize I will be with many real-life family members as we gather to celebrate my parents’ 60th anniversary. And we’ll take more photos.

Which quilt might you write about?

  • One that you made and gave away
  • One that you’re making right now
  • One that’s still a twinkle in your eye

Tell us in the comments—and Karen, thanks for sharing your story.









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