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Grandma's Memory Quilts

Grandma's memory quilts cover photo

16 March 2021.

That was the day Pó Po (婆婆) passed away. Although not unexpected, it was still difficult to receive the news. The silver lining was that she passed away in a time when interstate travels were not totally restricted by the pandemic lockdowns, so all of us - my parents and brothers - got to attend her wake and funeral and say our final goodbyes.

memory square patchwork quilt hang on rack outdoor

memory square patchwork quilt hang on rack outdoor

The idea of making a memory quilt from Pó Po's clothes only came the moment we went to collect her clothes to be cremated with her. Pó Po was a very fashionable person who took great care of her garments. Many pieces in her closet were tailor-made with fabrics she handpicked herself. I couldn't bear to see them all burn to ashes, so I picked some out for memory quilt projects, all while resisting the temptation to haul the whole closet-full because they all felt so precious - Pó Po certainly held them precious.

Seeing the many memory quilts made by other quilters on social media did not prepare me for this project. The clothes still smelt like her.

memory square patchwork quilt draped on bed close up



Since Pó Po's clothes had such colourful and busy prints, I kept the quilt design simple with just squares and sashing. There were enough materials to make two quilts, so I designed one for my mother and one for myself.

memory square patchwork quilt design

Black narrow sashing for me. I threw in some blank squares to give it a little bit of modern design.

memory square patchwork quilt design

Wide sashing for my mother. Mint green was her choice of colour.

The squares were each cut 15 cm x 15 cm. In my mother's quilt, the mint-green sashing strips were cut 5 cm wide. In my quilt, the black sashing strips were cut 3 cm wide. With a quarter-inch seam allowance, my mother's quilt came out to be about 176 cm x 193 cm, while mine came out to be about 169 cm x 199 cm.



As Pó Po's clothes were mostly made of thin viscose, they had to be reinforced with interfacing. I chose a woven fusible interfacing in medium weight. My local sewing supplies shop called it the "jacket interfacing" - possibly because they were frequently used to interface fabrics to make jackets. This type of interfacing feels soft and has good drape for its thickness.

fusible woven jacket interfacing close up

Woven fusible interfacing a.k.a. "jacket interfacing" to reinforce the thin viscose fabrics of Pó Po's clothes. Pictured here is the interfacing fused to a pink fabric not used for this project.

The mint-green sashings were pin-dot Japanese cotton that I purchased online from a local merchant, while the black sashings were quilting cotton purchased from my local Spotlight.

For the backing, I experimented with more satiny fabrics after the pleasant outcome in my Honeybee Hexagon Quilt. This time, I used these satin bedsheets also purchased online. They were not made of natural fiber, but were thin, strong and of course, extremely smooth to the touch.

dark blue satin fabric quilt backing

Blue satin bedsheet for the back of my quilt.

cream satin fabric quilt backing

Cream satin bedsheet for the back of my mother's quilt.

My mother's quilt did not contain any batting, as per her wish. In place of batting, I used just a layer of white mercerised cotton as a foundation that "ties" the quilt top and backing together. The result is a thin, soft and cooling quilt that is very suitable for use in a non-air-conditioned room in our tropical climate - the way my mother wants it.

In my quilt, I used thin cotton batting. It is certainly warmer and a lot squishier - the way I like it. I don't plan on using it regularly, but I know that when I do use it, it would be just nice for the air-conditioned environment where I usually sleep in.




I began with prepping the clothes ready for cutting. Buttons and button plackets had to be removed. Areas that had been fused with interfacings had to be cut away. Collars had to be removed. Seams had to be ripped. The sleeve pieces were large enough to fit one 15 cm x 15 cm square, so that was a bonus.

unpicking buttons for memory quilt

Unpicking Buttons and Stitches


Then, I applied the fusible interfacing to the wrong side of the deconstructed pieces of the clothes. Now, the straight-forward way to do this is to simply fuse the entire piece of fabric with interfacing. However, I wanted to save on the interfacing, so I chose to cut my woven interfacing into 15 cm x 15 cm squares before fusing them to the fabric.

interfacing on deconstructed garment fabrics

Squares of Woven Interfacing Fused to the Wrong Side of Fabric


Next, I cut out 15 cm x 15 cm squares from the fabric using my 15 cm x 15 cm ruler and the interfacing as guides.

various square fabrics

Six out of Sixteen Prints

various square fabrics

Laid Out for Admiration & Planning

stack of square fabrics

A Portion of Squares Stacked and Read for Piecing


The illustration below shows the construction of the quilt top. I started by sewing rows of alternating squares and short (15 cm) sashings, then sewing the rows together with alternating long sashings, and finally the borders with the same-width sashings. I reinforced every seam with a stitch-by-the-ditch (on the sashing side). For my mother's quilt, I used contrasting (pink) threads for this, and also to free-motion embroider flowers at each cornerstone (which didn't turn out good, in my opinion, but ah...learning curve).

Note: The blank spaces where it seems that a square has been skipped are just 15 cm x 15 cm squares of the sashing fabric, sewn into the row like all the other squares.

memory quilt construction

Construction of the Quilt Top.


To quilt my mother's quilt, whose sandwich consists of the quilt top, mercerised cotton, and cream satin backing, I machine-tacked randomly on the center of the embroidered cornerstone flowers. For my quilt, whose sandwich consists of the quilt top, cotton batting, and blue satin backing, I hand-quilted along the horizontal sashings using 8 strands of regular multipurpose polyester sewing thread in pink.

machine embroidery flower on quilt

Machine-Tack on Cornerstones to Quilt the Layers

hand quilting memory square patchwork quilt multipurpose thread

Hand-Quilting with 8 Strands of Multipurpose Polyester Thread


For my mother's quilt, I bound the quilt with bias tape (grey pin dots). For my quilt, I used the self-binding method by folding the backing fabric twice to the quilt top and sew.

quilt self binding satin backing


quilt bias binding satin backing close up

Narrow Binding with Bias Tape


memory quilt square patchwork hand quilting garment clothes fabric

memory square patchwork quilt hang on rack outdoor

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