Memorial Quilts: A Patchwork of Memories

Assembling a memory quilt is not only a creative outlet for the maker, as a gift it is the symbol of warmth, shelter and security. (Photo courtesy of SDRandCo)

Assembling a memory quilt is not only a creative outlet for the maker, as a gift it is the symbol of warmth, shelter and security. (Photo courtesy of SDRandCo)

A few years ago I was invited to be present at the hospital for a friend’s passing. As I sat with his family in the final hours a hospice nurse arrived with a beautiful handmade quilt. She explained to us that it was a gift made by volunteers to comfort those in transition. The nurse gently lay the blanket over my dying friend as his girlfriend lovingly slipped underneath to lay beside him. When he passed away it was one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful moments of my life, to have the honor of witnessing their deep devotion shared in one last embrace beneath the beautiful colors of love.

Quilts have been a traditional form of women’s artistic expression for hundred’s of years. They have also served a utilitarian purpose, giving warmth, comfort, security and in some cases shelter to those in need. They have been created as an expression of grief and they have also been given as a source of comfort to the bereaved.

The memorial quilt idea gained national attention in America during the AIDS crisis of  the 1980’s. The NAMES project invited grieving families to create a memorial panel for their loved ones beginning in 1987. As the losses grew so did the quilt which has 48,000 panels to date.

There are now many organizations that make and distribute quilts for a variety of causes. Quilts are given to families who have lost loved ones in war, for those grieving miscarried babies, for those who are mourning loved one’s that have taken their own lives. Project Linus, a national organization, accepts donations of handmade quilts as well as knitted blankets to be given to children recovering from illness, trauma or who are otherwise in need.

There is a current trend to have quilts made from the fabric of a loved one’s clothing as a memorial keepsake. Searching “memorial quilt” will bring up resources of quilters around the US who will provide this service for a fee.

The quilting tradition began as a utilitarian necessity but gradually gave voice to generations of women who had none. They poured their lives, histories, births and losses into beautifully assembled bits of fabric and thread. Their’s was a voice of sorrow, joy and love. That voice is still singing, calling us to remember and be comforted.

-Singing Luna 12/22/2013

For information on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt:

To see U.S.A.F. veteran Michele Hoffman’s Quilts of Honor:

To learn more about creating quilts to donate to children in need:

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