Thursday, May 9, 2013

Among my souvenirs {The Italian Job}

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).

The Italian Job Fabric Placement

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!

The Italian JobFirst 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.

The Italian Job1

This pretty little finial was in the grounds of the Vatican.

The Italian Job3

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.The Italian Job8

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.

The Italian Job2

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 Italian Job6

The cathedral in Cefalu boasts this magnificent golden mosaic.

The Italian Job5

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 Be right back. Italian ceramics are so exuberant and vibrant, but the only way this huge pitcher was coming home with me was on my quilt.


The Italian Job10

The Italian Job7

Assisi was another of those places I’d had on my “bucket list” for ages. Here’s the Church of St Francis.

The Italian Job4

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.

Red rose Di


  1. A lovely post, Di. Thank you for the memory jog. :) I remember you doing this quilt on your trip and posting the results bit by bit. :) I enjoyed that you did that (as well as enjoying your travel diary).

  2. This is such a wonderful quilt! Your thoroughness with each little drawing and embroidery interpretation, makes for an ideal memory quilt. You have so much talent, and it's apparent in your well executed quilt. I'm especially fortunate to have seen this quilt in person. Thank you for sharing it again.

  3. What a lovely quilt......and such a good idea, too!

  4. Hi Di~~Your quilt is very beautiful!! I love reading your blog...but I am confused. I thought you were remodeling your lovely home, but are you actually moving away?

  5. Wow! You amaze me! I would never have thought of such a thing! Incredible! I love to paint but my drawing skills are so poor I don't have the confidence to pull off something like that!

    Now what am I going to bring back from WA? ...... ;-)


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