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“Embellish” Your Memories with a Quilted Souvenir

"Mediterranean Memories," made by my good friend, co-author, and occasional quilt-cruise colleague, Chris Porter, who just returned from the Mediterranean

Summer is winding down in the Northern Hemisphere, but there’s still plenty of time to toss a couple of things in your bag and head off for a bit of R and R. Kitschy mementos abound, but what better way for a stitcher to stir recollections of a special time away than with a souvenir quilt?

I made my first souvenir quilt after teaching on a quilting cruise to the Caribbean sponsored by Quilt Seminars at Sea. (I know, tough gig, but somebody’s gotta do it!) After making Wish You Were Here: Caribbean Dream, I quickly realized that more trip-related souvenir quilts were in my future. 

My quilt, "Wish You Were Here: Caribbean Dream"

I loved everything about my trip to Alaska–the majestic scenery, the little villages, the wildlife–and I wanted to capture it all. I used many of the same techniques, and called my quilt Wish You Were Here II: Ketchikan, Alaska.

"Wish You Were Here II: Ketchikan, Alaska (center detail). I love the look of a random, strip-pieced background, and find it makes the perfect choice for a landscape-based quilt.

Ideas for your souvenir quilt can come from anything you see, hear, taste, or otherwise experience along your way. Your personal photographs are an obvious source for design ideas, but don’t overlook the motifs on the tee-shirts, coffee mugs, postcards, and other typical “take-homes” that pop up in the local tourist shops. Carry a tiny note pad to jot down ideas or thumbnail sketches to carry home to your sewing room.

Your fabric souvenir doesn’t need to be large or complex. Just have FUN! In fact, over time, I’ve discovered that simpler (and smaller) is better, enabling me to capture the moment quickly, while it’s still fresh in my memory. Consider this little (18″ x 22″) quilt I made to commemorate my first visit to Hawaii.

"Aloha, Baby!"

Here are some quick, easy techniques that I used in making Aloha, Baby! and that you might like to try.

1. Build your “canvas” first: background, borders, layering, background quilting…even binding. (More on this in a minute!) It’s fun to use fabrics you’ve collected on your journey.

2. Keep the background simple. Sometimes, a single piece of “just-right fabric” (e.g., a special hand-dyed or painted piece) is all you need. I like the visual interest created by an unevenly divided surface, so I used two fabrics for Aloha, Baby!–sand and sky.

Sometimes a single fabulous fabric is all you need for background. Incorporate fabrics and embellishments from your journey as well.

3. Use basting spray to secure the three layers for quilting. These small quilts are perfect for it. Another option, if the piece is small enough, is to fuse the three layers together.

4. Keep the background quilting simple, too: clouds, wavy lines for water or wind, radiating lines for sunlight. Outline the motifs in the border fabric when appropriate. You can always add more quilting after the foreground elements are in place. 

Keep the background and background quilting simple.

5. Finish the edges with a fold-over, raw-edge binding. Rotary cut the strips, or tear them for an even more free-form feeling. Fold the strips over the raw edges of the quilt sandwich, press, and finish with a straight or decorative stitch.

6. Now it’s time to “paint the picture.” Use whatever creative shortcuts give you the desired results. I cut the blossom shapes for the lei free-form to save time and effort. Fussy cutting is another great timesaver. Chris used it for the grapes in her Mediterranean quilt.

Chris saved lots of time by fussy cutting the grape clusters for her quilt "Mediterranean Memories."

7. With the exception of the palm tree, the elements in Aloha, Baby! are all fused, and the edges “finished” with a straight stitch. The overhanging palm is double-sided: I fused two pieces of fabric together, outlined the shape in thread, and then cut and attached the piece to the quilt with stitching that echos the fronds.

Check out the raw-edge binding, overhanging palm, and button coconuts.

8. Now comes my favorite part: embellishment! For Aloha, Baby!, I added a narrow, satin-ribbon bow ribbon tie on the lei; used decorative trims and buttons on the flip flops; and stitched on a few tortoise-shell buttons for coconuts. As with fabric, it’s fun to incorporate trinkets found on your trip. 

So, no matter where your travels take you, whether across the state or across the sea, I hope you’ll consider commemorating your journey in fabric, thread, and trinkets. If you’ve already made a quilt to celebrate a travel memory, I hope you’ll post a comment to tell us about it 😉

Another vacation quilt by my friend, Chris Porter. This one is called "Sailing 'Round the Lighthouse." Notice the tiny seashells, the fussy-cut fish, and the cool cording around the border.

Til next time, happy stitching!

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