Through word of mouth, news spread about Carrie Elzey’s unique creations comprised of apparel artifacts and requests began arriving. Some, like the original t-shirt quilts, were sports and travel related. (Photo courtesy Howard Elzey)

Carrie Elzey can’t remember a time she didn’t love stitching fabric together.
It never mattered to her whether the material was the finest or fanciest. What excited her most was the leftover scraps, the bits and pieces destined to be discarded.
Her boundless joy in finding “really weird fabrics,” plus her gift of transforming less-than-perfect remnants into treasures, eventually helped her fashion a business doing what she enjoys most, Covered in Memories Quilts.
Handiness with a needle came naturally. Her mother sews, and her paternal grandmother and two great aunts were quilters.
Despite not directly instructing her, they no doubt contributed the inspiration she needed to teach herself.
“The first thing I made were quilted potholders; I gave them to everyone at work. I had no sewing machine, so I hand stitched each one,” Elzey recalled.
She acquired her first sewing machine, an antique, on Craigslist from a seller in her hometown of Hurlock for $25.
Now it’s used in her logo and prominently featured on the Covered in Memories Facebook page set up by husband Howard.
She next discovered a Singer 99 machine in a junk shop for $9, which she’s currently using to sew together a quilt top from vintage fabric blocks — her mother’s flea market finds. (Elzey plans to hand stitch it all together and present it to her mother, who she’s teaching to quilt.)
About two years ago Elzey began taking articles of clothing and turning them into one-of-a-kind quilts, starting with Howard’s overflowing stash of Virginia Tech t-shirts, souvenirs from recurrent weekend trips with a buddy to the friend’s alma mater.
“They’re great shirts, but he hates to give them up until there are too many holes and literally no room left in his dresser drawers,” Elzey said.
Trimming the designs into squares for the quilt top, she found she was a few shirts short for a full-sized quilt. She asked the friend if he might have a few extras to contribute.
“His wife was thrilled to finally be able to make a dent in her husband’s overflowing t-shirt stash,” Elzey laughed.
As it turned out, she was able to make two entire quilts, one for each of the original shirt owners.
Through word of mouth, news spread about her unique creations comprised of apparel artifacts and requests began arriving.
Some, like the original t-shirt quilts, were sports- and travel-related, particularly Orioles, Ravens, and Steelers.
Others took the idea of preserving memories to another level, bringing Elzey items of clothing from loved ones who had passed away, and asking that she create keepsakes from them.
The sister-in-law of a former nurse who had battled ovarian cancer, leaving behind three adult children, asked her to create a memory quilt for each of them.
The quilts commemorate the woman’s brave fight during her illness with pieces of pajamas and headscarves she’d worn during treatment, and the logo of her team of friends and family who’d supported her.
But Elzey’s own mother was a breast cancer survivor who didn’t particularly like pink — the iconic color most associated with efforts to combat that disease.
For this reason, she wanted to ensure that the quilt contained more, and captured details of her entire life, from the scrubs she wore at work, to fabric featuring a sandy design with small footprints for the backing as a tribute to her deep love of the beach.
The wide range of clothing items Elzey incorporates in her quilts has included men’s ties, stretchy sports socks, satiny pajamas, knit polo shirts, and part of a hat she took apart.
Adding iron-on fusing material makes each more manageable when building the top layer to sandwich the middle batting and bottom backing, Elzey added.
The business is a family enterprise: daughter Emily helps pick out colors, Bassett Hound Baylee “nap tests” quilts for comfort, and husband Howard, in addition to contributing prized t-shirt specimens and maintaining social media publicity, is also a vital hands on helper, loading each project onto the 10 to 12-foot frame stored in the family’s garage, then stitching with a long-arm quilting machine similar to one used to complete a 100-year history quilt for Elzey’s congregation, The First Baptist Church of Hurlock.
Under her direction the church’s quilting group, which meets the second Saturday of every month, created the commemorative masterpiece.
Elzey developed the design and members worked together picking pieces of purple fabric, then individually sewing together 25 blocks at home. Paintings of the original and current church buildings were scanned into a computer and printed onto fabric, and the names of every minister was embroidered as well.
The group’s other projects include sewing quilts to donate to veterans and a mission in Kentucky, as well as miniature doll quilts tucked into Samaritan’s Purse shoe boxes for children.
Elzey said there’s no danger of running out of ideas or material any time soon. Her downstairs bathtub overflows with fabric, the trunk of her car is packed, too, along with a kitchen drawer or two.
If she could afford the time and money to do so, she said she’d love to make a quilt to give to everyone, but she’s grateful for the pastime that lets her be creative while producing functional, useful items.
Internet ads promising to take clothing and turn it into “memories” are sometimes more affordable, Elzey admitted, but the finished products are actually blankets — no batting, just attached tops and bottoms, sometimes tied together.
She’s fine with this, but prefers the durability and care which real quilting provide, and which true keepsakes require, she said.
“Unlike scrapbooks, scrap quilts allow you to not only hold those memories, but be comforted and warmed by them,” Elzey said.
Sometimes, they can even form a bridge bringing generations full circle, like the plaid piece of a quilt originally belonging to her grandmother and given to Elzey years ago. It wasn’t fancy or expensive; the center batting was made from old blankets, and was tied together.
The top piece was made from a single printed patchwork design, commonly called “cheaters cloth.”
Well used and well worn, Elzey nevertheless felt it well worth salvaging.
She removed the top, replaced it with another patchwork piece, then hand quilted it all back together, ready to be handed down to yet another generation.