I lost a good friend about two months ago. We met 35 years ago in Italy and remained friends ever since. By happy coincidence my teaching jobs occasionally took me places near where Mark lived and we got a chance to catch up on each other’s lives more often than we could have otherwise.
I couldn’t make it to Mark’s funeral and his Memorial Service was this past Saturday on the other side of the country. So I sent a quilt.
I had asked Mark’s mom if I could have some of his shirts. Six boxes arrived, thanks to one of Mark’s friends! The T-shirts will have to wait for another time, but I took apart the others and cut out the pockets from each one. Working without a pattern, I sewed them together in strips, appliquing the plackets over some seams, and also using them to bridge gaps needed to grow rows when they were too short. (Hint: 1/4″ Steam-A-Seam tape is great for this. Fuse it to the back of the placket, then to the patches and top stitch.)
I wanted to use the pockets for visual interest and because pockets are positive. They hold things that are important. Even empty, they hold promise that something important will come along. In this case, I hope they will hold memories for Mark’s family.
I stitched the rows together and appliqued more plackets over top. The plackets were really an excuse to use the buttons. I wanted to touch the buttons Mark touched. They also offered closure, both literally and figuratively.
I cut the left and right plackets off each shirt and buttoned them together so I could be sure to sew the buttons back onto the appropriate buttonholes later. (Again, buttons on buttonholes are more interesting than just buttons. Blue painters’ tape kept the button in position until I sewed it on the quilt top.
If the thread used to sew on the button originally was anything other than white, I wrote the color thread to use on the tape.
The tape helped me reposition the bottom and hold it in place while I sewed. Took me quite a few buttons to figure out a system as I was using a #20 applique foot, probably not made for sewing on buttons. Bernina makes a foot for sewing buttons on, and I know I have one; I just couldn’t find it!
After more than 180 buttons, I got pretty good at it.
I set the stitch to zigzag, dropped the feed dogs, lined up the button holes as best I could and manually guided the needle down the first hole by rotating the handwheel. A Bernina “heel tap” brought the needle back up again and I repeated the alignment process for the second hole (Sometimes the stitch width needed adjusting; not all buttons are the same size.) If I made it in and out of the two holes without incident, I hit the gas. I never did break a needle.
Then I peeled off the tape, rotated the quilt top the other way and zigzagged some more. At the end of the process, I threaded the top tails into a magic needle, drew them to the back and tied all four threads into a big knot, and clipped the tails. They would be hidden inside the quilt. Except for the buttons I forgot. Those were sewn after the quilt was quilted.
I used shirt backs for the backing and rented time on a long arm machine, making up the quilting as I went along.
I made a tissue holder for each pocket, also out of parts of Mark’s shirts. The quilt was displayed at the Memorial Service. People attending were invited to take a tissue holder made from Mark’s shirts with them. If they chose they could write a memory of Mark on a piece of paper and put it in one of the pockets on the quilt and I understand they did just that. Here’s a “free pattern” for the tissue holders. Notice the quotation marks.
I have ideas for more quilts from Mark’s shirts; I have a lot of leftovers! Some will be wilder than this one, but I have a few traditional quilts in mind too.
It has been a great honor to make this quilt for Mark’s family. I hope the pieces bring them peace.