Creating a Memorial Quilt: The Inspiring Work of Lori Mason
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When we first saw Lori Mason’s memorial quilts, we were blown away. When we attempt to use a sewing machine, it typically ends in injury or nests of knotted thread jammed in the bobbin. It is hard for us to even wrap our heads around the skill and patience that go in to Lori’s quilts. But what is equally striking is that Lori’s quilts embody so much of what we talk about here on the blog: remembering loved ones, continuing bonds, and using creativity to express and cope with grief.
Lori takes meaningful fabric, from clothing or anything else of someone who died, and turns it in to breathtaking memorial quilts. From the moment we saw her quilts, we couldn’t wait to share them with you, along with her story. She graced us with an interview, so without further ado:
When did you first start quilting? Was anyone else in your family a quilter?
My mother knew how to sew but didn’t enjoy it, so I became the chief mender in the family… especially when it involved using the sewing machine. I made my first quilt in 1990, while I was in art school at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. The previous semester I had taken a surface design course, so I made my first quilt out of all of the fabric I had dyed and printed. I loved the process and haven’t stopped making quilts since then. No one else in my family was or is a quilter, but my mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother were all artists; they taught me a lot about how to work creatively.
Tell us what a memorial quilt is.
People have been making memorial quilts for generations, and I think people’s definitions would vary slightly depending on the kind of work they do. In the work that I create, a memorial quilt is a quilt made from the repurposed clothing of a deceased loved one. That’s the short answer. Going a little deeper, a memorial quilt both honors the life of someone who has died as well as offers those left behind a way to reconnect through a physical medium. For example, looking at a particular shirt fragment in the quilt can trigger a vivid memory of a shared experience with a lost loved one. Death and loss sever our real time connection with someone we love, but memorial quilts restructure that pathway to connection through a beautiful, tactile, intensely personal object.
Tell us about the first memorial quilt you ever made.
The first memorial quilt I ever made was for a close college friend whose father died while we were still in school. He was an L.A. attorney and, through a host of unfortunate circumstances, the only memento she was able to retrieve from her father’s home was a small collection of his neckties. At the time, I was newly enamored with quilting… So, when she asked me what she was supposed to do with a bag of her father’s ties, I offered to make them into a quilt. When I brought the finished quilt over to her house, I was struck by the power of her emotional response. In our conversations that followed, she expressed how comforting it was to be reminded of her dad every time she walked up her stairs past the quilt.
Have you ever made a quilt for someone you loved? What was it like to work on a quilt for someone you were close with?
Not long after I made the first memorial quilt for my friend, my grandmother died. I was very close to her and her death affected me quite deeply. After her memorial, the women in the family gathered together in her room to go through her closet: a collective ritual that so many of us go through after someone’s death. This is the same grandmother artist I mentioned earlier and she loved fashion and wasn’t afraid to wear all kinds of crazy stuff. So uncovering her closet full of treasures felt akin to opening up her personal diary. We found long, white leather gloves, girdles, dickies, lace, Pucci print dresses, fur stoles, and numerous pairs of unworn shoes from the 50s, still in their original boxes. As my memories of moments we shared together were triggered by the things I found in her closet, I began to set aside four garment groupings of what would become four different memorial quilts. Being able to work on this series of quilts, to handle materials that my granny had touched and worn herself, was a deeply grounding experience. My grief was transformed from what had felt like a desperate, clawing sensation to one of acceptance and even joy, surprisingly.
Why did you decide to offer this as a service to the public?
After completing my grandmother’s memorial quilts and the one I made for my friend, it was so clear to me how instrumental they were in healing and transforming grief. As I told people about these memorial quilts, I began to hear more and more stories about keepsakes from loved ones that they wished could be transformed into something new. Or they would confess with regret how they had given all of their mother’s dresses away. It became very clear to me very quickly that I had something to offer.
What is it like to work hands on with materials that are so special and symbolic to the client?
It’s a sincere honor to be entrusted with keepsakes that carry such an intimate connection to someone else. I know what it’s like to work hands-on with materials that meant a lot to me, so I work very hard to connect personally with all of my clients from the very beginning to establish a level of trust. In many cases, it’s long-distance, and I want people to feel comfortable when they ship off their materials. I experience the materials that clients send to me as a treasured loan: I’m handed a small window into someone else’s life that I get to rework into something new and beautiful. It’s a delight.
What’s the most interesting item you’ve ever included in a memorial quilt?
There have been many interesting stories attached to the clothing that has made its way into my quilts, usually they are associated with the garments that highlight a person’s interests or life experience. The one item that stands out for me is less about its story as it is about my response to it: It was the only item that I didn’t want to cut apart. The garment was a man’s Italian-made shirt that, in and of itself, was so beautifully made… Of course once it was in pieces, I featured it prominently in the quilt, giving it star status.
Are there any quilt “stories” that resonate with you more than others? Quickly tell us your favorite story.
This work is so personal, not just for my clients, but for me as well. So, honestly, each quilt story resonates with me in its own special way. I remember one client’s husband had been a hotel owner in Bermuda, and when he died, she sent me all of his dress shirts and ties. She explained to me that these were the clothes he wore each day as he greeted his guests, and he had been very intentional about selecting ties noteworthy enough to spark a conversation. They were amazing. I decided that, for every other block, I would pair a different shirt and tie together, sewing them into individual “conversations”. I named the quilt Richard’s Conversations. I would have loved to have chatted with him over a cup of coffee in Bermuda, wearing one of those ties.
Have you ever worked on a quilt that was difficult or particularly emotional for you?
Surprisingly, not, only because the nature of my role is about hope and healing. I believe in embracing the grief in others and recognizing their loss. That’s different than internalizing their loss and letting it affect the clarity and focus of my creative work.
Aesthetically speaking, do you have a favorite quilt?
I was particularly excited about Remembering Lewis because of the way I was able to use the color gradation from white to black between all fifteen shirts that make up the quilt. I love how the orange highlights from one shirt create a ball of energy in the quilt center. I think it’s an incredibly handsome quilt that captures the vivacious and dignified spirit of the man it honors.
About how long does it take you to make a memorial quilt?
It definitely depends on the size, but from the time I receive all of the materials and a quilt pattern is chosen, it’s roughly 12-16 weeks. After I finish piecing the quilt top and its back, they go to my professional long-arm quilter to be quilted. We have been working together for many years, and she has quilted virtually all of my memorial quilts with great care and respect.
What is the creative process between you and the client like?
The process is personal as well as creative. In the beginning, I like to get to know my client’s story: whom the quilt will be honoring and how they are related. My clients share a little bit about their loved ones’ lives and any particular memories that they hold dear. In the beginning, I simply listen. Each detail that a client shares affects how I approach the look of their quilt. We then discuss the design and function of the quilt: Will it be a wall hanging or a functional bed quilt, etc.? Once I have received their box of materials, and we finalize the design, I start the sewing process, which involves the careful, time-consuming deconstruction of each item. I send email updates on my progress as I assemble the quilt. Sometimes a border fabric has to be chosen after the main body of the quilt is completed, and I consult with clients at that juncture. So it’s really a give and take: Even when I’m working alone in the studio, I’m thinking about the stories my clients shared at the start of the process.
If someone were to make a memorial quilt for you, what would it be made of?
You mean when I die, what would I like my memorial quilt to be made out of? That’s a great question and gets to the heart of what I believe this work is all about. The answer is, it doesn’t matter what I would want. Whoever ends up going through my closet, presumably someone close to me, will have their own memories that serve as a gateway to what they might choose as their keepsakes. One of the four quilts that I made from my grandmother’s clothes combined her everyday blue jeans, button-down striped shirts, and a pair of well-worn gardening shorts. She certainly would not have chosen those items herself and would even have fought hard against including them, but it’s the quilt I treasure the most. Every time I look at it and see those gardening shorts, I can see her standing over her rose bush, pruning shears in hand, hairdo flying every whichway, inspecting her beautiful flowers. I look at the quilt, and she shows up, brightening my day.
If you haven’t already, go and check out lorimasondesign.com to learn more about her and her quilts!
We are hoping you have found some inspiration in Lori’s work. Leave a comment to let us (and Lori) know what you think! Or share with us your own creative endeavor to remember your loved one.
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25 Comments on "Creating a Memorial Quilt: The Inspiring Work of Lori Mason"Click here to leave a Comment
Pearline McMahon September 13, 2020 at 10:26 pm
Hello, I would like 5 quilts made. I lost my husband of 40 years suddenly on April 15, 2017. I would like to use his clothing for making each blanket. Please let me know if you can fulfill my request and please give me a price and timeline for completion if you can do this. I look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.
Litsa September 14, 2020 at 7:37 am
I have connected you on an email with Lori, who makes these lovely quilts!
Tina Serles June 6, 2020 at 10:20 am
I would like the have three twin sized quilts made from my father’s clothing. He passed away just recently. Would it be possible to also have his name, date of birth, and date he passed put on the back of each one? If not, I could have that done elsewhere.. anyway, could you please let me know how much it would be and what I need to do to have this completed.. thanks
Aileen Wyse May 15, 2020 at 12:34 pm
I am interested in your creating three quilts, to memorialize a wonderful women who sewed her own clothes and is sorely missed. Can you let me know what this would entail, in terms of cost?
I love your creative and caring work.
Thank you so much!
Dianne Goschnick May 13, 2020 at 1:17 am
Hi, just enquiring re making a memorial quilt for my daughter kate and a smaller replica one for my grandson j, just aged two. Sadly just recently my daughters fiance /Partner passed away suddenly and unexpectedly just six days before their dream wedding. Of course we are all devasted and now dealing with this tragic and sad event. I was hoping l could get someone to create a memory quilt which may be a comfort to them. I thoght the little boy could sleep with his as he is missing hid daddy teribly. Could you advise of sizes, cost, and added costs if able to include fabric photos, we could provide several chech and plain colourful shirts that Rick used to wear. Hoping you could help us with this special request. Warm regards Dianne
Marian Robinson September 24, 2019 at 9:01 am
I would like to have a quilt made to be composed clothing. Please respond to let me know what you need to get started on this project.
Thank you in advance for your response.
Kathleen Robbibaro August 17, 2019 at 10:33 am
I am looking for a king size memorial quilt. My husband passed away unexpectedly and I would like something made in honor of him using his shirts, ties, etc. Could you please give me a time frame, price and what fabrics I could use.
Debby Monte August 3, 2019 at 6:50 pm
My husband of almost 44 years died suddenly almost two years ago. He was a Harley Davidson biker and loved wearing his white t-shirts with Harley emblems on them. How do I get the materials to you and around how much would it cost for a large throw blanket? Please get back to me soon. Thank you, Debby
Kim O'Connor July 7, 2019 at 8:22 am
I would like to have a quilt made
Audreh June 22, 2019 at 6:02 pm
Do you still make quilts from loved ones shirts?
Paula Coleman June 17, 2019 at 8:59 am
I make tshirt and memory quilts also. I love what you do and your quilts are beautiful. It is amazing what can be made out of clothing, etc, and the memories are priceless! Excellent job!
Betty Baker April 4, 2019 at 3:31 pm
Wow, Lori’ s Quilts are gorgeous! I wish we could make quilts like that as well!
At T-Shirt Quilts of Texas, we make Memory/Memorial quilts from clothing from those that have passed. We also offer a free e-book about Memory quilts that you can download from our website. It is an information piece about what questions to ask your quilt maker, what items of clothing can be included, and so on.
Check it out at http://www.TShirtQuiltsTX.com
Chris Stall March 10, 2019 at 3:38 pm
My mother passed away 8 months ago. I am wanting someone to make a quilt out of her clothes. Possibly from 1 to 5 quilts, depending on the price.
Please let me know the procedures I would need to do, such as mailing the clothes to you, ect.
How much would I be lookong at per quilt. Maybe like a full size and the others like a lap quilt.
Thanks for your time.
Thanks Jared. Diane has really struggling with health isssues, December 12, 2018 at 7:26 pm
Jeannette November 30, 2018 at 3:11 pm
Please tell me how you prepare memorial quilts for loved ones and what clothing you work with.
MARVA WALTON October 14, 2018 at 8:16 pm
My dad passed away in August and I am looking for someone to make a quilt out of his neckties
maureen p gootee August 19, 2018 at 5:08 pm
I have a bag of T-Shirts, Golf Shirts and a few Hockey Jersey’s that belonged to my son who recently passed away. I would love a memory quilte made. Can you call me and let me know how I send you his shirts.
Patty January 9, 2017 at 12:15 pm
I want one….do I send u all the shirts.
Florence March 2, 2016 at 12:07 pm
I have tears in my eyes as I am watching Lori’s video on her creative process. I have lost my husband 7 months ago at age 41, and I have not been able to remove his clothes from our closet yet. I quilt, sew, craft, and creating two quilts out of his clothes is a painful but comforting process that I am ready to tackle. I love the idea that my two children (12 and 8) will be able to keep such a physical memory of their dad that will help them remembering him as they grow up. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Karen Broome July 2, 2015 at 10:40 pm
I’m interested in having 5 quilts made just alike. This is a memory quilt of my mom for my one brother, each of my three children and myself. All of the quilts alike. My only issue right now is until I go home in a few weeks will I know how many clothes I have to deal with. I told my dad my idea and he was supportive. However, I was trying to be sensitive to the time he was ready and he thought I couldn’t do it so he gave away how much I don’t know. I do know I have one dress! I may be making one something special for the center surrounded by whatever. My parents were always very involved, live on the beach, (walking, seashell looking, and being with her grandchildren) and love light colors and Florida Gators but most of all adored her family and had a beautiful smile.
I’ve looked and looked and felt drawn to your site. My mom passed away in January and I would love to give one last gift at Christmas from “gram gram”
Litsa July 4, 2015 at 9:22 am
Hi Karen – that is a beautiful idea. Even if you only have one dress left, one thing you can do is pick other fabric that reminds you of your mom and then just incorporate a small amount of the dress fabric in each quilt. Even a small amount of the fabric will still make it a meaningful gift, even if it isn’t what you originally imagined with more of her clothes. Please let us know how things go when you go home and, if you do have quilts made, please share photos with us of how they come out! We would love to see them!
Donna July 8, 2014 at 1:47 am
Absolutely beautiful and brilliant!! Your a truly amazing and gifted woman. I would love to have a quilt with pictures of my mother who was murdered, but I have no idea how to even begin or how to get an actual picture printed on quilt material. Have you ever made a quilt with pictures of a deceased loved one before?
Rip mommy I love you so much!!
Litsa July 8, 2014 at 11:24 am
Hi Donna, if you have a digital (or scanned) photo of your mom you can do this! At Michael’s Craft (and other similar stores) they have special paper and printers that print photos that can then be ironed on to fabric. You get one type of the paper if you will iron on dark fabric and a different if you will iron on light fabric. I am sure you could do this on whatever fabric you might want incorporated into a quilt.
Eleanor May 17, 2014 at 7:16 pm
Lucky you Karthyn! I would love to see her quilts up close.
Kathryn Hathaway May 13, 2014 at 10:28 am
Beautiful quilts and engaging interview with Lori Mason, a Portland artist who’s studio is one floor below mine. She is truly a wonderful person.