Been there, done that and got the T-Shirt

Photo by Charity Banks.

By Kristen Banks

In case you didn’t know, T-shirt quilts are a hot Christmas gift this year. I base this on the fact that not only me, but every other person I know who makes them, is booked up solid and has been for a couple of months now.

I love T-shirt quilts, not because they’re easy to make. Contrary to popular belief, they are not. I love them because they’re colorful, interesting, and are a great way to preserve your memories.

Most of us have bought a T-shirt as a souvenir from some place that we’ve visited at some time. We wear it for a year or maybe two, then retire it because it’s stained, too worn, or we’ve just got back from some new more exciting destination.

You don’t want to get rid of the old shirt, because of the nice memories associated with it. I mean that’s the whole reason you plopped down twenty plus dollars for something you would normally never ever wear, not even to that store we all like to go to at midnight while we’re making our stealthy milk and laundry detergent run in our yoga pants. But we will proudly display this chartreuse souvenir with jaunty slogan blazing to anyone and everyone we meet, until it’s time to retire it for the next bizarre beauty. Then, it goes into a box, trunk, or plastic container deep in the darkest corner or recesses of our closet, attic, or garage, not to see the light of day for 10 or 20 years or so.

On said day, in the future, as you’re reorganizing, cleaning out, or moving on you will unearth this long forgotten container. Like a nostalgia archeologist you’ll carefully, and cautiously, lift off the lid, check for spiders and begin the unearthing process. As each folded cotton travel treasure yawns and stirs from its paper, wood, or plastic resting place your memories begin to awake and come alive as well.

This one was from that vacation to Florida years ago, and was the first time you ever saw the ocean. You wore that shirt until it got too snug even to sleep in. That one was to commemorate your dream trip to New York City at Christmas time. You wore this shirt until it was absolutely thread bare, and couldn’t possibly part with it. Another was from that trip to Arkansas, the last time your whole family was able to take a trip together. What you wouldn’t give to go back there again.

Usually you’d take a nice thirty minute stroll down memory lane, wipe a few stray tears, and bury those memories back deep again in your closet and heart – not to reopen them for another 10 or 15 years, or until you simply need the space for something else. As agonizing as it might be, you finally toss them.

I had a lot of memories like that, which sadly were lost to time and space constraints. I first heard only about T-shirt quilts about 10 years ago. Now, I’m sure people had been making them for years before that, but they hadn’t quite hit the mainstream yet. What I wouldn’t give to have some of my old shirts back to love and enjoy in a new form.

What’s great about T-shirt quilts is that they take something precious that has outlived its usefulness, in its present form, and change it into something else that you can love and enjoy in a different way. With a T-shirt quilt you can snuggle up on the couch and watch your favorite movie, or display it proudly at the end of your bed.

And anytime you pass by your bedroom, there’s your reminder of the time you and your friends took that fun weekend trip down south. You searched the internet for weeks and found that awesome newly renovated motel with great reviews and an even better price. But when you got there it was a ghost town. The only people in the massive four building complex were the front clerk, your party, and a lone squirrel roaming around the lobby.

After a man came knocking on your door late at night asking if “Easy D” was still there, you were sure you’d stumbled into a modern day Texas style summer remake of “The Shining”. But when three charter buses full of feisty Quinceanera participants, plus guests, pulled in the next night the place really came alive. Your cousin had so much fun he even road a scooter into the motel pool. In the end, everyone had a pretty good time and after all nobody died. You’ll chuckle a little to yourself quietly as you flip the light switch off, and carry the basket full of the new memories you’ve just made to the laundry room.

A T-shirt quilt isn’t the only way to preserve memories, but it’s a good place to start. Even if you’re not quite ready to commit to making one, or to traveling down that long lost emotional road just yet, resist the urge to toss those old shirts. Hold onto those memories a little bit longer, and take it from someone who knows, some of the best roads are dusty, old, and best traveled often.

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