Quilt designs and fabric choices tell a quilter’s story in a memory quilt
Journal Entry: August 6, 2021
The American Quilter magazine began the story…
Traveling isn’t just about getting away from daily life, seeing the most advertised sites and gift shops. Acknowledging I do enjoy these things. Going off the beaten path leads to much more: learning about the influence of history, interests of local people, and exploring the surrounding landscape in a different way. Often, all these tend to inspire to a memory quilt design.
I had so many different preconceptions about South Africa. When I found out my husband and I would be there for 10 days I seized e a grand opportunity to check out quilting in Cape Town. I emailed local quilt shop owner. I received introductions to Ronél Pistorius, President of the Good Hope Quilters Guild, and Sheila Walwyn, a renowned fiber artist. They graciously invited me to their homes to meet other quilters.
I don’t have a single word to described my feelings when I left heir homes. The conversation flowed easily. We shared our love of fabric and compared interests in quilt designs. I saw examples of their quilted creations: traditional, modern, and art quilts.. Our quilt shops are similar; some materials are unique to where we live. The fact is, the geographic distance between us isn’t that great when it comes down to our common threads of conversation. Well,… we are quilters.
With a warm sense of friendship and memories I returned home. I set out to share some of my discoveries—with quilts and a story.
The story of Fractured Diamonds…
At Ronél’s house I learned the Dutch influence found in early quilts still remains today. Bettie van Zyl and Ronél showed me examples of exquisite diamond-shaped designs of paper-pieced shapes. Their quilts are reproductions of a quilt made by one of the early Cape Town quilters, Sara Dreyer, in 1805. You can read more about my visit and see the quilts in the September 2021 issue of American Quilter.
Ronél gave me a few gifts. I brought home machine-embroidered Proteas pieces, practice samples from making her reproduction quilt. She shared pieces of leftover Petite Protea from Fabric Centre, Somerset West. These gifts provided inspiration for a quilt, along with the scenic beauty of Cape Town and the Cape of Good Hope area. I set out to make a traditional quilt design. Fractured Diamonds became my first South African memory quilt.
The fabric of Fractured Diamonds…
Pink, red, and green Proteas flowers dot the landscape of Cape Town and around the Cape of Good Hope. There wasn’t a question about including them in my memory quilt. With Ronél’s embroidery taking the center position, the paper-pieced hexagon flowers around it began the diamond. I added rows of foundation-pieced Proteas and larger flowers. I’m convinced that Linda J. Hahn’s Carnivale collection from Northcott Banyan Batiks was designed to capture the fields of color we saw everywhere.
And, to add more essence of South Africa, I tea-stained the background fabric with South African Rooibos tea. The tea stain cast the perfect aged coloring for my memory quilt.
Discovering a legendary Cape Town art quilter…
I found nirvana in a foreign country when we walked into The Vineyard Hotel. Looking around I saw pottery created by Esias Bosch. (I’m just pointing this out because I’m crazy in love with pottery.) Needless to say I was totally drawn to the walls. Like a gallery, I discovered fiber art by Kitty Petousis on walls all over the hotel. I learned that The Vineyard Hotel was originally owned by Kitty’s husband. In awe, I immediately knew Cape Town was going to be a special place. I had found my muse in Cape Town.
South African fabric and influences…
I owe another great find in Cape Town to Simmy Schofield, co-owner of Stitch ‘n Stuff. She introduced me to Mnandi Textile & Design where I learned about traditional Da Gama Shweshwe fabrics and saw South African wax prints. Both fabrics have a stiff hand, and I remember thinking how perfect they would be for a wall hanging.
Original Shweshwe fabrics are indigo-dyed discharge printed cottons. The cotton is grown locally in the Eastern Cape. I saw Shweshwe in many colors. I purchased an assortment of indigo because of its historic significance (and blue is my favorite color).
South African wax prints are big, bold, and colorful printed fabric. They also have an interesting story. These prints are typically called African but were first produced in the 1800s by the Dutch, trying to copy hand-drawn wax resist Indonesian batiks.
Back home, the making of From the Vineyard…
You can probably tell that From the Vineyard was inspired by the artwork of Kitty Petousis. Using my souvenir African wax print at the bottom of the quilt, whole cloth, represents the ground of South African. The pieced woven basket is made with assorted indigo Shweshwe. I also aged the Osnaburg fabric I used for the background and Proteas blocks with Rooibos tea.
I borrowed some of Kitty’s flower elements for my appliqué, embellished with natural fibers. The Proteas border blocks are foundation pieced. I hope Kitty would approve of my memory quilt to honor her aesthetic.
Memory quilts aren’t just for t-shirts…
I’ll remember my South African adventure forever through the quilts I’ve made. I designed my memory quilts to incorporate souvenir fabrics. The quilts capture the history and landscape of Cape Town. Memories of quilters from the past and those I met during my visit are also present. My design goal was to weave together the fabric of this magical place into my memory quilt—poetic symbolism to tell a story keepsake treasures.
Memory quilt projects…
This isn’t my first foray into making memory quilts from travel experiences. I ended up with a book, Finding Art for Fiber: Pieces of London, from our two years living in London. Descriptions of the places we visited and other discoveries join quilted artwork to tell the story of the place and our time there.
I designed and made Red Sand Blossoms, inspired by travel through the American Southwest. Gardens & Trails is a bit closer to home, presenting an arrangement of flowers my grandchildren and I found in the Denver Botanic Gardens and hiking trails in Colorado.
I suppose I could say making a memory quilt is an essential part of my traveling experience. I can’t wait to find the inspiration from our next adventure!
May your travels lead to quilting,