The History of the Quilt and the
Introduction of Kamloops’ own Memory Quilt Company.

In the era between 1750 to 1850, quilts were originally made from scrap material and used clothing. Nothing went to waste. Quilts were hand sewn for a purely functional purpose – a blanket. Sewing machines were introduced into the general population around 1853.

As a nation’s wealth increased and the industrial revolution was introduced, store bought blankets began replacing quilts. The depression era of the 1930’s saw a resurgence in quilting. More complex designs had become popular, as materials had changed significantly since the century before.

After World War II, quilting once again took a back seat. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that the cycle turned full circle again. By the 1990’s, quilting had become a very popular hobby. T-shirt quilts appear to have surfaced in the USA, somewhere in the mid 80’s – early 90’s. This was due greatly to the fact that prices on T-shirts had dropped significantly, and event organizers of all kinds had started giving out T-shirts as part of an entry fee. In eastern Canada, T-shirt quilts have been available on the commercial level for at least four years.

At the time I came up with the idea of starting a business centered around memory quilting, I had no idea other companies were manufacturing T-shirt quilts. As a hobby quilter for fifteen years, and a former marathon runner, I just knew that friends of mine had collected dozens of event shirts over the years, and a lot of the shirts were not being worn anymore (some of them never fit to begin with). I also knew my friends could not part with their race shirts. The memories and the journeys represented by the designs were just too great to give away.

I will never forget the day I walked into Runners Sole in Kamloops, BC, and I saw my first actual memory quilt. Something made me look up. And on the ceiling, there it was in all its glory! I suppose the impact left me breathless. Someone had spent many, many hours cutting shirts and creating a design that was a visual representation of someone’s life.

Then there was the day I watched a news broadcast on a quilt made in honour of someone who died after a long battle with cancer. As a quilter, I was quite familiar with my local guild making quilts for someone going through a difficult life situation; but this quilt was made from the honouree’s old T-shirt collection! My heart skipped a beat that day.

Now, a quilt is not a blanket. A quilt is comprised of three layers: a quilt top (the design), a middle layer of batting, and a quilt backing fabric. All of these layers are finished with a binding along the outside edge. The layers are stitched together by various methods. Depending on the content of the batting material, the stitching or “quilting” on the quilt, needs to be 4” – 8” apart. The stitching ensures the batting does not break down in the wash, and over time. A quilt has been referred to as a “cloth sandwich”. Its name is derived from a Latin term, meaning “stuffed sack”.

I struggled with a number of challenges with the T-shirt quilt. My family and friends (and former coworkers) would tell you I am a perfectionist. I think the colloquial term these days is “OCD”. I knew that if I was to manufacture and design memory quilts, then they needed to be extraordinary. After all, they had to emulate all of the memories they represented!

The traditional memory quilt patterns were made with all of the same size blocks, and designs on T-shirts came in all sizes. As an artist, the overall visual impact left something to be desired with this method. I was also very concerned about working with the abundance of technical (stretchy) fabrics that have become so popular over the years. Quilters use cotton fabrics for a very good reason!

Over a six month period, several design methods were researched. Every quilter I interviewed said that interfacing or stabilizer would need to be used on the technical fabrics. This was something I wanted to avoid, as adding stiffener to a quilt somehow did not leave me with a soft, warm, fuzzy feeling. Remember, I said I wanted the “extraordinary”.

I struggled with how to make the quilt at least somewhat affordable. As quilting is traditionally a “labour of love”. Circles of hobby quilters everywhere make quilts for family, friends, and charitable organizations. Hours and hours, and days upon days, even weeks, are put into the finished product.

January – April 2017

A significant investment was made in an APQS Millie professional long arm quilting machine. This state of the art equipment will boost productivity, and provide a commercial quality stitch throughout the quilting process. (Good thing my husband understood that no matter what the cost, you have to have the proper tools to do the job right!)

And finally, I just got down to sewing, and after several attempts at each step along the way, I finally managed it. I have refined a method where a block is cut according to the size of the T-shirt design. This gives the pattern a “jigsaw” look and allows me to balance colour throughout the quilt. I even mastered the art of sewing those technical fabrics without the use of a stabilizer!

My first memory quilt was designed and created for my sister: a runner, triathlete, and swim coach. It utilized 21 items of clothing. I used a “minky” backing fabric, and decided that even though all of the other companies were charging extra for the soft, fuzzy back, I was going to include it as the norm.

“Extraordinary”, remember!

Marnie Freeman