Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Pining for the canals

There they are - the colors that remind me most of Amsterdam. It's crazy to think that exactly two years ago today, Dave and I went on our grand adventure to live and work in The Netherlands. (How's that for timing a finish?! Accident, honest.) Both of us are really into European history and have always wanted to live there. An opportunity came up for the two of us to do research in Amsterdam, so we took it. Three months seemed long at the time and sort of 'oh my what in the world are we doing?', but in retrospect it was not long enough! We fell in love with the country and carry our memories with us so strongly that sometimes it feels like we just got back or that we could step outside our door and find ourselves on the way to local Albert Heijn or headed to the Jordaan for dinner at Balthazar's Keuken. We enjoyed it so much and it left such an impression on us. 

I dreamt this quilt up and purchased fabric for it almost a year ago, but it took me some time to settle on a design and get piecing. From first cut to snipping stray threads took about six months, and what a joy it was to work on this! This might be my favorite quilt yet -- and it has all sorts of meaning wrapped up in it, some intentional and some purely fortuitous. 


Orange is the color of the Dutch royal family and is an integral part of Dutch national pride. Koniginnedag (Queen's Day) was shortly after we arrived in the country and the city and it's people were awash with orange. Check out the team uniforms for the World Cup... bright orange. Unrelated, the floors in our apartment were phenomenally orange. With bright red furniture. Oh yes. So of course, this quilt had to include orange. 

FOM Institute AMOLF has bright green walls. Painfully green. The building is actually really great with lots of natural light and open atria. It is certainly one of my favorite spaces I've ever had the pleasure to work in. That green is memorable... quite literally the exact shade of the background of the cat fabric on this quilt. Also, it may have also been the time of year we were there, but everywhere we went the countryside was so green. I suppose being in the lowlands means there's plenty of water available to the plants, in contrast to much of the time in the Bay Area when the hills are the golden brown of dry vegetation. So, despite my misgivings about the quilt looking like a carrot, green had to be the other color. 

A lot of the prints have blue as an accent color -- the canals, of course! And the rain. Water water everywhere. I chose to quilt it in light blue (Gutermann Aqua Mist) to match to accentuate the blues in the fabrics.


Most of the fabrics I chose based on color, but a few of them actually have little details I think jive nicely with our experience. The gray, green, and blue print looks like splashing water -- rain anyone? The weather was actually quite nice when we were there, but a few times we had epic rain to walk through. The bird and wheel print is reminiscent of bicycles, of which there are plenty in Amsterdam. We bought bikes for our short time there because it was THE way to get around town. And the countryside, for that matter. The bicycle infrastructure there is a beautiful thing. 

The orange and white print looks like windmill blades to me. The little blue x's on the other light orange print remind me of the St. Andrew's crosses on the Amsterdam city seal, basically x's all in a row. 

And last but not least. the cat print. Our cat went to a friend's house to stay while we were away which was fun for him actually, but we missed having him underfoot! He's mostly white, so this print seemed appropriate. Plus, the aforementioned perfect match to AMOLF green. 

Quilting and layout:

As I mentioned in a previous post, the decorative asterisk stitching reminds me of raindrops splashing into puddles and also echoes the gray Kumari Garden fabric quite nicely. 

When I got to the second set of green blocks, I changed the stitching to rows of tulips. The cats are playing in flowers, but not a tulip to be found. This quilt needed tulips, for sure. There's no doubt about it given the fact that I was in tulip heaven. My first impression of the whole country was looking out the window as we approached Schiphol (the airport) and seeing the Bollenstreek -- field after field of brightly colored tulips, just like farmland but orange, pink, red, and purple instead of green and brown. It was a magical moment for a tulip lover like me. 

The layout of each of the sets of blocks includes a small block in the center of the four blocks to complete a sort of 'x' shape in each section reminiscent again of the St. Andrew's cross associated with Amsterdam. The orange hourglass blocks have a secondary design of windmills (pinwheels) in them, and the green blocks look pretty much like windmills to me. Or perhaps umbrellas?

The quilt finishes at 56" square and is backed with a piece of a duvet cover from Ikea that I think will serve nicely as a back to blend with whatever grass we pick up along the way. It is bound with a scrappy binding made from the prints used in piecing the top that you can just see dancing around the edge of the back in this photo. 

I've enjoyed (over)analyzing this quilt and finding all the little things to remind me of our Dutch adventure. I really enjoyed making it, too and I'm sure we will have plenty of opportunities to pack this up on the back of our bikes and head out for a picnic. It won't be the same as riding down the Amstel River, but we will just have to make do with our beautiful California instead. 


  1. What a lovely story. We visited Amsterdam just for a day on a weekend trip to Holland from England. I would love to go back.

  2. What a beautiful way to remember an adventure! Well done! I envy you - I'd love to go see the tulips. I'll have to settle for the tulip festival in Skagit valley for now.

  3. What a lovely way to remember your adventure in Amsterdam. I love all the little hidden meanings your quilt has, planned and unplanned. Must make your heart warm! No tulips in my little world right now - in fact it is snowing again! Maybe I'll have to buy some to brighten things up!


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