How To Make a Memory Quilt With Family Photos (story & how-to-ish)

For my parents’ 35th anniversary, I wanted to something special. Various reasons such as being about 600 miles from them kept me from doing something in person. So when I saw a quilt at the Northwest Quilt Expo that heavily featured family photographs, I knew immediately that was what I wanted to do.
I had two weeks before the actual anniversary day, so I got crackin’ immediately.
First things first, I made a sketch.
And then, using many sheets of graph paper taped together, I planned out the quilt. Using 1 square for 1 inch worked really well, and it helped me to figure everything out easily. Low tech works!
I embroidered the names of our immediate family on the four cornerstones of the border. Fortunately, there are exactly four of us.
Now, I must warn you: here comes the part of the post where I rant. (This part not sponsored by Spoonflower. Or anyone. But hey guys, call me!)
It’s time for the most expensive and stinky part: printing and then heat setting all those photos. I purchased a LOT of those inkjet printer cotton sheets. Then, I talked my printer into printing them. Heads up: if you go this route, you will probably burn all the way through your ink cartridges, making this truly the most expensive part of the project. ($50 for a pack of 25 inkjet cotton sheets. $70ish for printer cartidges. Yeah. Kind of makes the $18 a yard Spoonflower fabric look like a bargain, doesn’t it?) If I had this part to do over again, I think I would have gone the Spoonflower route. Printer cotton sheets tend to be really stiff and uncuddly. Spoonflower prints do not have this problem. Upsettingly, there is also a warning on the printer cotton package to not launder printed cotton with laundry detergent. Seriously? No laundry soap? Because quilts never ever get used and need a good washing.
Oh! And! Did I mention the need to heat set these babies? Because if you ever want to wash them (without soap), you need to a. iron them for about two minutes. On every single inch. and b. Rinse off any excess ink after this and c. Iron them, again.
During all this time spent ironing, you will be exposing yourself and your whole household to some unnamed but apparently sinister chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects. Nowhere does it mention what this chemical is. Also, have the other states not discovered this chemical yet? Are they okay with it? That is a weird warning label. And yea verily, ironing these things will stink up the whole house with a mighty noxious scent. Open a window.
Will that much time under an iron kind of mess with the color of your photos? Yes. Yes it will. In patches of yellowishness. Fortunately, it wasn’t terribly noticeable (except by me).
So basically, the only advantage to using the inkjet sheets is if you need your prints NOW. Or perhaps if you only needed one or two pictures and don’t mind possibly poisoning yourself. Okay, rant over.
I cut all the fabric and laid it out on the floor to get the final layout the way I liked it. I piled the columns in order into individual numbered ziplock bags, so I could work on them in little snatches of time and not forget what the heck I was doing. I was able to whip the top together really quickly this way.
I pieced together a backing, mostly with leftover fabric from the top. Then I embroidered an inscription panel for the back:
I think this was actually my favorite part. (I used perle cotton, in case you’re curious. It looks so much more interesting than embroidery floss. Easier to work with, too. But that’s another post entirely.)
I carefully laid out the backing and batting on the floor, obsessively smoothing everything, determined to not have wrinkles in the back, like every. other. dang. time I do this. This was going to be the time I got it right for once!
Yeah, that didn’t happen. Somehow the back still wrinkled up like a toddler left in the tub too long. Ahem. Maybe next time I’ll figure it out.
For the quilting, I just stitched in the ditch.
Finally, I pieced together a scrappy tan binding, again using mostly leftover fabric from the top, and stitched it down. The end.

Here are the measurements for my final quilt:
72″ wide by 68″ long
If you’d like to make one of your own, here’s what you’ll need:
30 – 4 x 4 pictures
24 – 4 x 6 pictures
(Keep in mind for your photos that you will need to cut each one to 4.5 x 4.5 and 4.5 x 6.5 to allow for seam allowances. You may like to size them larger in your photo editing program, or just deal with the white borders.)

10- 2.5″ x 60.5″ strips

For the 4″ photo columns:
5- 2.5″ x 4.5″ pieces
5- 4.5″ x 4.5″ pieces
25 6.5″ x 4.5″ pieces

For the 4×6″ photo columns:
4- 4.5″ x 6.5″ pieces
4- 2.5″ x 6.5″ pieces
20- 6.5″ x 6.5″ pieces

For the border:
4- 4.5″ x 4.5″ pieces (perfect to embroider a name in!)
2- 4.5″ x 60.5″ pieces for the sides
2- 4.5″ x 64.5″ pieces for the top and bottom

290″ of binding (so you’ll have a few extra inches to work with, and not freak out at the very end.)
{I used 3″ wide strips}

14 sheets of printer cotton (4 pictures printed on each sheet) and a printer and lots of ink
OR just go to Spoonflower and have them do a way better job.

Photo editing software ala Photoshop. (No PS, no prob. You can use Photoshop Elements online free, or whatever fine foxy free option works for you.)


At least 72″ x 68″ backing fabric

Thread, sciscors, sewing machine, rotary cutter, the usual suspects.

Embroidery floss/perle cotton and needles, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Finally, here’s a diagram of how it’s all put together. Download a printable copy here.

Please note that all seam allowances are 1/4″. Also please note that I used the finished measurements on the diagram, for the sake of visual clarity. (Thus, when cutting, be sure to add a 1/2″ to each dimension shown on the diagram – cutting measurements should be the same as shown on the cut list above.)

If you wind up making one of these memory quilts, I’d love to hear about it!

About Claire

Absolutely Small is textile artist Claire Chambers. Claire Chambers is a crazy-pants artist/crafter who spends most of her time indoors, very near to Portland, Oregon. She likes making people laugh, chickens and pugs, and writing about herself in the third person. She is utterly obsessed with making things out of fabric.

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