Sleeping under a quilt made from the clothes of your lost one or wrapping it around you can be very helpful in the painful process of grieving. Since most people are new to the idea of a bereavement quilt, I’ve selected various bereavement quilts I’ve made over the years and told their stories below.
Bereavement quilts can take many shapes. Examples of the various types I have made appear in the following sequence. Bereavement quilts that are either t-shirt or tie quilts are shown under those two headings.
Traditional Bereavement Quilts
Below are some of traditional quilts I’ve made and their stories. Some customers leave the design entirely up to me, while others collaborate. A few know exactly what they want and guide me through the process so that they get exactly what they want. My first story indicates how a customer can coordinate with me to get the type of quilt he wants and the next one illustrates how other customers leave the design entirely up to me. Valerie knew exactly how she wanted her quilts to look and attended to every detail with me to get four quilts made for a family that was dealing with the worst blow a family can suffer.
What is More Traditional that a Lone Star Quilt?
Mike was a Marine who lost his beloved father and wanted a patriotic theme for his quilt, since his father had preceded him into the military. We collaborated on the quilt until we both were happy with the overall pattern, although he left the borders up to me. This is my most common experience where customers let me know what they want but leave most of the details up to me. Mike was more than pleased with the result.
A Traditional Quilt made for a Mother out of her Grown Son’s Shirts
Losing a child is catastrophic at any age, even if your son is grown and has a growing family of his own. So LaVonne was very happy to have this simple hour-glass patterned quilt (which I call a throw since it can be used in many ways) made out of her son’s beautiful dress shirts.
Helping a Family Grieve the Loss of their Son
I received a call about the need for a bereavement quilt from the aunt of a young man who had recently died. Grant had just graduated from college, was preparing for his first major job, and was excited about sharing his life with his fiancee. Losing Grant was a devastating loss for this family. Three years later when she was ready, I worked with Grant’s mother Valerie to design and produce four quilts – one for his sister, one for his girlfriend, one for his parents and one for an aunt. These four quilts are an excellent example of his mother’s attention to detail and her help in guiding me through the process. She assigned every item to a particular quilt, chose the colors and the traditional design of the double wedding ring pattern, and gathered important mementos for each border.
The quilts shown below are traditional quilts which were customized with many items of significance to the family members:
Helping her Girls with the Loss of their Young Father
Cheryl lost her husband suddenly when he was only 40 years old. Her daughters Lizzie and Chloe were very close to their father and Cheryl wanted to do something positive to help her girls. She sent me a huge box of shirts of all kinds, but I discovered an equal number of light and dark shirts which cried out “log cabin quilts”. Except for agreeing to the log cabin quilt, Cheryl left the design of these quilts up to me. Below is the first quilt I made for the youngest daughter Lizzie:
Lizzie had chosen her dad’s red bandana from her quilt, which I used as the centerpiece for each block.
Chloe had chosen a blue bandana, which I used in her quilt. Chloe is a gifted figure skater, so I made a figure eight in the center of her quilt:
Trousers were used for the borders of all three quilts.
The last log cabin quilt was made for Cheryl:
Raising two daughters suddenly on her own, dealing with her own grief as well as theirs, Cheryl is an amazing woman struggling in a difficult situation. She wrote: “… I love when I look at my log cabin that I picture the shirts and I picture Eric in the shirts… The quilts are so great to have around – much better than a sad closet full of clothes. This was one of the nicest things I could have done for myself. I just can’t get over it.”
I also made three t-shirt throws for Cheryl and the girls, which I am displaying on the Bereavement T-Shirt page.
Another Log-Cabin Quilt – This One for Kelli
Log cabin patterns really lend themselves to bereavement quilts made from men’s shirts. I have made a number of them, and this one is one of my favorites. The poem in the middle is the beautiful “Letter from Heaven” which was one of her dad’s favorites.
Stretching a Few Clothes to Make Three Throws
Only once have I been asked to make bereavement quilts for the family of a loved one that was still alive but very sick. Emily’s adored father was dying but was heartened to know that his clothes were going to be made into quilts for his grandchildren. About six months after her father died, Emily was finally ready to release his clothes. This project shows several quilts can be made from just a few shirts. Having retired in Florida, Emily’s father lived a relaxed outdoor life spending time with his two grandchildren and he didn’t need a lot of clothes to do that.
Using shirts designated for her daughter Bella and adding the colors gray, pink and purple – the colors in Bella’s room, I made the following quilt, using a simple but elegant traditional pattern:
Her younger brother loved the color red, and most of the shirts I used in his quilt were shirts his Pa wore when they’d gone fishing. This traditional quilt uses the simplest of blocks – one block sliced in half forming two triangles. Simple, but the arrangement can be used for many interesting designs.
Seven year old Dewey recognized each shirt his Pa wore, since they often went fishing together.
The third quilt I made was for Emily’s mother. I used a basket pattern because the colors of the shirts were so cheerful. Her mother loved this quilt:
Six Quilts made from Mother’s Clothes for Daughter, Partner, Son and Kirby the Cat
Kirby the cat kept holding his spot on Shauna’s bereavement quilt made from her mother’s clothes (his owner). So she decided she needed to get Kirby a quilt of his own, made with the adored clothes.
Second Batch – Two Throws
A few years later I got a request for two more quilts from the remaining remnants of the mother’s gorgeous clothes. Below is the first throw I made, using the last of some of the items.
And I was able to find enough material to make a second throw for the son (see below):
The dark and light purple swatches were from material I bought to supplement the remnants of the mother’s clothes. And though the remaining remnants are getting whittled down, I think I have enough for one more throw!
A Simple Quilt for a Grieving Miner’s Wife
The quilt I made for Ginny illustrates how a simple quilt can also be a very beautiful and meaningful memorial, helping the heal the grief of a wife’s loss (Ginny’s mother-in-law). I showed as much as I could of these wonderful flannel shirts, buttons and pockets and all, plus the few t-shirts that were sent to me. It made for a cozy quilt, warming the body as well as the heart as it honored a man who spent the greater part of his life down in the mines. Ginny said, “Yess, it is beyond words. There wasn’t a dry eye when my mother in law opened it. Honestly, it is even more than I anticipated. Thank you again.”
Mother, Daughter, Granddaughter
Sarah sent me 54 shirts belonging to her father, whom she was very close to and missed very much. I first made the following simple quilt for her mother, who had chosen most of the shirts for her husband and I knew she would recognize each separate block of material:
For Sarah, I made a large quilt that was slightly smaller than a bed-sized quilt, but managed to use 50 of the 54 shirts. The poem that both mother and daughter loved was embroidered around the border of Sarah’s quilt.
Below is a detail of Sarah’s quilt, showing the embroidery and the quilting pattern:
Below is a picture of Charlotte on her quilt, with her mother’s quilt below it.
One reason Charlotte calls this quilt her “beautiful yellow quilt” is that the back is made out of yellow minky, soft and luscious.
A Mother’s Gift to her Kids
One of the first commissions I received was for a number of bereavement quilts for a young family who had lost their father. I ended up making five quilts for this family out of their fathers shirts – two each for Luke and Lisanna, ages 9 and 7 at the time.
Luke’s Quilt – I first made a bed-sized Contemporary Log Cabin Quilt below for Luke:
Lisanna’s Quilt – I made a Ribbon Quilt for Lisanna, using two different shirts for each color except the orange middle.
I was told that the kids loved their quilts. See below for a picture of how they felt when they got their quilts. I made both kids a smaller throw to have something more their own size.
Lori’s husband was very interested in math and especially fascinated by Fibonacci’s Golden Ratio. Following some of those ideas, I made this quilt for her. Actually it almost looks like a wedding cake, doesn’t it?
One Family – Three Quilts – A Collaborative Effort
A family lost their beloved husband/father at the age of 50. Using the husband’s clothes, I made the three quilts shown below. The mother’s queen-size quilt was made from eight shirts and two pairs of trousers and featured a unique design chosen by the mother. The outer border was fashioned from black dress jeans her husband was wearing on their first date. The mother chose the purple fabric used for contrast.
The second quilt was a queen-sized quilt for the daughter, which featured a beautiful butterfly design chosen by the teen-aged daughter, who also chose the color blue for her contrasting fabric. The outside blocks were made from an additional eight shirts/ Borders were fashioned from two pair of trousers.
In the third quilt, made for both mother and daughter to share, I chose the double wedding ring design and used three flannel shirts and a pair of his flannel pajamas. Forest green flannel was chosen by the client for the background.
The quilt shown above is a good example of a contemporary quilt, although I believe all quilts have their roots in the past. This beauty was the brainchild of my customer who wanted a quilt made for her mother using her mother’s father’s clothes. She wanted the buttons on his shirts to show in some blocks as well as some of the pockets and of course other memorabilia from her grandfather’s life as a pilot.
This contemporary quilt takes traditional blocks (Mariner’s Compass, Snail’s Trail) and combines them with family pictures, photos of Ben, memorabilia, logos from shirts, and family treasures such as bits of his baby blanket (at the top) and part of his christening outfit (center of quilt). Really, contemporary is simply bringing the past up to the present time.
Other Contemporary Quilts
Below are more quilts I would consider contemporary, even though they contain elements of the traditional quilt:
The two quilts below are bereavement quilts made for a son and daughter from their mother’s colorful blouses and jackets. I call these contemporary because Kaffe Fassett has taken traditional quilt patterns and made them contemporary by using unusual materials. The two quilts below use one of his most popular designs – the double diamond pattern.
Inner block is made from a thick wool sweater worn by her father. Pieces of his swimsuit is used in the corners.
Two quilts above are two of thirteen quilts made for a large extended family from the clothes of the mother of my customer Deonna. These demonstrate a more contemporary use of the traditional block. And these clothes were gorgeous, each one of them an inspiration.
Contemporary Chinese bereavement quilt made for son from his mother’s clothes
Pictorial Quilts – Each a Unique Design
Bluebell Woods of England
Jan was very specific about what she wanted when she brought me her mother’s clothes. She wanted something close to a photograph, nothing cartoon-like or abstract. Her mother had grown up in England near the famous Bluebell Woods and often spoke of walking among the bluebells and how beautiful and peaceful it was. The blue flowers gradually turn purple as the season progresses, which is a good thing, because most of the clothes were lavender and purple. I used a picture from the web for a template. Jan loved her quilt, which I made as a throw but which can obviously be used as a wall hanging.
I had the perfect clothes to work with, a white knit shirt with leafy dapples of brown which I used to simulate sunlight on one side of the trees, a light green knit shirt with lots of big white embroidered leaves, which became the canopy of branches above, and best of all the two knit shirts used in the background which so closely resemble an actual wooded background of bushes, plants, trees and sunlight.
Magic Carpet Quilt
Lisa said her husband took her all over the world, visiting Rome, London, Paris and other major cities as long as New York City. She said it was like flying on a magic carpet. I bordered the quilt with skylines for these four cities, using her husband’s clothes and ties.
Seascape – An Abstract Art Work
Chris sent me loads of his mother Barbara’s clothes – mostly pastel and simple cottons and knits. He wanted a quilt for his king-size bed but he wanted an abstract that wasn’t a picture in the usual sense of the word – something Monet-like, something with no discernible bottom or top, but with maybe a few organic shapes. A new and challenging project for me. Luckily the clothes were beautiful, with many blended colors of blue, as he decided on a sea scene.
A closeup of the quilt displayed on my sofa (Duncan sitting on the side). I did buy extra jean material for the outer border, as Chris has three sisters for which I needed to conserve material. The jellyfish and the adjoining school of tiny fish were made from parts of the dresses that Barbara wore to Chris’ wedding (and to his sister Missy’s wedding as well.) Fortunately, Chris was very pleased with his quilt.
Three Pictures in One Quilt
Chris’ sister Missy had three ideas in mind for her quilt. Her mother Barbara had been a very successful doctor in New Orleans, so she wanted the skyline of New Orleans incorporated into the quilt. But Barbara was a many faceted lady, who also studied ballet after med school and performed in New York City for a while. So Missy thought her mother dancing in the sky would be appropriate – as she had grown up in Texas and always marveled about how big the sky was there. While growing up in the hills of Texas she had owned a Palomino, which she had loved. Missy asked if it would be possible to include something about the horse – and then left the entire design up to me.
Having almost run of out of blue materials, I used my own (or bought) material to make a patchwork blue sky, along with the hills of Texas below. One of my favorite things to do is to make a skyline out of clothing (see Boston skyline on the Tie Quilt page).
Tree of Life
This quilt was made entirely from the jackets and pants of a world class chef. Katie fought cancer all her life but managed to do more her short life than most. Only in her thirties at the time of her death, she was working for Cirque du Soleil and was also a mother and an accomplished pianist. This quilt was for her mother, who chose the theme. Only the red for the cranes and the slim border were added materials. Not only did her mother choose the tree of life for the main feature, but she also wanted three red cranes flying across the moon. This quilt is a great example of collaboration between my customers and myself in creating the perfect quilt.
Bora Bora Quilt
Marge wanted a simple picture – a calm and restful scene of Bora Bora where she and her husband had spent their honeymoon only three years before her husband died and she wanted the quilt to be made only from the sleeves of the shirts and jackets, so that she would feel as if her husband’s arms were around her when wrapped in her quilt.
There was one exception to the “only shirt sleeves” request: the tie and handkerchief that Bill wore at the wedding were included. From them I made the Bora Bora hut shown in the detail above.
The Forest Quilt
The quilt above was one of two quilts made from a mother’s beautiful clothes and gifted to a daughter and a son from their father. Gloria loved the woods and she loved to dance. For the son, I made a view of the forest surrounding their home (with artistic license – there was no stream). Thirty items of clothing were used to make this quilt and I deliberately had the water flow right off the quilt. I copied Ruth B. McDowell’s method of paper piecing the background (read more under Appliqued Quilts in my Blog) and then appliqued extra details onto the finished patchwork.
The Dancing Lady Quilt
The quilt for the daughter embodied the dance theme. I chose the image of a dancing lady soaring in the sky with a setting sun in the background. As Gloria had to her family, this lady embodies the feeling of hope and spirit.
This quilt combines the traditional quilt (with a split 9×3 inch block) with the art quilt – in this case the lady dancing amongst the bluebirds. About twenty different items were used to make this quilt, many of them t-shirts or knits. Also, I changed the background from sunset to sunrise so that I could mirror the night sky in the deep of the sea.
Closeups of the quilt are shown below. To enlarge the pictures, doubleclick on any picture.
Picture Quilts for Three Daughters
Michelle’s father was a musician who adored his three daughters. They all have wonderful memories of being with him at the beaches along the Columbia river, depicted above as seen from a mythic window. As in a dream state, Michelle is seen going forth with the support of her father’s love (symbolically seen as he reaches down to hold her hand throughout her life).
Katherine’s quilt shows her father holding her hand when she was a toddler as they wade out into the shallows of the Columbia River. Their boat is moored close by. I copied the silhouette from a beautiful photograph that Katherine cherishes of the two of them.
Becca wanted a more abstract representation of water in her quilt along with a string of words that reminded her of her father and their closeness. My idea for this quilt was to view the sea as if one were looking out of a porthole. And I wanted to weave the words around the porthole, rather than to arrange them in the usual fastion along the border.
The quilt below is an example of my own design, revealed to the client upon completion. This was my first bereavement quilt.
The pictures below depict the progress of a pictorial quilt I made for a mother whose vibrant 35-year-old daughter was brutally murdered. This king-size quilt was made to be hung on the wall or used on a bed.
The slideshow below takes you through the design process: first studying the clothes to get a sense of the lady who wore them, next designing the quilt using a flannel-covered wall. I usually let the clothes guide the process. The construction phase follows, and after that the top is quilted on my longarm machine, a border is added and the finished quilt produced.
This quilt depicts the daughter lying against a brown tree trunk beside another black tree trunk and looking out over the city of Anchorage and the mountains of Alaska beyond. Her house is shown on the right. A picture of her mother and her, as a toddler, astride a family horse is set against of fan of her colorful skirts. At the bottom is the familiar poem, a favorite of the mother’s, which begins: “Do not stand on my grave and weep, I am not there, I do not sleep . . . .” The poem is embroidered on a yellow sleeveless dress, which was the dress her daughter was wearing the last time they met. Tires are made from buttons, lace and collars are used to make roads and walkways. Even the woodpecker’s markings come from an epaulet on a jacket.
Thirty-two illustrious red hearts against black backgrounds form the border symbolizes the daughter’s warmth, vitality, and love of animals and people. To enlarge the pictures, doubleclick on any picture.
To produce a pictorial quilt, it is necessary to learn about the loved one who wore the clothes. My client was generous with notes and pictures to guide me through the process.