During the late 18th century, memory jugs served as way to arrange and display keepsakes in a form that could be passed along from one generation to the next. Make your own out of a bottle, vase or jug, using assorted trinkets and a clay or putty that dries hard on its own -- no baking required.
If you're making your memory jug as a personal keepsake, gather items of sentimental value that you no longer use, such as a broken bit of a grandmother's locket or small toys you enjoyed as a young child. Children participating can use pieces from long-lost games, broken action figures or a few shells or foreign coins from a collection. Items placed on the jug are meant to stay there permanently, so don't use your favorite rings or earrings, for instance.
Choosing the Vessel
The vessel used for the memory jug doesn't have to be a jug -- it can be a large glass bottle, a food jar or even a clean terra-cotta plant pot. Remove labels from glass items by soaking them in warm water for a while, then rubbing the label away. Wash the glass surface with warm water and dish soap; rinse, and then allow it to air dry. To decide which size vessel to use, look at your collection of trinkets -- the goal is to cover as much of the surface of the jug as possible with your memorabilia, so a small vessel is best paired with a small collection of trinkets.
Choose the Adhesive or Putty
Antique memory jugs were often covered completely with a clay- or putty-like substance; the materials varied based on what was readily available to the creator. Choose an air-drying clay that does not crack, or use a two-part putty, such as epoxy putty, if you wish to cover the entire vessel. Any putty that dries hard and can be manipulated a bit while wet will do; ask at the hardware store about the properties of each product sold there if you can't decide which is best for you. A thinset mortar can be used in place of putties or clays.
Making the Memory Jug
Apply the putty approximately 1/4-inch thick over the outside of the vessel. If you have a soft putty or thinset, spread it with a putty knife. For a two-part putty or clay, press the material in place with your fingers.
Press a few of your favorite trinkets onto key locations, such as several favorite tokens or foreign coins spread out near the shoulders of the bottle or jug.
Arrange other items such as strands or beads from broken jewelry around the memory jug. Tiny beads, for example, can be used around key items to further highlight them, or you can arrange beads or tiny colorful pebbles and shells in patterns such as swirls. Continue covering the memory jug with trinkets, spacing them as desired, until they're all in place.
- Press items firmly into the putty or adhesive to ensure they'll stay in place. You may have to manipulate the putty a little to ensure the items stay put. If they ever fall off, stick them back on with a multipurpose craft adhesive.
- If young children are helping, use a play clay or nontoxic air-drying clay to hold the items in place.