Inventing a Teenager's Memory Quilt | Seventh Generation
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Inventing a Teenager's Memory Quilt

Author: Walla

A few weeks ago my nephew came down to breakfast wearing a shirt that looked like it belonged to his little brother. Short at the cuffs, tight around the neck, no big deal, right? Except my nephew doesn't have a little brother and the shirt was one I had purchased for him -- in the right size -- the week before. What my nephew does have is a teenager's body that refuses to stop growing. My sister can buy him pants on Saturday and by the following weekend, they look like capris.

Did you ever read the book about the little goldfish that, when fed, keeps getting bigger and bigger? It has to be moved from its bowl to the bathtub and finally, when nothing can hold it, the police department is called. Well, he's a size away from 911.

Yes, I know, this whole growing routine is a good thing. He's healthy and strong and on the move to adulthood. It's just that every six months, like some snooty Miranda Priestly, his DNA demands a new wardrobe. Do his genes care about the problems of my sister's pocketbook? No. His genes demand new jeans. Which means, of course, that some very nice, lightly worn stuff gets left behind. He has closets of perfectly-good-but-too-small t-shirts celebrating his camp's color war and high school's 2009 walkathon; shirts from snowboarding trips and homecoming games -- all cherished memories that he refuses to part with.

So, being a mother who follows the "choose your battles wisely" school of child-rearing, my sister came up with a brilliant solution. She called me. Then we sat down with my nephew and cleared his closet of all those tops and pants that were too small. Anything that was stained, hole-y or had his name on it went into a second pile. The first pile was summarily bagged for donation. The second was handed over to me. I proceded to cut the hole-y t-shirts and torn shorts into large, similarly-sized squares. In the end, I had a nice stack. I used the squares to make a memory quilt. I know it sounds like work but, trust me, it's doable: I have ten thumbs and none of them like each other.

For those who can't sew, don't give up; I used iron-on tape to connect the squares. (If you're a crafty person, you can use a contrasting fabric for bordering the squares. And for extra bonus points: copy photographs onto photo image paper using your printer. Then iron that image onto a fabric square. For example, a picture of a touchdown catch goes great next to the mascot t-shirt.) Once the squares were connected, I simply sewed the top layer to an old blanket. Even more recycling! (In each corner, a simple stitched knot or button can hold the quilt to the blanket.) I knew it was a hit when my nephew's friends had their mothers call for instructions.

Now, when he curls up to watch a movie (that he swears is educational,) the pillows and blanket he uses are covered in some of his most beloved childhood memories.

Plus, I get the satisfaction of recycling and donating. And, honestly, his parents and I love those memories of camp and school as much as he does.

He was so little then. But, if he keep going like this, it's a good thing I already have 911 on speed-dial.

Do you do anything crafty with outgrown clothing?

photo: Mike Baird


amyhami picture
A few years ago I finally admitted that I was tired of dragging around my t-shirts & I just didn't have time for this project in the foreseeable future. So, I sent my shirts to "Keepsake Theme Quilts" & they did a great job. The organization provides training & jobs for deaf people - good work & good works!
thebeatonpath picture
I had put off making T-shirt quilts for ages because I thought it would be so hard, but it is SUPER easy! I do my completely different from this post, but the end result is probably the same. Just do a search for "T-shirt quilt pattern", and tons pop up free of charge. It's a great way to clean out drawers, recycle and create a memorable gift all at the same time! The first cut is the hardest, but once you start, you won't stop! I can only imagine how cool the fireman quilt will be!
Welch Family picture
Welch Family
Thank you so much for writing this! My husband is a fireman & "trades" or collects shirts from other departments. I wasn't quite sure what to do with all of them until a few years back I had been given the same idea ~ a memory quilt. Granted, the shirts are all sitting in a box 'waiting' for me to learn how to quilt ... but they are there none the less ;D Great post!
Jernhon picture
I have two drawers full of unwearable Tshirts that I was unable to part with and have been carrying the idea of a Tshirt quilt around for a couple years but didn't know where to start. Thank you for your courage in starting and completing this wonderful project, ten thumbs and all, and for sharing it with us. Hopefully sometime in the not-too-distant future I can share mine as well ... but don't hold your breath!
saraliz227 picture
I started to become conscious of how wasteful sewing much fabric is wasted when cutting out patterns. I started cutting the extra fabric into strips and crocheting with them. I started making a "rag" rug and now everytime I look at it I fondly remember every sewing project. I love the idea of using the old tshirts....take it a step further and knit or crochet the scraps....if anything he'll have a very coordinated ensemble!
Majeral picture
Majeral78666 That is very nice, when my youngest out grew his T-shirts from soccer and baseball, cut the arms off and the back of them. Then played around with placing them. Once I got it the way I liked I sewed them together and made a quilt. I did make it longer and wider than he needed at 14. He loved it.
javanalana picture
This is a project I've bookmarked to do at some point. Martha Stewart has a similar project with a tutorial on her site:
pamk312 picture
I had so many of my kids clothes and didn't know what to do with them. I saw an ad in my local parent paper for a company who would put the clothes together for me. It's called The Patchwork Tree and the website is They made a memory quilt for me of all of my kids clothes and it is beautiful.
craftyvegan picture
I would love to make a quilt using my daughters old baby clothes. Do you have instructions?
Konnie picture
I've heard of the same idea but using old unform shirts (for kids kids who are into sports). Use the front and/or back plus scan either the individual or team (or both) photos and put on fabric. You have a quilt that is their sports history - better than being stuck in a box or album. You could do any theme .. school uniform with class photos. Birthday party - each block is the theme plus a picture of the birthday girl/boy.
abbybrooks picture
I love this idea! I've also thought of using smaller baby clothes to make a stuffed animal - just add arms, legs, and a simple head. Thanks for sharing!