How To Make Photo Memory Quilts

From Photo Tips Through Quilt Assembly

When you make a photo memory quilt, you create a wonderful way to honor a graduate, remember a loved one, or commemorate a special occasion.  Learning how to make a photo memory quilt is really quite simple to make if you have some modest sewing skills.

To make the quilt: 

  1. Choose your photos.  You will get the best results if you use photos that have been uploaded to your computer from a digital camera.  However, if you have a high-quality scanner, you also can scan in photos from traditional cameras with good results.  Your photos should have a common theme, just as they would if you were putting together a collage.  If the quilt is for a graduate, you might include a picture of her from each year since birth.  A grandparent would love a quilt that included photos of each grandchild. If the quilt is for newlyweds, look for a wedding photo and other pictures of the happy couple together. If the quilt is to honor the memory of a loved one who has passed away, you might include photos of him, as well as use fabric from some of his shirts. You could even use photos of paintings if you wanted to make an art quilt.
  2. Upload the photos to your computer.  Using either a scanner or a digital camera connected with a USB cable, transfer the photos to a file on your computer.  Be sure to save the pictures in a file that is easy to find!
  3. Enhance and resize the photos if necessary.  There is a wide selection of photo editing software designed for this purpose.  Three good ones are Microsoft Photo Editor, Corel Photo Album and Paint Shop Pro.  You may want to enhance the color in your photos so that they will be more vivid when transferred to fabric.  You can also edit photo problems with tools that correct red-eye, crop pictures to eliminate excess background and even remove signs of damage, such as wrinkles or tears.  You will need to resize your photos so that they're all the same size when you print them onto your fabric.  Try to keep each photograph about the same resolution if possible, so that ones with lower-resolution don't look grainy when placed next to higher-resolution photos in your quilt.
  4. Print your photos onto fabric sheets.  Most craft stores sell fabric sheets on to which you can transfer photographs using your printer.  You will want a printer that is specifically designed for printing photos.  Follow the directions for your specific kind of fabric sheets when printing your pictures. Fabric printing is affordable and easy to do with the right printer.
  5. Trim your photos.  Using fabric shears, trim each fabric sheet so that all of your photos are centered and the same size.  For these directions, we'll use a six-inch square, so trim the fabric sheet to 6-1/2" x 6-1/2", which allows for a 1/4" seam allowance on each side.
  6. Cut squares of contrasting fabric.  You may simply sew one photo sheet to the next, but your quilt will look more orderly if you alternate photo squares with fabric squares.  You can use any fabrics that you like, but try to use ones which aren't too busy.  You want to frame your photos, not detract from them.  Each square of contrasting fabric should also be 6-1/2" x 6-1/2".  If you are using five photo sheets, you would want to cut four squares of contrasting fabric, then set them in three rows of three squares each.
  7. Assemble your quilt-top.  Using a 1/4" seam allowance, which is the distance from the needle to the presser foot on your sewing machine, sew the squares together.  In the first row, you would want a photo, then a fabric square, then another photo.  In the second row, you would sew together a fabric square, then a photo, then another fabric square.  The third row would be identical to the first.  Of course, if you have more photos to use, you can expand on these directions. 

    After you have sewn together the photo squares and fabric squares, cut two 18" strips of contrasting fabric which are 2-1/4" wide.  These will be your top and bottom borders.  Sew them to the top and bottom of your quilt top, again using a 1/4" seam allowance.  Next, cut two 13" strips of the same fabric which are 2-1/4" wide.  Stitch these to each side of your quilt-top.  This completes the top of your quilt.  If you want to make your quilt larger, you may add another border around the outside of the first one.

  8. Layer your quilt.  Iron your quilt-top carefully, then lay it right-side down on a large work surface.  Lay your batting on top of the quilt-top.  Batting is the material which will insulate your quilt and provide warmth.  If your quilt will be strictly a wall-hanging, you can just use a double layer of flannel as batting material, since warmth won't be an issue.  For hand- or machine-quilting, you'll want to use a lower-loft batting because it will be easier to stitch.  For tying a quilt, you can use a high-loft batting if you like, for that puffy, traditional look.  Once you've centered your batting over your quilt-top, lay your backing material on top of it, right-side up.  You should now have what's known as a "quilt sandwich."  Baste or pin the layers of your quilt together so that the batting doesn't shift as you finish your quilt.
  9. Finish your quilt.  There are two options for finishing your quilt.  You can quilt it, either by hand or by machine.  This means to stitch through all three layers of the quilt using a decorative pattern.  The other option is to tie it.  To tie a quilt, thread a yarn needle with a length of worsted-weight yarn.  Insert the thread into each corner of your photo squares and fabric squares on the top side of the quilt, then go through all three layers of the quilt, and back up to the top.  Tie the ends of the yarn in a square knot and trim them.  For the borders, space your ties at the same distance (every six inches) as you did for the photo squares.
  10. Bind your quilt.  Once you've either tied or quilted your photo memory quilt, you'll have a raw, unfinished edge along which all three quilt layers are exposed.  If necessary, trim the edges so that they are even.  To enclose them, create a binding strip two inches wide, and the same length as your quilt top plus one inch.  Fold the binding strip lengthwise to locate the center, then press it carefully.  Next, unfold the binding strip and fold the right long edge to the pressed line.  Repeat for the left long edge.  Press it again.  You should now have a strip which is slightly longer than one side of your quilt, and one inch wide, with no raw exposed edges.  Fold the binding strip over one edge of your quilt and stitch all along its length.  Repeat this process for each of the three remaining sides of your quilt.  When you reach the last corner, tuck the end of the binding under and stitch it to the beginning binding strip.

You should now have a finished photo memory quilt which will be cherished by a loved one for many years to come!


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