Roman Tiles on my Mind

Before I get into the creative process of my newest quilt attempt, you need to hear the story behind the inspiration.  For that, I take you back to September of 2010, when Michael and I had the opportunity to spend a month in Rome.   Here is the story of this inspiration……

The second stop of the day was going to be the Church of San Giovanni in Laterno and the “Scala Santa” (more about this below).     The only problem was that the Holy Stairs closed at noon and it was already 10:50 so I knew that I needed to hurry. I jogged down to the Metro station and hopped onto the train, thinking that the metro station was right across the street from the church.  Unfortunately, this is what I saw when I got up to street level…..

_9279870Now, if I had of looked UP I could have seen the top of the Cathedral, but since I didn’t do that, I went back into the underground station and came up on the other side of the street, but still no church!!!  I walked a couple of minutes and then FINALLY looked up and saw the cathedral….

_9279872  ….on the other side of the wall around the city.  So, I hurried thru the portico and up to the cathedral.  I walked inside but couldn’t find the Holy Stairs and finally read in Rick Steve’s book that the stairs were in a building on the side of the church.  I started on the right side, but finally found out that they were on the left side of the church.  I got there about 11:40. 

Now about these stairs…..they are called “Scala Santa” and according to tradition, they were brought  to Rome in 326AD  by Saint Helen who was Constantine’s mother.  It was believed to be the stairway from the palace of Pilate in Jerusalem which Jesus was supposed to have traversed several times on the day of his condemnation.  It is comprised of 28 marble steps which have been covered with a walnut wood frame to protect them.  Tradition says that that you can only ascend the stairs on your knees and this is what I wanted to do!!!


I was one of the last to be allowed on the stairs before they closed for lunch.  It was quite painful to climb them on my knees, but was a wonderful, worshipful experience!!!

Now that I had accomplished my goal I returned to the church that I had madly rushed thru, opened the door and saw this…..


How did I miss this!!!!

I was in quilter’s paradise and proceeded to take 92 photos of the tile patterns on the floor, while two ladies sitting on a bench had a good laugh at me as I dutifully photographed every inch of the sanctuary.

The designs were magnificent……

_9279857 _9279841 

Now, fast forward to today……

These tiles have stayed in my mind for 7 years now and I kept trying to figure out a way to piece them.  I decided to do a test and see if I could do it so started with one of the simpler designs….._9279825

First I needed to draft a good circle and split it into wedges.   I knew that I needed some drafting tools and started looking at various quilting supply sites but then had a thought to check the local hardware store.   There I found the circle drafter and spinning protractor…..


I also needed some heavy, large format paper to use for drafting and was happy to find bulletin board paper (used by teachers).   It was perfect!!!

I started playing with my new tools to draft the circles…..


Now let me say that the design of the circle creator is not wonderful and I had to be VERY careful to keep it in place….


Then came the problem of trying to split it into a series of even wedges.  I tried using the extended arm protractor but couldn’t get the measurements accurate enough but after MANY trial and error attempts I finally had a pattern that would work…..IMG_3422My original thought was to paper piece the design and I made a start…..IMG_3432

….only to find out two things…. First of all, I HATE PAPER PIECING (I already knew this but had hoped I could do it anyway), and secondly, I realized that it was going to be almost impossible to keep everything lined up perfectly.

So, I went back to the drafting table and reworked the pattern.   After a BUNCH of attempts, I ended up with this sample….IMG_3435

Even though I like how this looks, I knew in my heart that I would NEVER have the patience to paper piece an entire quilt top!!! 

So, on to the next idea……and the next blog……

Leaving Italy…..

We got up at 4:30 this morning (Sunday) to start our trip back to Watkinsville.  The trip progressed something like this…..

– Taxi ride to Naples Train Station

– Train ride to Rome

– Another train ride to the Rome Airport

– Bus ride to Terminal Five

– Go thru passport security line

– Go thru line to check bags and get boarding passes

– Go thru security

–  Take bus to Gates

– Take bus from gate to plane

– Fly in plane to Atlanta

– Drive in car to Watkinsville

Total travel time, door to door……  20 hours

We have had a WONDERFUL seven weeks.  Michael got a chance to talk to several groups of researchers, teach a series of classes to Graduate students, complete a scientific manuscript for submission and collaborate with MANY scientists.

All of our hosts have gone out of their way to provide us with a fun and exciting Italian experience and we have appreciated that so much. 

We have found both good and bad things about the Italian way of life.

The most important thing is that they KNOW how to relax and enjoy their lives.  Meals are an event, not a quick bite in between work projects.  Waiters will not rush you and will not bring you the check until you ask for it!!!! 

Espresso is all important and will be drunk at all hours of the day and night.  Normally, it is drunk while standing up at a cafe counter.

Unfortunately, as a whole, Italians are not well standardized.  Things seem to change from  day to day, including one way streets, train schedules, prices, and the basic processes used to perform simple tasks.  This tends to lead to some confusion!!!

Italians know how to drive and how to park!!!!  They are able to park, double park and merge lanes without blinking an eye and they don’t flinch when a motorcycle or scooter pulls around them.   Some cars are equipped with side mirrors that can be remotely folded all the way in.   We even saw one small car that had doors that slid back like a van’s doors rather than opening out into traffic…..what a great idea!!!!

The countryside varies greatly from North to South as does the temperament of the people.  The Northerners are much quieter and reserved, while the people in Naples are raucous and loud.

But whatever their temperament, they were friendly, helpful and wonderful and we are so thankful for the time that we have had here with them!!!!

This has probably been the nicest long-term trip that we have ever been on and we will forever remember our 7 weeks in Italy.

Thank you for traveling with us!!!


On Saturday we ended up with a free day so we decided to take a ferry to the Island of Ischia.  The trip took about 35 minutes by a very fast boat and we spent a wonderful few hours wandering around the island.

As with most of our trip, we ended up on a different boat from the one we originally wanted and pulled into port at a different place on the island.  That just proved to be an opportunity for us to learn how to catch the bus to get to the next port.

The Island is the result of a Volcanic eruption many years ago and it now contains many hot springs and spas and is a a gorgeous area.  Although there is a lot of tourism on the island, it is not nearly as overwhelming as it was on Capri.  We had a slow stroll down one of the pedestrian only streets and enjoyed shopping and looking at a gorgeous park.

We eventually made our way to the Castello Aragonesse d’Ischia, an old structure that dominates one end of the island.  We spent about an hour wandering around the castle, finding ourselves in some of the most interesting cubbyholes…..

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_A090822 _A090828 _A090870There was a Cathedral that was built in 1301 but destroyed by an earthquake in  1809.  It was interesting to see the crumbling concrete statues…..

_A090833 _A090835 The views of the harbor and of the town of Ischia were magnificent…..

_A090812 _A090829 _A090839We met a lady from Munich who offered to take this photo for us…..

_A090802After coming down out of the Castle, we had a nice lunch at a sea side cafe.  The Bruschetta had fresh Tuna on it and was wonderful……


We laughed at the music playing at the restaurant… was all stereotypical Italian music with “O Sole Mio” and “Santa Lucia” on the play list.  We decided that we needed to watch for a limousine to drive by for an “attempted whacking”. 

While we were eating, we enjoyed watching a couple taking wedding pictures on the pier.  I particularly liked how the photographers threw themselves into their work….

_A090880We returned to Naples and tried to finish up the packing… is NOT looking hopeful and we have already added another soft sided bag full of stuff that we bought!!!

In the evening, Salvatore picked us up and took us to an Italian Steak House.  As usual, the meal began with a huge collection of “Starters”.  They included a  ball of Mozzarella  (ping-pong size for EACH of us), slices of Proscuitto, a slice of Chengale sausage, another unknown meat slice, roast pork slice with a spicy sauce, plates of sautéed mushrooms, zucchini, bell peppers,  potatoes, a slice of Eggplant casserole,  and 2 others that I cant remember right now.   Happily, we skipped the Pasta course and went straight to the Meat course.  We all had a grilled steak, expecting it to be wafer thin, but were served a HUGE Sirloin Steak that was grilled to perfection.  We drove to a Gelato shop to finish out our last meal in Italy.  As we ate it we strolled around a park, watching all of the teenagers gathered in groups.  The drive back to the hotel took about an hour as the roads were totally clogged with people enjoying the evening….remember that at this point it was 11:30 pm!!! 

When we got up at 4:30am to leave for our return journey, there were still people outside!!

Wanders in Naples…..Day two

On Friday, I spent the morning wandering around in Naples again while Michael was at the University. 

The first thing that I saw as I began walking down Santa Lucia was a bunch of people, a few signs and some police officers……someone was demonstrating about something, so I continued on.

As I entered one particular piazza, I encountered a HUGE group of people with more signs, but these people were chanting, clapping and having a wonderful time.  This was all taking place just outside of a Middle/High School.   I stayed long enough to see which way they were moving and then to head the other direction….

_A080692 Later in the day Michael told me that it was a strike….of all of the Middle and High School students!!!!!  It looked as if they had just given themselves a three day weekend, but apparently they were protesting some major cuts in education that had just been proposed by the Prime Minister.  Oh well, to each his own!!!

The destination of the day was to return to an area that I had visited on Thursday and really enjoyed.  It is a series of shops that are located on Via Gregorio Armeno….


These are the people that sell wonderful nativity sets, many of which are entire TOWNS that have the manger located somewhere in the scene.  The bigger ones are very expensive….I saw one 12-14 inch hand painted shepherd that cost 700 Euros.  However, there were an infinite number of smaller, much cheaper versions.

You start out by purchasing a backdrop…these are a couple of smaller ones…..

_A070587  Then you buy individual people, scenes etc to fill up your town….

_A080702 _A080705_A080699_A080707 Many of the pieces are very detailed and the nicer ones are all hand painted.  In many of the shops you can see the workers in the back putting together the miscellaneous scenes…. _A070592 This guy was painting one of the larger backdrops in one of the more expensive shops.  The thing that interested me most was the “mud” paint that he was using for the first coat…..


Many of the figurines were displayed on old dirty workbenches, apparently just off of the artist’s brush and many of the shops had pots of brushes and paints sitting everywhere.

BUT, the really fun thing was seeing the small scenes that had been put into motion.  The basic motion was the same on each one, but I really liked the different ways that they incorporated the simple move.   Here is a video that shows some of my favorites…..

Here also is a video of a street singer….he had a gorgeous voice and I loved his “portable harp”……

There was a young girl in front of me while I was walking and all of a sudden a  gush of water fell on her.  As we both looked up we saw the woman on the 4th floor watering the plants on her terrace and the overflow was hitting the sidewalk!!!

As I was walking back to the hotel, I passed a small street market and really enjoyed seeing the fish markets….


…..loved the Swordfish steaks!!

 _A070596Came across this “Tripperia”…..I figure that their motto is “All Tripe, All the Time”, but somehow seeing cow and sheep stomachs on the street was a bit much….


I stepped into this cheese shop and was completely overcome by the wonderful smells of ripening cheese….._A080733 In one of the large piazzas they were setting up for a “Race for the Cure” festival and a few booths were open.  As I walked around I saw two guys playing “table soccer” (not foosball).  I enjoyed watching the guys flick the players with their fingers to make them kick the ball.  All of the other men were standing around giving advice to the two players…..

_A080735Michael and I went back to the same restaurant for lunch and were once again given a complimentary glass of champagne.  We enjoyed bruschetta  as a Starter course…..

_A080741 Calzone for a Second course (we split one this time)……

_A080743 And we ended the meal with free icy Limon Cello….


The rest of the day was spent working on packing our suitcases and relaxing around the hotel some.

Napolitano Wanderings

Michael had to teach his short course on Thursday morning, so he headed out to work and I went in the opposite direction to explore more of the city.  My first  ambition to find the Duomo….the one that we couldn’t find on Tuesday!!! 

The first sight that I saw as I turned the corner from our hotel was the pier with all of the cruise ships in harbor…..

_A070576 I made my way on down Via Duomo and found the church without any problems this time.  As I was walking to the church I passed a long line of stores selling wedding dresses many of which were very simple in style, but beautiful.   I also passed one store that sold nothing but white wedding shoes!!!The official name of the church is the “Cattedrale de San Gennaro”.   The church itself is fairly plain (in relation to other Italian churches).

_A070583However, there is a Cupola on one of the side apses and a smaller altar which is almost entirely decorated with silver.  There were no photos allowed in this area so I didn’t get any pictures, but the statuary was magnificent.  When I entered there was a Mass going on with 3 or 4 people participating, but there was also a tour group there with 30 people milling around in the back looking at the chapel.  The REALLY incongruous part was that there was a souvenir stand set up at the back of the chapel and there was a brisk trade going on as the Priest was offering communion!!!

The church houses a vial of the blood of Saint Januarius which is brought out twice a year, on the first Saturday in May and on the 19th of September, when the dried blood usually liquefies. If the blood fails to liquefy, then legend has it that disaster will befall Naples.  According to one tour guide, the last time that it didn’t liquefy was in 1980….the year of a great earthquake.

In the crypt area of the church I found this statue that I liked…..

 _A070577 and these very disgruntled looking nuns…._A070581

I was also enamored with this altar piece and had a hard time figuring out whether the “fabric” part was stone or fabric….it had so much dimension…

_A070582 I was interested to see that the Priests who were taking confessions were doing it face-to-face and not in secret.  Most of them seemed to be very compassionate when they were talking to the confessors.

My next stop was to the Cappella Sansevero.  The highlight of this chapel was a statue by Giuseppe San Martino  entitled the “Veiled Christ”…..

Veiled christ 2_1267728253 cristo-velatoIt was extraordinary the way that he was able to replicate the sheerness of the fabric and the body underneath.  One description called it an  “intangible marble veil”.   You could even see the wounds in the hands and feet thru the veil.  The edges of the veil had lace edges that looked like they had just be tatted.

The other statue that I liked was one that had fishing net carved into it…..

desillusion1232419060_1  In another part of the chapel were two anatomical studies that consisted of a skeleton with the entire circulatory system wrapped around it.  There has apparently been some discussion as to whether  it was made by injecting a body with something that caused the veins to harden and then the flesh decayed around it, but, however it was made, it was an amazing demonstration…..

corpse28chapelsansevero29_1 I laughed in this chapel because it had all of these wonderful sculptures, but the cupola was fake… was just drawn to look like it had dimension!!!

As I was walking back, I excitedly passed a thread, button and trim store, however when I went inside EVERYTHING was in drawers and behind doors so that you couldn’t just look at stuff to see if you were interested.  I guess that you had to describe what you were looking for and then they would bring it out.

I also enjoyed watching all of the cars that were double parked along the street.  I dont know how it works so well, but no one ever seems to get stuck where they cant get out of their parking spot……of course, they are not too proud to drive on the sidewalk if needed!!

In the afternoon, Michael returned from the University and we decided to go out for a later lunch….well, later for US.  It was about 2pm and the restaurant that we chose was full.  We told them that we would wait and they handed us a complimentary glass of wonderful champagne to sip on while we waited.    They seated us, but before we could order, the waiter came and asked us if we would mind moving to a smaller table so that he could seat 4 people at our table.  We agreed to move and were rewarded with ANOTHER glass of champagne.  We had Bruschetta,  I had a calzone and Michael had a pizza.  At the end of the meal we were given complimentary glasses of Melon-cello…..much like Limon Cello, but tasting distinctly of cantaloupe.

We returned to the hotel where Michael Skyped with the people in his lab and then we headed off to the National Archaeological Museum.  The bottom floor was filled with statues from the 1st and 2nd centuries….some were massive in scale…

_A070617 _A070618 I loved this dog…..


The top floors were filled with pieces that had been removed from the Pompeii excavation site.  It was wonderful to see the inner workings of the city at the time of the disaster…..

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We loved these frogs…..


We then entered a maze of rooms that contained frescoes that had been removed….


It was interesting to see various portraits that had been painted straight onto the walls…..

_A070677 _A070673By the time we left the museum, it was 7:30 and dark outside.  Michael and I had a wonderful time strolling thru town to return to our hotel.  The streets were absolutely clogged with people!!! 

It was another wonderful day!!!