The biography of a souvenir, a biography of a person: Victoria’s blanket with badges

Victoria's blanket with badges

Victoria’s blanket with badges

The blanket

Souvenirs collecting is a time-consuming hobby. Among all the souvenirs for collecting, badges are unique. It is not in the condition of display or storage – it is designed to be sewed on other things, it is a souvenir to be dealt with, requires extra action before the final touch. Several steps would be gone through for collecting badges as souvenirs. First is to find it and bring it back home from a trip, secondly to sew it on other material, and finally is the storage and displaying of the piece of material with the badge on. Given all these efforts, I know I am going to see a piece of art work today.

Victoria is a female PhD student lives in London now, and she started collecting badges when she was younger. The souvenir she is presenting to me, is a deep blue blanket with lots badges with different colours sewed on the surface. The deep blue blanket is nearly fully covered by badges with bright colour and the visual impact is massive.

Victoria started to give me an introduction of her blanket with badges.

“This is a camp blanket. When I was younger, I was in the Guides and Scout. One of the things they do, is when they go camping, they have a particular blanket they take to keep them warm near the camp fire. So this is a camp blanket made by the Guides. So somewhere……”

Victoria started looking for something on the blanket.

“Ah, here we go”, she find a logo whose colour has faded away in a corner of the blanket then she continues to tell the story how she got her blanket. “You can’t see it very well anymore, but there is the Guide’s logo. So this is like an official Guide in UK camp blanket. And that was the name of my guiding group when I was younger.” She pointed to another faded logo.

“I bought this blanket when I was about 10. First of all I only put my guide badges on there. This corner is my Guide’s badges.”

“Then I have also got a corner sewed on my old Branny badges. So when you are in the Branny, you have material satchel, which is part of your uniform, and you sew your name badges on to that. When I finished with the Branny, I took all my badges off my satchel and when I got my Guide’s blanket, I put them on here

“When I was 13, I got bored of Guides and moved to Scout. So in this corner, I got the badges came from my Scout career. “

My eye got caught by a piece of material sewed on the blanket which is not a badge. Victoria saw my eyes and started explain. “This is a piece of material from a theme camp we once had. It was a cow-boy and Indian theme, and this is my Indian head dress. So when I finish with it I sewed it on my blanket because I thought that was a nice reminder.”

Victoria's blanket with badges

Victoria’s blanket with badges

The collecting of badges

Victoria moved to another corner. “My non-scouting and guiding souvenirs started in this corner. Obviously you know I didn’t stick with Scouting and Guiding, but I did stick on collecting badges. So they start taking off the whole blanket now.” Victoria seemed pleased with her achievement and spoke with pride and smile. “I don’t have a whole lot of space left you can see that is all I’ve got left. Whenever I travel, I try to find myself a badge and I’ve got pretty good at knowing the kind of places in souvenir shops they store them.”

But it is not always as easy as that. “I went to Spain on an undergraduate fieldtrip and I just couldn’t find one. When I went to Bristol recently, I was able to get one for XXXX AASS Britain which is a particular toy attraction. I went to have a look around but I couldn’t find one for Bristol generally. In some places you just can’t get them. But I will look when I travel, and keep looking in all the souvenir shops until I find one.”

Victoria's blanket with badges

Victoria’s blanket with badges

Badges as presents and non-place-related badges – Representing Relations

Some of the badges are given to Victoria as presents. When her friends went on holiday, they bought badges as presents and brought them back for Victoria. “I don’t know how I feel about it,” Victoria comments, “sometimes I like the idea sometimes I don’t, because it feels like I am cheating a bit since I haven’t been to the places.”

When asked to show me one badge given to her as present, Victoria chose one without hesitate. “There is one from Florida, from the Everglades in Florida. It was a present from my ex-boyfriend. I myself have never been to Florida.” According to Victoria, what this badge reminds her is her ex-boyfriend, instead of Florida the place.

Victoria showed me another badge. “This one, the Grand Canyon. I have been to the Grand Canyon, but that was bought for me by somebody else in a different occasion. I feel better about that one because I have been to the place, but it is still different. ”

Also as we moving on, I noticed there are some badges which are not related to places. There is one saying “Staying in the house, Carl” is referring to the Walking Dead Zombie show. Victoria got it as a Christmas present, as well as the angry birds one. These souvenirs do not indicate a place (neither have a picture of a place not have a name of a place on it) and are not place-specific (do not remind Victoria of a place). But some of her souvenirs do not indicate a place but are place-specific souvenirs. “For example this Hello Kitty, I bought it I Camden Market. It reminds me of Camden Market although it does not its name or picture on it. For me, it is a souvenir of a place.”

Victoria’s badge collection started souvenirs for events (Scouting etc.), expanded to travelling souvenirs, took off with place souvenirs, and now is an ongoing project of collecting relations.

Victoria's blanket with badges

Victoria’s blanket with badges

Badges’ before-life and after-life

Before being sewed on the blanket, Victoria’s badges are stored in her sewing box, a very good place to indicate their fate to be sewed on the blanket. And some of them will end up in her sewing box. “I have a compartment here,” Victoria lifted the upper compartment and the lower one revealed itself. “These are the badges I’ve got to sew on. They are on my waiting list. I also got some old badges here. Like this one, I have more than one of these. And I have got some buttons here as well. Sometimes I have a big gap on the blanket I will sew some buttons on, because they are pretty, haha.” Space for souvenirs is not just for souvenirs. “Oh but these buttons I got them when I went to Banbury on holiday last year, oh, now is the year before last year. Again they don’t have place name on it but they remind me of that holiday, in Banbury somewhere in Oxfordshire.” In the button’s case, souvenirs and non-souvenirs are sharing one space: the lower compartment of Victoria’s sewing box.

Collecting badges and sewing them on her blanket needs time. When she was an undergraduate and a master student, it was hard to sew the badges on, according to Victoria. “Because I need a big flat area like this to lay the blanket out on it, and then sew on my badges. I didn’t have a space like that in halls. When I was in university, I got a little bit behind on my badges……oh…. I have got a huge tangle here.” Victoria was sewing on a badge while we having the interview. While she is untangling the thread, she continued, “When I move to London, I have a chance to catch up.”

This makes me rethink about doing an interview while my interviewee shows me how they deal with their souvenirs. They are easily cast away into memories the souvenirs intrigue. My methods needs to be improved.

When asked about what she is going to do when the whole blanket is full, which is not far away from now, Victoria hesitated a little bit. “Well, that is a good question. I have to decide what I am going to do. Hmm. I won’t stop collecting, obviously. I think what I am going to do is, get another blanket, I will try to get one of the same size, ideally. So when both of them are full, I can sew them together, and have it double-sided.”

Victoria's sewing box

Victoria’s sewing box

Authenticity of the badges

This project is interested in the authenticity of souvenirs. When asked about the making site of her souvenir badges, Victoria seems paying less attention to their authenticity. “Actually I don’t know… I would guess they are not produced locally, but I am OK with it. For me, the fact that they represent the place and they remind me of it is what is important. So they help me remember it. That is what matters for me. So it doesn’t matter where it comes from because it has got you know a picture or the name of the place.”

Further more, we talked about other souvenirs on their authenticity. I asked about Victoria’s opinion on badges of Finland, France etc. being sold in the souvenir shop Great Britannia in Piccadilly Circus, she said “I think it is a little bit odd, if I am honest. But I have seen it quite often. We can buy badges for other countries in souvenir shops in London, and we can buy badges for London in Brighton and Oxford… Personally I would not buy them myself.” But in other situation, Victoria is more open about it. When she couldn’t find a badge in the place she travelled to, but see one in the souvenir shop in London, “yes I will buy it. But not if I have not been to the place.”