My Quilt Story: Susan Stewart

OUR WHOLE LIFE by Susan Stewart

I know anniversary quilts are not uncommon. But this one, as my Dad tearfully described, “is our whole life.”

I made this quilt for my parents’ 50th anniversary in 2002. At the time, I was a seamstress, not a quilter, but I wanted to make something special. A book called The Collectibles Quilt by Wendy Etzel, 1995, RCW, got me started with the idea of a photo transfer bookcase quilt, and I took off from there. I managed to get photos of five generations of family, and made enough fabric photo transfers to create 52 “framed” photos on the bookshelves, including my parents’ wedding picture and their wedding invitation.

The titles of some of the “books” are the names of my grandparents, my parents, my sister and me, and our children. Other “books” are titled with where we were born, significant events, and interests in our lives. As an added touch, I machine embroidered a Peace rose, which was my maternal grandmother’s favorite flower, and added a basket with a piece of crocheted work spilling out of it. This was made by my father’s aunt, who was born deaf, but did exquisite crochet work.


When they saw the quilt, they were both speechless and teary-eyed, and my father said, “This is my whole life!” Yes!




Editor’s note: Susan Stewart is an award-winning quilter and the author of  Heirloom Machine Sewing for Quilters. Wendy Etzel’s second book, The Collectibles Quilt II, is available from the author. Please contact Wendy at for more information.

Posted by Christine N. Brown, American Quilter magazine editor-in-chief


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Debbie Law

I think that’s one of the most beautiful quilts I’ve ever seen. I don’t know any of your family or you, but it brought tears to my eyes, the love it contains just fills you up!!
Great job…I know you are very proud of it and it will hold a special place in the heart of everyone in your family. Thank you for sharing it!

Paula Pardue

Beautiful; what a stunning tribute! You done good, kid!

Amy Beth

This is a perfect way to use photo transfers in a memory quilt. Your quilt is gorgeous and meaningful, and doesn’t that describe all the best quilts?

[…] (Susan Stewart via Quit Views) […]

Donna Babchuck

All I can say is “WOW”!

Lynn S

Susan, your quilt is amazing! I hope you do decide to create a pattern for this for others. I know I would be interested! I know each person’s story is different–but what a template! I showed it to my husband too–and all he could say was WoW!

Kathy Gordon

Your quilt took me to my living room 50 years ago and Mom’ shelf with all our family pictures. Thank you for bringing those memories back to me. Marvelous quilt.

Pamela N.

I love this. I was wondering, what dimensions did you make yours to get this many pictures on it? I found the book you mentioned to help. Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful gift.


What a fabulous idea…. Incredible !!!! Thanks for sharing


Can’t believe what I am looking at this is so beautiful,takes your breath away well done


I was stunned by the wonder and meaningfulness of this quilt. I was looking for fruit jar quilts and came across this one. My MIL will be 100 years old this summer. I think it is to ambitious for me to tackle something similar but it certainly makes me want to try. Thanks so much for sharing!!!!!

Linda Baird

How do you get your pictures to come out so colorful? Each time I have printed photos, I try a different brand of prepared material. I get faded colors. After all the work that goes into a quilt, to have poor quality photos makes me want to cry.

Susan Stewart

Linda, I made the quilt 12 years ago, so I can’t remember the brand of photo transfer fabric I used. Things to consider: Use a high thread count fabric for the photo transfer; set your printer for high resolution; make sure your color cartridge is full. If these don’t help, consider e-mailing or taking a flash drive with your photos to a print shop, along with the paper-backed transfer fabric, and having them do color prints. I have done this at a local print shop with very good results. Call first to see if they will do this. Also, you… Read more »

I love this quilt idea.Thanks for sharing!

OMG. My best friend sent me your link and I was gob smacked. I live in NSW so I have to say thank you to social media that I was able to see what you had done. I have made a quilt using a book case but had teddy bears. Have also used photos but what you have done is just so amazing aand truly a love for your parents. Thank you again jenny


I was wondering how you did this. Did you appliqué the photos on and then appliqué ribbon and trims around that. How did you do the vases and cloth? I am very interested in doing something like this. Thank you


Susan, Could you please tell me the dimensions of the shelves and background? I am working on something similar and am having some issues in sizing the books and photos and this actually looks like the size I am trying to obtain. Your help will be greatly appreciated. Thank you!


That is the most amazing, beautiful quilt I have ever seen! All my genealogy friends are going to flip over it!! Now to find someone to help make it…..


I am so inspired by your beautiful bookcase quilt. I am in the planning stages of making a bookcase quilt and have been looking at tons of them online for ideas and inspiration and yours is the best by far. Awesome job you did…..

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can I order one ???


beautiful quilt!! i love it. i want to know how to do those photo. iron?


Absolutely beautiful! I’ve made a couple photo quilts but your quilt took my breath away.


This is the most beautiful picture quilt I have ever seen. Wow.. How inspiring. And what a great gift.


So beautiful! Do you have a tutorial on this quilt?


susan have you made a patern for this fabuless quilt, i would luv to make it if you wouldnt mine
thanks in advance

Absolutely AMAZING!!! This is the BEST photo quilt I have ever seen.

Jean Marie

My mother-in-law recently lost her husband. My husband and I would like to make the bookshelf quilt for her. Do you have a pattern for the quilt? If so is there anyway we can get a copy of it. You are an extremely talented woman. I made my first and only quilt, so far, for my husband as a wedding gift. Yours will prove to be a great challenge but we are both wanting to take it on. Thank you.
Jean Marie


That’s utterly gorgeous. I love “…family photo collages…” & this one in fabric is unusual & simply beautiful.

Tonie Peterson

love the quilt … and good tips on photo transfer… will look into it some more … need to do a grad quilt and they may want some included… I have Wendy’s first book and love it as a reference for this type quilt! You are only limited by your imagination and I don’t see limits in yours, great job!

Virginia Hammett

Do you sell the pattern for this anniversary quilt?

Judy glover

This is really one of a kind priceless”


Beautiful. How large is this quilt?

Best example of a Family life in a quilt! Well done Susan

Kimberly Clark

That is gorgeous!! At first I did not realize I was looking at a quilt! I am speechless!!!


I love it. My son passed away 2 years ago and I would love to have his life pictured as you designed. Can I order one?


Please let me know if you have a pattern I could buy. I would love to make one for my children for our memories.


I don’t quilt and about the only thing I do with a sewing machine is cuss at it, but as a genealogist, I LOVE this.


My 8 year old daughter died suddenly. I would like to have a memory quilt like this made for her siblings. Do you have the pattern?

Kathy rudnicki

I’m interested in doing a memory quilt for my niece who recently died but not sure how to transfer pictures. What product did you use for this? Thanks for your help

Crystal Schagunn

Susan do you have a pattern for this?? It’s absolutely stunning!

What do you use to put pictures on?

Melanie Mimms

Hello Susan, I haven’t been quilting for long, and was looking for ideas for a memory quilt. I just lost my three uncles who raised me in a car accident. They were in their 80s and have been there for me from the start. I am hoping that I could a pattern from you? When I saw this, I knew that this was what I needed to do to help me along with other family members through this time. Could you please let me know if there is anyway I could get the pattern or something to help me start… Read more »

Hi Susan,
I love your quilt!!!!!! Do you sell the pattern? I would love to make one for my son for his wedding. Thank you in advance.


Fabulous quilt! Love all the thought you put into this.

Sharon McDermott

AMAZING! I can just imagine how a family member would feel looking at it! It’s captivating! I make a quilt each year for my husband’s family reunion. 2 years ago when I embroidered each person’s name on a square, there were 325 family members!!! I would love to make a photo quilt, but I’ll have to give this some serious consideration! Love it!!!


Wow this is stunning. Absolutely amazing tribute to family. How do you print photos onto fabric?

Hi Tracey, The fabric is Kelmscott. Here’s the link: Have a great day! Thanks, Betsey

Laurie Gormley

This is so beautiful. I just lost both of my parents on the same day. One from cancer and the other from a broken heart. This quilt looks like every room of their home. Every shelf and bookcase and cabinet top is covered in family photos. I want to make one like this. Thank you for sharing.

Sandy Corbin

What a precious keepsake you have! I may give this a try… least something like it. 😊