johnny’s quilt: XXL Heart :: Okan Arts
johnny’s quilt: XXL Heart

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.

Johhny Quilt: XXL Heart

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.

Johhny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

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.

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

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.

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

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.

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

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

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 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

Quilt front:

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

Quilt back:

Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart


Johnny’s Quilt: XXL Heart

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.

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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58 comments to “johnny’s quilt: XXL Heart”

  1. Kae Eagling says:

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

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      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

  2. Linda Swanekamp says:

    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.

  3. Linda Petersensmith says:

    Namaste. A beautiful visual reminder of a life well lived.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Linda—I just saw your comment. Thank you. It is a powerful reminder of Johnny that is well appreciated. Best, PB

  4. Patricia Espinosa says:

    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.


    • Patricia Belyea says:

      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

  5. Ann says:

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

  6. karen b. says:

    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?

  7. Peg Swartzman says:

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

  8. Ray Burke says:

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

  9. Cinzia says:

    The true essence of a quilt.

  10. Barbara Hanaburgh says:

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

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Barbara—This quilt was the most important project I produced in 2015. So I was very mindful, every step of the way, to give it my best. Thank you, PB

  11. Meriul E. says:

    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.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      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

  12. Ann Darling says:

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

  13. Renae Matson says:

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

    • Patricia Belyea says:

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

  14. Seattle-based quilt artist Patricia Belyea was commissioned by the parents of a young man who was murdered a few years ago to make a memory quilt out of his clothes. She wrote movingly about visiting his old room, sorting through his clothes with his mother, and designing a beautiful, one-of-a-kind work of art she named XXL Heart to honor his memory in time for the 7th anniversary of his death. She ends her blog post by describing how she dealt with the scraps at the request of the young man’s mother in a way that offered symbolic closure on an emotional project.

  15. Kay says:

    A very touching story and heart-warming gesture on your behalf Patricia. When reading the story and viewing the photos I was curious as to the final look of the quilt, thinking that given the range of neutral colours there would not be a lot to work with. Boy was I wrong! This all going through my head before realising you’re a quilt artist. It goes to show there is colour in everything. The quilt is magnificent and I was blown away. A joyous new year to you.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Kay—I was very thankful for the white t-shirt designed by Josie and the turquoise t-shirt. They added the contrast that was needed with the browns, grays, blacks and burgundies. Thanks for your kind comments. PB

  16. Megan Williams says:

    Beautiful…the quilt, the story and you. Thank you so much for sharing.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Megan—Thanks for reading. It was an important quilt project for me in 2015 and hopefully inspires others. Best, PB

  17. Cindy Whiting says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, it is beautiful, and I agree there is no better way to honour those we lose. I am at the cutting stage of a similar quilt for a close friend who passed last year. I look forward to giving this to his partner of many years.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Cindy—You will find every step of the way on your project that the clothing becomes more than cloth. Your friends, one gone and one remaining, will both appreciate your quilt. PB

  18. Marilyn says:

    What a beautiful story and a beautiful quilt.

  19. Gail Mc says:

    I was so impressed with you, your process and your work when you were the program speaker at our guild in Longview. How wonderful that these two women found you to hand over their son’s/brother’s clothing and what an amazing piece you made for them.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Gail—I had a false start when I began on this quilt that swept me in a useless direction for a few days. Sometimes that’s what it takes to eliminate the bad ideas before I can get to something worthwhile. I gave myself ten full days to work through my ideas—which is pretty extravagant, I know. I hope you have lots of time this year to enjoy the process of quilt making. PB

  20. Sunny says:

    I, too, lost a son 12 years ago now. I kept many of his shirts and pants for many years, especially the shirts I had taken the pockets off and embroidered a dragon, a wizard, a knight or some such design on. I never could get myself to make a quilt out of them and eventually gave them to a thrift store. This story reminded me so much of the grief I still feel for my son Patrick.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Sunny—Losing a son or daughter before their time is something we always feel. I lost a newborn baby 35 years ago and my dear daughters (27 and 25) consider this little girl their sister. It’s important to remember. PB

  21. Nancy R says:

    Oh wow, this is an amazing quilt Patricia! But then I read the story and with tears in my eyes, I’m moved beyond words. Such a blessing your talent to create this for Johnny’s family.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Nancy—Thank you. If you are a quilter, you can do the same thing. Everyone appreciates a quilt made with memorable clothing. PB

  22. Carla DiPietro says:

    Thank you for sharing this wonderful story. Even though I will never know Grace and her daughter, we are all connected. It’s good to know that a quilt will help this family heal. You are an amazing person!

  23. Marsha Burdick says:

    Very moving article with good photos. I have made many such memory quilts and they are always so appreciated, even though they are for people who died more naturally. I like your more innovative design. What was the finished size?

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Marsha—How wonderful that you also make memory quilts. The final size of this very heavy lap quilt is 60″ x 52″. PB

  24. Carolyn Burton says:

    Such a touching story Patricia, and a true work of art.Carolyn

  25. Patricia, what an amazing story and a sacred undertaking. Thank you for sharing this beautiful young man’s story, and the sequel of his mom and sister.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Carolyn—Thank you for reading the post about Johnny’s Quilt. Sacred is a great word for describing the undertaking. So true. PB

  26. Marcia M says:

    Dear Patricia, You did a great job with taking the stack of clothing and creating an artful tribute.

  27. Judy Brack says:

    Love is indeed captured in the memories of his clothes and the time and caring you gave in sewing his memories together. Be proud you cared enough to take the time to provide a legacy of love to his mom and sister.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Judy—Great to hear from you! The project did take time and could not be rushed. There were many details included that Grace and Josie recognized that meant a lot to them. Thank you, P.

  28. april zemke says:

    What a beautiful memory quilt you created for your friend. It will be treasured forever.

  29. […] Seattle-based quilt artist Patricia Belyea was commissioned by the parents of a young man who was murdered a few years ago to make a memory quilt out of his clothes. She wrote movingly about visiting his old room, sorting through his clothes with his mother, and designing a beautiful, one-of-a-kind work of art she named XXL Heart to honor his memory in time for the 7th anniversary of his death. She ends her blog post by describing how she dealt with the scraps at the request of the young man’s mother in a way that offered symbolic closure on an emotional project. […]

  30. Dee Jsephson says:

    What a lovely testimonial. A really glorious way to remember a life cut short.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Thank you Dee. Losing a remarkable young person is a travesty. Making a quilt is all I can do to ease some of the pain and loss. PB