Spirit quilt for the family of John Curry III, killed in a home invasion

johnny’s quilt: XXL Heart

By Patricia Belyea

SEATTLE WA  Seven years ago today, university senior John Curry III (Johnny) was shot to death in his apartment, He was packing to go home for Christmas. As each holiday season arrives, the pain of losing Johnny to a violent crime has not lessened for his family.

Last May I was at Johnny’s family home in Upper Montclair NJ with his mother Grace. Sitting in Johnny’s childhood bedroom, frozen in time, we went through his clothing for a quilt commission. Grace and I discussed Johnny's life, as shirts, pants and shorts were piled on the floor.

Room of John Curry III, killed in a home invasion

As a toddler, Johnny wanted to play the viola, He started with a Suzuki 1/8 violin at the age of four, graduating to a viola once he grew older. Although Johnny was studying engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy NY, he dreamed of becoming a music teacher.

Johnny’s favorite colors were green, red, black and silver. A super neat kid, he choose mission-style furniture for his room. His classic bookcase was filled with dragons, gargoyles and bats—his favorite beasts.

Home of John Curry III, killed in a home invasion

Grace and I cleaned out Johnny’s closet of clothes he wore often—the ones filled with the most shared memories. All in all, we stuffed a mid-sized suitcase with a 50-pound wardrobe.

Clothes of John Curry III, killed in a home invasion

Two articles were tagged as most important for the quilt project — a red corduroy shirt and a white t-shirt that Johnny’s sister, Josie, had decorated for him.

Josie Curry with a t-shirt for a Spirit Quilt to be made with her brother's clothes

Once home, I trimmed off the seams, cuffs, pockets, waistbands and flies. I noticed all the labels in Johnny’s casual shirts were XXL. That’s when I determined the name of the quilt: XXL Heart for everyone’s go-to guy who was always helping others.

Clothing to be used in Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart, a quilt by Patricia Belyea

In September, I visited my mother in Ottawa for 11 days. (Mom has a sewing room with a Bernina and a design wall which I use while I’m there.) The only fabric I took with me was the clothing for Johnny’s quilt.

I wanted to include the letters XXL in the quilt top but the rest of the design was the result of getting involved with the upcycled fabric. I sewed together mini-compositions with lots of contrast between the pieces and trimmed them to 9" blocks.

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart in progress, a quilt by Patricia Belyea

I finished 32 blocks before I headed home. In my Seattle studio, I added solid-colored triangles to the edges—filling out the on-point quilt top. The backing was made from denim and green khaki jeans, and Johnny’s regular attire—shorts.

The quilt sandwich was pin basted and then machine stitched in the ditch. (The batting—Hobbs Cotton with Scrim Binding—can be stitched 10" apart. I used heavy-duty thread to ensure the quilt would survive LOTS of usage.)

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart, a quilt in progress by Patricia Belyea

A special piece of the Josie t-shirt was appliqued to the top. A facing finished the quilt. The quilt was shipped in time for Grace and Josie to receive today—an anniversary they now spend together.

Johnny Quilt: XXL Heart in progress, a quilt by Patricia Belyea

Quilt front:

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart, a quilt by Patricia Belyea

Quilt back:

Back of Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart, a quilt by Patricia Belyea
Label for Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart, a quilt by Patricia Belyea

Last week I called Grace to tell her the quilt was on its way. Then I asked what she wanted me to do with the leftover fabric. "Burn it," Grace answered, “I don’t want it put out with the garbage.”

On Saturday morning, in a drizzle at dawn, I drove down to Shilshole Beach. I got a fire started in a picnic BBQ and fed the pieces of clothing into the blaze. Two hours later the kindling and clothing remnants were only embers.

I stopped at Caffe Fiori in Ballard on my way home. The beautiful art on my welcome latte reminded me of the flames. Contemplating the saying, ashes to ashes, I thought of dear Johnny.

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

Johnny was a gentle giant. HIs love of music, his cleverness at making things, his generous spirit are all missed—EVERY DAY. I hope Johnny’s quilt makes a difference and helps to heal the loss.

POST SCRIPT Here’s an excerpt from a thank you from Grace, after she and Josie received the quilt:

Josephine and I were glad, and a little scared, to open the box but we knew it would provide us with a special moment.

We waited. This year marked seven years of missing Johnny. Joe and I typically have spent the day quietly together, we like to be outdoors where we can quietly and respectfully remember beloved son and brother.

We opened the box, marveled at the detail, walked through every memory and cried when we wrapped ourselves in your quilt.

We appreciated, each layer, each turn, your creativity and expert skill, but mostly the love that you put into this quilt. We are happy that those sturdy denim cargo pants and shorts, that he loved wearing loose, back the quilt.

The tragedy of his loss is so enormous that any small thing that keeps him close is a comfort. The quilt is a BIG THING.

Friendship, family, memories, the stuff of life, connect us—for Josephine and me they are invisible threads that bind us to each other, anchors that keep us afloat in a terrible storm.

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  • Patricia Belyea
    Thank you Ray for reading this story and recognizing its importance for the family. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Renae—It was impossible not to be respectful working on such an important project. Thanks for reading and appreciating. PB

  • Renae Matson
    You love and respect for this quilt were sooooo touching ….I loved it!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Ann—Thanks. Yes, Grace and Josie are very happy to “have Johnny back.” PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Meriul—This is what I did with Johnny’s clothes. I know many others have also made incredible memory quilts with the clothing of lost ones. They are all great stories of creativity that touch the hearts of others. Thanks, PB

  • Meriul E.
    Quilts can warm the body and also the soul. What a beautiful way to keep a loved one close, both physically and emotionally. Thanks for sharing this quilt’s journey.

  • Ann Darling
    Sad story turned to something beautiful Patricia … I imagine the family were delighted.

  • Barbara Hanaburgh
    The story of Johnny’s quilt was so touching, you did an amazing job making that memorial quilt!

  • Patricia Belyea
    Cinzia—Comfort, warmth and caring. You are so right. PB

  • Cinzia
    The true essence of a quilt.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Thanks Peg. I had an open-ended deadline but I was pleased to be finished in time for the holidays. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Ray—Thank you. PB

  • Ray Burke
    What a beautiful love filled sentiment. Truly angelic. God bless you.

  • Peg Swartzman
    Well done Patricia. What a gift for a huge hole in a families life. Such a hard time and a beautiful gesture. Peg

  • Patricia Belyea
    Thanks Ann. It was an honor and pleasure to make. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Patty—Thanks. Grace sent me a photo today of Josie fast asleep under the quilt. It brought chills up my back and tears at the same time. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Thanks Linda. This is a true example of when a quilt is more than a quilt. PB

  • Patricia Belyea
    Karen—Go onto my Facebook page (Patricia.Belyea.14). It’s there and you can share it.

  • karen b.
    What a heart rending story, so beautiful and so sad. The quilt is gorgeous. I only wish I could put this on my facebook page for all my friend/quilters to see. Is there a way to do this?

  • Ann
    A wonderful story of a creation for a memory of a wonderful person

  • Patricia Espinosa
    Patricia this was such a beautiful story and a blessed gift in Johnny’s memory. Such a beautiful rememberance. Brought tears to my eyes.

    Take care and have a blessed holiday season.


  • Linda Petersensmith
    Namaste. A beautiful visual reminder of a life well lived.

  • Linda Swanekamp
    I can’t imagine how difficult this was for you. You did a tremendous job. It is so beautiful. As a quilter who makes a lot of comfort quilts, this makes a big impression on me. I want my quilts to serve others. I pray that his mother and sister are comforted by such a meaningful and lovely quilt.

  • Patricia Belyea
    Kae—It was a tough project at times. The clothing seemed to be telling me things when I cut it up. And, although everything was laundered, there was still an aura of Johnny when I pressed the fabrics. PB

  • Kae Eagling
    Beautiful Patricia, gave me tears, but good ones! Kae

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