Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Portrait Pillow by Unicia R. Buster

Photos have been long seen as a way to document life so that we may remember what has transpired. In the twenty-first century, photos are the cheapest and most easily accessible way of documenting our lives. People have captured these moments directly on websites like Flickr, Facebook, YouTube and DropBox; in ordered print books from Shutterfly, Snapfish, iPhoto, MyPublisher and Blurb; on items like blankets, coffee mugs, mouse pads, t-shirts and canvas from Walmart, Walgreens, VistaPrint, Zazzle and CafePress; and in craft projects like scrapbooking, photo collages, decoupage and photo quilts. With photos, the possibilities are endless.

Over the next several months, I will post examples of different ways to present favorite photos of loved ones (living or deceased) beyond a traditional photo album or in a frame. Reason: It is a unique way to showcase a special person in your life, to not only reflect on a favorite shared moment, but to promote story telling and conversation about that special someone when others enter your life.

Portrait Pillow
Below are portrait pillows I made for others.

This photo was taken from a Facebook photo of a young boy who died early in life.

This photo sent to me electronically via email and was taken using a cell phone camera. The people are still living.

These photos were sent to me electronically via email and were taken using a cell phone camera. The people (and pets) are still living. These were done as a set.

  1. 1 sheet of Printable Fabric
  2. Computer/Inkjet Printer
  3. Digital Image
  4. 100% Cotton Fabric in 2-4 colors
  5. Thread
  6. Needle or Sewing Machine
  7. Scissors
  8. Pillow form size 14”sq.
  9. Iron
Majority of my supplies were purchased from Joann Fabric and Craft Stores. You also may purchase these items from AC Moore, Michaels and Walmart Supercenter.
I like to use 100% cotton fabric
because it's easy to sew, comes
in a multitude of colors and it's durable.
Choose colors that compliment the
photo used keeping in mind the
person's favorite color(s).
Price ranges from $2-$12 per yard
Basic 14'sq. pillow firm.
Price $5.39 at Joann's on line
Colorfast Printable Fabric. Once
treated, the color lasts for several
washes. Price is about $20 for
10 8.5"x11"sheets. Also comes
in packs of 3, 6 and 20.

  1. Prewash fabrics so the colors will not bleed into your picture when washed. Iron flat.
  2. Size the photo in a photo editing program to your desired size. (Note: the larger the image, the less fabric you will have around the image. Keep size smaller than 8.5” x 11” [size of printable fabric]. Square size works best for easy measuring). I used Photoshop but any photo editing software will work.
  3. Print the image on the printable fabric. Printer must be inkjet. There are many types of printable fabrics. Make sure to follow instructions. You also, if you're adventurous, make your own.
  4. Follow the directions on the printable fabric package to make colorfast.
  5. Cut out your image leaving a quarter inch seam allowance.
  6. Decide how many colors you want to use and make measurements for each strip. (For example: for a 6.5” sq. picture, you will need two 6.5” x 2.5” pieces, four 10.5” x 2.5” pieces, two 14.5” x 2.5” pieces and two 14.5” x 10” pieces for the back.)
  7. Stitch the two smaller pieces, one to the top of the photo and one to the bottom of the photo, right sides together. Unfold and iron seams flat.
  8. Stitch two of the next size pieces to both sides of the photo, right sides together. Unfold and iron seams flat.
  9. Stitch the remaining two next size pieces, one to the top of your square and one to the bottom, right sides together. Unfold and iron seams flat.
  10. Stitch the remaining two (largest) strips to the sides of your piece, rights sides together. Unfold and iron seams flat.
  11. Make a hem on the 14.5” side of both of the 14.5” x 10” pieces. 
  12. With right sides together, pin the two pieces to the square piece. The edges will overlap in the center.
  13. Stitch around all four sides
  14. Clip the corners.
  15. Turn inside out and insert the pillow form through the back opening.
  16. You may embellish using fabric markers and/or fabric paints to add name, birth and death date, beads, buttons, etc.


"I Was Here: Legacy and Memory Making" by Unicia Buster

“When I leave this world, I’ll leave no regrets. Leave something to remember, so they won’t forget I was here. I lived. I loved. I was here. ... The hearts I have touched will be the proof that I leave. That I made a difference and this world will see I was here.” 

This quote is from a song written by Diane Warren and recorded by BeyoncĂ© on her fourth album. Ms. Warren was influenced by the September 11th attacks on America in which 2,977 people lost their lives. 2,958 people were not expecting to die that day. In an article in “The New Republic” written by Andrew Butterfield on Monuments and Memories, he said, “Monuments are…the products of primary human needs; and they serve these needs in a way that nothing else can serve them. People build monuments ... because there are wounds so deep that only monuments will serve to honor them.” We want to not only remember our loved ones and keep their memories alive, but also to memorialize them so that others know how much they meant to us.

So how do we do this? Legacy and memory making are the breath of our loved ones. These items tell a story, whisper shared moments, ignite laughter and inspire life. They speak the words that we are unable to express or articulate. In her book “The Art Therapy Sourcebook,” Dr. Cathy Malchiodi talks about a young teenager who fell into a deep depression after the loss of her grandfather. After attending an art therapy group, where she was able to visually express her loss, the young girl was able to put aside much of her grief. For some people, “the act of making art is a way of remaking the self after a loss through exploring, expressing, and transforming feelings into visual images.”

Creating these “legacies” can be just as unique as the person who is leaving or has left us. I visited with a patient who knew he would die within 3 months. He was very depressed about his condition and he felt as though his life was being taken away from him. After speaking with him, he revealed his fascination with tattoos and how each one of his 32 tattoos had a story behind them. I suggested that he make a scrapbook of his tattoos for his two  young children. We photographed each tattoo and printed photos of each. I got the prints and scrapbooking supplies to him the next day, which was his 35th birthday. I returned the day after and saw that completed the scrapbook and included quotes and scriptures for his children to read. He died two days later. The book is his story; his legacy. It represents the things in life that were important to him,  and it would leave his children a big part of him that they were not able to keep. 

Almost any arts and crafts project can be made into a legacy piece including a memory quilt, a shadow box, a memory box, a photo collage which can be made into any number of things from a photo book to a blanket, and a t-shirt quilt. Other art forms are useful as well like recording your loved one’s voice, writing a poem, creating a song together, having your loved one write a letter to family members, vlogging and/or blogging. The possibilities are endless. 

Creating a legacy or memory project can be done with anyone, whether your loved-one died unexpectedly or expectedly, early or late in life. There is life before death and you can create memories from that life. What matters most is that they lived and they touched someone’s heart while here on earth.

~ Unicia R. Buster, Art Specialist at the VCU Medical Center (excerpt from Good Grief Conference speech)