Wednesday, November 9, 2016

I May Have A Scrap Problem... Photo Memory Quilt Tutorial!

Hi, all!

As promised, in this post I will be sharing how I designed and made this photo memory quilt for my granddaughter...

I'll be relying on a little help from my friends, too, as you'll see as we proceed.  This quilt is very very scrappy - all of the blocks were created out of my scrap bins - which makes it a super scrap buster!  Let's get down to it!

First of all, let me share the photo that started it all.  I found this picture on Pinterest and loved the way it all worked together - but still hadn't figured out the secret to this type of quilt.  Then someone told me a tip for making a t-shirt quilt using various sizes, and the lightbulb went off!

Here's the skinny on the design of the quilt.  I call this a puzzle top - the pieces are different sizes and fit together in a random fashion.  That's not only hard to sew, it's hard to get down on paper!  But my friend Lisa over at Shiner's View did an amazing tutorial on how to design a quilt in Excel. I use a Mac, and found that her directions translated well to its corresponding program, Numbers.  So I'll let you refer to her tutorial for how to draw out your own if you want a different size or layout.

Here's what makes this quilt work.  There are three different sizes of blocks in this quilt - small, medium, and large.  The sizes are important!  The smallest block in my version finishes at 4.5" square.  The medium block finishes at twice that width - 9" square.  The large block finishes at three times that width - 13.5" square. That means that four small blocks sewn together in a four-patch will equal the size of the medium block, and nine small blocks sewn together in a nine-patch will equal the size of a large block.  Because the blocks are related in size, it's relatively easy to fit them together, using the small blocks to fill in the gaps between the larger ones.  You can change the size of the quilt by changing the size of the block, if you remember to keep the ratios the same!

Printing with Photo Fabric

Many of you told me that you have had less-than-stellar results printing photos for quilts.  I remember a gift my daughter made for me long ago, with photos ironed on - it was so stiff and non-cuddly, because of the way the photos were created.  Fortunately, technology has worked in our favor this time, and you can get much better results at home, relatively inexpensively, and the resulting product holds up well!  

I use a product called Crafter's Images in 100% cotton poplin from Blumenthal Lansing.  It's available in letter-sized sheets and rolls of 8.5" x 100", both at Joann's and at Amazon.  I like to use the rolls, because I can cut shorter pieces if that's all I need, and there is less waste.  This product, paired with an inkjet printer and your computer, can give you beautiful photos on fabric that feels and acts like quilting cotton in your quilts.

I recommend using the highest resolution photos you can, and using your computer's photo editing capabilities as much as possible. I'm not familiar with PC options, but my Mac has editing programs both in Photos and in Preview that allow me to make photos brighter, sharper, change the cast, tone, and saturation of color, take out red-eye or small blemishes, and even to remove power lines and other undesirable things from my pictures!  This is also where you can crop them to a square shape.  If you haven't explored these options on your computer, I suggest you play around with it a bit - it's really pretty amazing what you can do with your digital pictures!

I have a relatively inexpensive HP inkjet printer, and have had very good results.  I don't wash my photos after printing them, I simply let them dry (just a few minutes), trim them to size, peel them off the paper, and sew!  They wash well in the quilt, too - I've not noticed an excess of dye on my color-catchers, or any fading.

For this quilt, you will want to size your photos to slightly over 4.5" square for printing, and allow enough room around them to cut a 5" square.  By making the photo slightly larger than the finished size, you avoid having a white line around your photo after sewing.

FYI, I used my Mac's word processing program, Pages, to gather and print my photos.  I would assume you could do the same thing in Word on a PC.  I simply inserted the photos, clicked on them and dragged them to the size I wanted them to print out.  Once I have all the photos ready for printing, I print a paper copy.  This is an important step - it will allow you to check to see if your photos look good - clear enough, sharp enough, good color - before you print them on the expensive photo fabric!  

OK, I think that's all the basics.  Let's get down to the tutorial!

Finished quilt size:  67" square

Composed of:

84 small blocks measuring 5" unfinished, 4.5" finished

Each small block requires two 2" x 5" pieces and two 2" x 2" pieces from the same fabric, and one 2" x 2" piece in a contrasting fabric for the center.

10 medium blocks measuring 9.5" unfinished, 9" finished

Each medium block requires one 5" photo block for the center (or a 5" square in a contrasting fabric), and two 2.75" x 5" pieces and two 2.75" x 9.5" pieces cut from the same fabric for the outer frame.

5 large blocks measuring 14" unfinished, 13.5" finished

Each large block requires one 5" photo block for the center (or a 5" square in a contrasting fabric), two 2.75" x 5" pieces and two 2.75" x 9.5" pieces cut from one fabric for the inner frame, and two 2.75" x 9.5" pieces and two 2.75" x 14" pieces cut from a different fabric for the outer frame.

Make a test block of the small block to be sure your seam allowance yields you the proper size block (5" unfinished).  Once you have discovered the perfect seam allowance for your block (I'm channeling my yoga instructor here...) use it for all the blocks to ensure the puzzle fits together easily!

This is the small block. As you can see, it's really very simple to construct.  Sew a 2" square of the outer ring color to opposite sides of the center 2" square.  Press the seams out.  Sew the longer strips to the top and bottom of the center strip.  Press the seams out.  Make 84 of these.

This is the medium block - please just imagine a photo in the middle!  Same basic construction - the two shorter strips on the right and left of the photo, and the two longer strips on the top and bottom.  Make 10 of these.

And here is the large block (once again, imagine a photo in the center.)  Make the center frame just as you did above - the two shorter strips on the right and left of the photo, and the two longer strips on the top and bottom.  Then take your fabrics for the outer frame, and place the shorter strips on the right and left of the block and the longer strips on the top and bottom.  Make 5 of these blocks.

Now lay your blocks out on a design wall or floor and arrange the small units until you are pleased with the color flow.  You may want to take a photograph of it at this point so you can recreate it if, for example, it blows off the design wall or your dog or child comes tearing through your "design floor"!  

This picture is to give you an idea of how I constructed this top.  I put the sections outlined in black together first.  These "block units" are all rectangular in shape, leaving the center which defies being constrained that way.  At this point, you will need to use a technique called "partial seaming" to assemble the top.  Lorna over at Sew Fresh Quilts did a great little photo tutorial  that can help you master this technique if you've never done it before.  

Start assembling your block units together, using partial seams where necessary.  Relax - it gets easier as you get more practiced at it! Once your center is finished, cut your border pieces.  Mine are cut at 5" wide.  For a border that wide, you will need enough fabric to cut six 5" WOF strips (a yard will give you more than enough.)  Measure your quilt top across the center vertically, then cut your side border pieces to that measurement.  Pin them to the sides, easing or stretching to make them fit (it shouldn't need a lot of easing or stretching.)  After they are sewn on, measure your quilt top across the center horizontally and cut the top and bottom border pieces to that measurement.  Sew them to the quilt top in the same manner.

FYI, making your borders in this manner (measuring across the center of the quilt) will help keep it from "waving" in the breeze - you know, those borders that are larger on the outside than the inside?  It helps square up the quilt by forcing the edges to be the same size on both sides of the quilt.

Hooray!  Your quilt top is done!  How does your scrap bucket look now?


I don't have a PDF version of this tutorial ready yet - I've been scrambling to get this post done and just flat ran out of time - but when it is available I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, pin this or bookmark it, or you can always find it by clicking on the "tutorials" tag in my right sidebar and scrolling down through the list of posts!

Oh look - - - - I think he wants a quilt of his own!!  LOL!




  1. This is wonderful, and your tutorial makes so much sense with those block sizes. What a treasure, always.

  2. sounds great, I have never used it but this product might be the answer I am looking for making labels.

  3. The partial seaming allows the blocks to be arranged more randomly. But using the three sizes that work together can be laid out to sew in rows for that that are still intimidated by partial seams.
    But I say, learn the partial seam technique - it is easy once you try it.

  4. Great tutorial and what a fun quilt. I've never tried photographs on fabric, glad to know you found something that works well! I may add this to my list, but make it without photos. Hmm. Thanks for sharing! Wendy at

  5. The quilt is wonderful! It's fit for a princess. Thank you for sharing the tutorial.

  6. Thanks for the great tutorial, Sarah. Only wish I still had my injet printer now!

  7. Sarah, this is fantastic! I'll look for that photo printing material.

  8. Awesome, thank you so much!! Yours turned out so beautifully I will have to give it a shot!

  9. This is such a fun quilt. Thanks for sharing your methods.

  10. Wonderful--I'm sure your granddaughter will love this! Thanks for sharing your method!

  11. I just adore this quilt. You have such a talent for creating lovely pieces.

    Fabrics near me

  12. Thank you for taking the time to write up such a clear tutorial!

  13. Great tutorial. I have been wanting to make a memory quilt for some time now. Maybe that'll get done soon.


Comments make me smile!! If you want a PDF of a pattern, PLEASE leave your email address in your comment, or email me directly at salliesue57 (at) gmail (dot) com!