When it was time for me to visit my friends on the other side of the world, I wanted to bring a little something from home to give. It’s customary to give omiyage (souvenirs) when you are in Japan. Whether you are starting a new career or seeing friends or family after a while, you always bring a gift… usually one that reflects where you came from. Giving gifts in Japan is an art in and of itself and there are so many rules! If you want to learn all about Japanese gift-giving etiquette, this site has a good overview.
I had a small dilemma, though. I wanted to bring something that represented Tucson (or New Orleans since that’s my real home) but I was stumped as to what. Over the past 8 years, my friends and I have been exchanging birthday and Christmas gifts. Of course I usually send them something that represents my home(s) that they can’t find in Japan. I was starting to run out of ideas and I also had limited packing space. DD and I like to only have one carry-on each when we travel overseas because it’s lighter and easier to maneuver through the crowds when traveling from city to city. I was thinking of some southwestern spices or hot sauces, but very spicy food doesn’t usually suit the Japanese palette. Hmmmm.
Then DD had a brilliant idea. “What about coasters? They pack flatly and they would be specially made by you.”
And once he said that, I knew exactly what image I would applique onto the coasters. The Saguaro cactus is the most iconic image in Tucson! Well, not counting Kokopelli, of course… but I thought it would be too difficult to explain the significance behind Kokopelli with my limited Japanese.
So I got to work. I had green quilting cotton in my stash, but I didn’t have any other fabric that would really “pop” and scream southwestern. I went to SAS Fabrics since they have a great selection of quilting cotton for a decent price and dug through the stacks of fabric. I found two great orange prints so I could make the coasters reversible.
I set to work using the same construction idea as my numerous mug rugs. I didn’t have enough fusible fleece for the inside, so I used Insul-Brite instead. I think it worked out better that way because it’s both heat resistant and absorbent.
I first took one piece of fabric and spray-basted it to the Insul-Brite. Then, using the dimensions of a coaster I already had, I measured, traced, and cut the squares. I think they ended up being about 5 inches x 5 inches.
Then I sketched a saguaro cactus that would fit within those dimensions and traced 48 onto Wonder Under Fusible Web. The sheet of web was fused to the fabric that was spray-basted to the Insul-Brite (the almost solid orange pictured below) and the images were cut out. The fusible web paper was the peeled from the back of the cacti and the cacti were placed centrally on the squares. A quick press of the iron and they were set! Then I used a blanket stitch setting on my machine with yellow thread to trace around the cacti to set them and give them a little POP.
It was fun working in assembly line mode. It also made the construction go faster!
Next I stitched the fabric for the back of the coaster right-sides-together to the cactus pieces, leaving a couple of inches at the bottom so I could turn them right-side-out. I used a tiny seam allowance which backfired on me because it was too small to turn under and machine top-stitch it closed. So I grit my teeth and set to hand-sewing them shut. Sigh.
I knew it would take me a while to hand-sew 48 squares shut, so instead of shutting myself away in my sewing room, I hung out in the backyard and let the chickens out to play at the same time.
Hooray for killing two birds with one stone! … Errr, maybe I shouldn’t use that phrase…
Once they were all hand-sewn shut, I gave them a press and went over the perimeter with yellow top stitching.
And there you have it! A super southwestern coaster to bring to the east!
I love the fabric on the back and was kicking myself that I didn’t spray-baste that to the Insul-Brite because the cacti really look good on that fabric, too. But by the time I realized that, my other fabric and the Insul-Brite were a little sticky so I decided to just go with it.
I wanted to give them in sets of 4, so it was enough to give to 12 people. I bound them together with ribbon and voila!
These are a super easy and personalized gift to give for any occasion! Just remember to give yourself more seam allowance, folks!
My friends loved them and you know coasters always come in handy!
Have you ever brought handmade gifts to out-of-town family or friends that represented your hometown? Do tell in the comments!