Continuing the stories behind some of my favourite quilts before I pack them up for the move.
In the lead up to our trip to Italy in 2007 I had a light bulb moment.
I decided to bring back what would be, to me, the ultimate souvenir: a quilt. I’d make it myself, and it would hold all our precious memories and reminders of our adventures.
This is how I went about it.
First of all I designed the layout on graph paper. It would consist of 12 inch blocks arranged in a seemingly random pattern on a 4 x 4 grid. I raided my stash for fabrics in variations of red, green and gold choosing patterns that reminded me of Baroque music or rich, Italianate architectural styles. Gold stamping was perfect for creating that Renaissance feel too.
I was particularly excited to find this green acanthus leaf fabric in the photo below, looking just like flowery decorative moldings. Here and there I designed pairs of ‘tiles’, squares on point, to suggest, in a simplified way, the mosaic floor tiles I knew I’d find in Italian churches.
Each block included one piece of plain cream homespun among the fancy fabrics, and my plan was to embroider these with small sketches of sights that took my fancy as we travelled around.
Once I had the layout arranged to my satisfaction (see below) I took a photo for future reference.
Finally I gathered together the pieces for each block and popped them into 16 plastic ziplock bags which I labelled by row and column (1A, 1B, 1C etc).
Sixteen small plastic bags of fabric pieces weighed very little, and with a bunch of DMC embroidery threads in a varied palette of greens and khaki shades and my sketchbook tucked into my bag I was ready to capture the essence of Italy and turn it into a quilt!
First stop Rome where we first saw these bees at the Palazzo Barberini. This is the shield of Pope Urban VIII, the member of the Barberini family who had Bernini build the Palazzo, and I was fascinated to see more bees on monuments to this powerful family all over Rome. We were told they symbolised industriousness, but I’ve read other theories one of which says they were a visual play on words associated with the first part of the name (barb = bee sting). Bees also apparently have significance as religious symbols.
This pretty little finial was in the grounds of the Vatican.
I just love this little guy carrying an Egyptian obelisk on his back! Created by the sculptor Bernini in 1667, this baby elephant’s a little gem hidden away in the peaceful Piazza Minerva just minutes from the tourist crowds milling at the Pantheon. The day I went looking for him I found myself quite alone in the piazza, delighted to be able to take my time sketching and appreciating the beautifully balanced lines of one of the sweetest little monuments I’ve seen.
By contrast, right beside the Spanish Steps where, it seems, the youth of the world joyously meet, I was taken by this shell shape, carved above the front door of the Keats Shelley Memorial House where John Keats breathed his last.
On to Sicily where we visited the town of Monreale and its magnificent Cathedral where marble columns in the cloisters are decorated with foliage, animals and Biblical scenes.
In Palermo the charming combination of Norman and Arabic architecture caught my eye.
Just a short bus ride from Palermo, in the seaside resort of Mondello, this mermaid fountain dominates the town square. I knew she needed to go in my souvenir quilt, as a reminder of my day at the seaside.
The cathedral in Cefalu boasts this magnificent golden mosaic.
If it’s colour you want you can always count on glorious Tuscany! I’d been trying to get to San Gimignano for twenty years and once there you might say I ate it up . Italian ceramics are so exuberant and vibrant, but the only way this huge pitcher was coming home with me was on my quilt.
Assisi was another of those places I’d had on my “bucket list” for ages. Here’s the Church of St Francis.
This is our friend Angela’s Tuscan villa, perched high on a hillside near Manciano surrounded by groves of olive trees. It was our base for a week where we relaxed in the sunshine, read, drank Italian wine, and I caught up with my little embroideries for the quilt. Ah, the serenity……
We also enjoyed some mighty fine meals. One of our favourite gastronimic experiences was wild boar (cinghiale) which we ate casseroled, roasted, skewered, cured, and minced on crostini. This fellow above was stuffed and mounted on a board.
By the time I walked in the front door back home I had most of my embroideries completed and just needed to sew the squares together.
I loved the creative process for this quilt which was, quite literally, a fantastic journey. I’ve had it hanging in our sitting room for the past six years where I see it every day, but writing this post and looking back on all my blog entries for that holiday has brought me even more pleasure than I imagined.
I’m blessed to have such happy memories in my quilt.