The article wasn’t written with bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents in mind. However, I believe — in fact, I know — that the bereaved finds comfort in doing something for their lost loved one. It helps bring you closer to the person you miss with your entire body. And it also occupies your mind in a positive way. It is for this reason that I’ve included this post here. Imagine making a “Life Quilt” which proves your loved one did exist – for that is what we need to prove more than anything, especially in those early months of grief (this is the reason for this website even). If you have the ability to do this for yourself, or for someone dear to you who has lost a loved one, I think you will (or they will, if you are doing this for someone else) treasure the quilt forever.
How to Make a Life Quilt
By Anna Swan
You can create a priceless family heirloom. Something your whole family will treasure for years to come. I suggest having the finished Life Quilt dry cleaned. When my children were growing up my Mother would always ask for their outgrown clothing, favorite baby blankets, discarded cloth toys, and basically anything made of fabric. As each child graduated high school, she would present them with their “Life Quilt”. Each square had been made of something from their youth. Perhaps one square would be denim from a pair of over-alls, and plaid from a flannel gown. Another might be from a baby blanket and a crib sheet. She was so creative, she even incorporated such things as ribbons won in school events, buttons from favorite coats, and the little face section cut from a favorite stuffed animal.
Each of the 12 squares had a piece of white cotton cloth at the center. On this, she would detail some event in paint pen or fabric paints. One square would detail their birth information, date, weight, length, and time they were born. Another might detail a Baptism, first step, first lost tooth. All 12 squares would work up chronologically to their high school graduation.
This was by far one of the most precious gifts my children have ever received, so I’ve decided to continue the tradition by making them for my Grandchildren. Getting started is the hardest part! I suggest you purchase some inexpensive plastic storage boxes with lids. You’ll need 12 boxes for each child you plan to make a “Life Quilt” for. You should clearly mark the child’s name on the outside of the box as well, to keep everything organized. Each finished square of your “Life Quilt” should measure (after seam allowance) 12 inches – or one square foot. To achieve this, your center white square should measure 8 and ½ inches by 8 and ½ inches, allowing ¼ inch for the seams. You will need 20 – 2 and ½ by 2 and ½ inch squares (allowing ¼ inch for seams) for the trim. These will be cut from your memory fabrics. You can make a cardboard pattern for the 8 ½ inch by 8 ½ inch square and pre-cut all 12 of these, and place into the storage boxes. As you collect your memory fabrics, the easiest thing I have found is to make a cardboard pattern to cut them by as well. This smaller pattern needs to measure 2 ½ inches by 2 and ½ inches. As events in the child’s life occur, you will need to detail the center white square – even if you haven’t collected the memory fabric for the trim yet. I suggest fabric pens, they are easy to use and non-fading even after several washings. I also suggest spending some time in the craft department of your favorite store looking for fabric pen stencils. There are many to choose from and they will add an adorable artistic touch to the detailed event. As you collect the memory fabric and get it cut into little squares, I also suggest you hand stitch them together – even if you plan to later machine sew the quilt. This keeps matching squares together, and helps you to know when you’ve collected enough.
Once you’ve completed all 12 large squares, I again suggest hand sewing them together simply to keep them in line and order. You can always machine quilt them later. When your quilt “top” is completed, you can either purchase a backing such as cotton, flannel, or fleece – or use the child’s own baby blankets – sewn together. Once the backing is ready, place your “batting” between the top and bottom layers and simply quilt as you would normally, I prefer machine quilting – but hand quilting is fine. There are many types of “batting” on the market now, I prefer fiber fill because I seem to have less trouble running it through my sewing machine. Once you’ve completed the quilting, trim and hem or edge as you normally would. I also suggest having the finished “Life Quilt ” dry cleaned before presenting it to the child. It’s been several years in the making, and well handled.