Back in November, I was trying to get a gigantic pile of snowflakes ready to be presented as gifts to friends and family. Nearly 200 snowflakes were ruined because I didn't notice the label on the glue.
I had used watered-down water soluble Elmer's School Glue for nearly 20 years, and I never had a problem with residue or discoloring. I did have the occasional rust stain, but that was caused by my pins, not by the glue. The last time I bought glue, I accidentally picked up Glue All, which is not water soluble and does not wash off. In addition, the formula had been strengthened, which wasn't what I needed. The residue on my snowflakes was unacceptable, as well as downright depressing.
I embarked upon one experiment after another to test every stiffening method I could. Meanwhile, I ordered calendars for Christmas gifts. There was no way I could make another 200 flakes in time to get them in the mail.
Readers of this blog, Snowflake CAL participants on Crochetville and Crochet Snowflakes group members on Ravelry were supportive and helpful. Crochetville and Ravelry are free, and I highly recommend both. Not only do you get access to patterns and people the world over who love your craft as much as you do, but you gain the wealth of knowledge and experience of others who've waded through the same challenges you have and a sounding board for questions and ideas. On both, you can see what others are working on and gain tons of inspiration. Both have threads reporting needlework sightings in news, movies and fashion shows. On Ravelry, you can look up any yarn and see what kinds of projects have been made with it. Ravelry also features special interest groups for everything under the sun. I’m an active participant in the monthly Starfleet Fiber Arts Corps challenges, which, among other fun benefits, motivates me to finish at least one WIP/UFO (work in progress/unfinished object) a month. For points!
It likely will be a cold day in a hot place before I fully trust commercial glue again, and you can be darn sure I look at labels much more carefully now. I've learned as much as I can about the methods others have successfully used in stiffening their snowflakes and doilies.
As previously reported here, I did not like hairspray at all. It does not stiffen adequately, and it stinks to high heaven, even if it's labeled as unscented. Free can, barely used, to good home...
Spray starch and a hot iron were the first alternative I tried, mostly because I had what I needed on hand and didn't have to go shopping. I vaguely remember my grandmother doing this with doilies, and it works well for that. I blocked and pinned a few snowflakes, sprayed them with the starch and allowed them to dry, which doesn’t take nearly as long as other methods, sometimes less than two hours.
After unpinning, I lightly sprayed the snowflakes again, over a clean towel on the ironing board, then pressed with the iron set to cotton. I scorched a couple of the first round flakes because I was too aggressive and unaware it could happen. I had to readjust my quilting thinking and not put the same elbow grease into pressing snowflakes that I use when pressing seams.
This method is perfectly acceptable for small flakes. In my opinion, it is not strong enough for large or heavy flakes. Although the large snowflakes held their shape beautifully, they are somewhat droopy on the tree due to weight.
My new favorite method is bottled starch, which is relatively inexpensive and comes in a big jug sure to last a good, long time. I used the same technique I’ve used with glue, minus the watering down step. I pinned my snowflakes (using stainless steel pins), painted the starch on with an artist's paint brush, allowed to dry overnight, removed pins and hung. I have not tried applying glitter with the starch, so I don’t know yet if it will stick. The snowflakes stiffened using this method are suitable for hanging on the window or on the tree, as well as gift giving. However, the snowflakes were not strong enough to hold the weight of danglies, and this method is not quite strong enough for the El Diente Snowflake. I even tried double applications, but the upper arms of the flake are just too heavy and too long.
I had used Epsom salts many years ago, but it's been so long, I had to look up the (super easy) recipe. Heat 1 cup water, add 1 cup Epsom salts, mix thoroughly until fully dissolved. Taking care not to burn fingers, immerse snowflakes in mixture (one by one; don't do a bunch at a time) and pin. This method hardens extremely fast, and is great if you need a snowflake right away. Some snowflakers on Ravelry said they had trouble getting their snowflakes pinned fast enough because they harden so quickly. If that happens, just immerse the snowflake again and start over. If your mixture begins to develop a crust on top, just pop it in the microwave another 30 seconds, and then be careful, again, not to burn your fingers when immersing.
I sprinkled my snowflakes with Epsom salt crystals immediately after pinning, and I like the course glittery effect. This method stiffens adequately but makes the snowflakes much thicker and heavier than any other method, to the point of delicacy being lost. Another word of warning: This method seems to make hand-dyed thread run and dulls solid colors. The nice thing is it does wash out if you want or need to restiffen. If you use one of Dr. Teal's fragrant salts, the snowflakes smell wonderful. Then just pour the leftover solution into a tub full of hot water, slip in, relax and try not to fall asleep.
Rav member CamC shared her recipe for homemade cornstarch glue, which is to cook and stir 1/4 cup cornstarch/cornflour and 1 cup water until it boils and becomes clear rather than cloudy. Let it cool. The mix can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, if stored in an airtight container, according to CamC.
Dampen snowflakes and wring. Massage the glue into the snowflakes. CamC says if the mixture clogs the lace, the glue is too thick and should be thinned carefully with warm water, whisking until smooth. Once you’ve thoroughly worked the glue into your snowflake, pin the flake onto a blocking board. Let the snowflake dry in a warm place. CamC says a hair dryer helps speed the process, but it will still take a couple of days.
I was anxious and removed the snowflakes too early. The arms of the snowflakes were fine, but the centers, which had denser stitching, were still slightly damp. The centers didn't dry flat because I didn't re-pin them. If you notice your unpinned flakes still have any moisture in them, laying them on a flat surface is not sufficient for drying if you want them to be perfectly shaped.
However, once dry, the cornstarch-stiffened snowflakes feel bombproof.
"This is a stiff mixture," CamC instructed. "You can practically pound nails with the finished product. But, unlike white glue, you also can wash the starch out if the item becomes soiled, cook up a new batch, and stiffen again. Cornstarch-stiffened snowflakes won’t get limp in humidity the way sugar/water does."
Remember, she says, the starch can scorch while cooking; don't leave the mixture unattended while cooking, and continually stir. Always use rustproof pins. Stretch your work evenly so it's not lopsided when it dries; it does need to be pinned.
One of the things I noticed when I first tried this method is the cornstarch mixture isn’t as icky on my fingers as glue. I'm 100% girly girl when it comes to getting dirt beneath my fingernails, and I always hated pinning snowflakes with glue already on them. That's one of the reasons I used a paintbrush to apply the glue. I can get the cornstarch glue all over my hands and keep working. Cleaner-feeling hands is one of my favorite benefits of this method.
I cut CamC's recipe in half my first try, and I used a microwave instead of the stove top. I used a couple of scant (not heaping) tablespoons of cornstarch mixed into half a cup of cold water (cornstarch is less lumpy if you add it while the water is still cold), then heated in the microwave in 10-second intervals with lots of whisking in between. I wouldn't recommend the microwave method for people who ruin homemade microwave gravy regularly, but if you have lots of microwave experience and time to spend carefully watching the mixture without getting sidetracked, the microwave can work and will speed the cooking process a bit.
I stirred in a couple of drops of rosemary oil after cooking, which is said to prevent mold, but this is my first time ever using this method, so I cannot speak to the long-term quality of cornstarch. This will be a long-term experiment. Hopefully by Christmas I'll have a little more real-life experience beneath my belt.
In the meantime, I used a CLEAN spice bottle to store my leftovers in the fridge. If your spice smells wonderful, maybe you don't need to clean all the spice out of it, but garlic certainly would not be my ideal Christmas scent.
I'm still working off that initial batch of cornstarch glue I made nearly three weeks ago, so in my personal experience, homemade glue can last more than a week. It's rather lumpy when I take it out of the fridge, so I remove the cap and heat the bottle in the microwave for about ten seconds, stir, add water if needed.
Not everyone has had successful results with cornstarch.
Ane Scherrer said her cornstarch-stiffened snowflakes yellowed after a season of storage in a metal container. She washed the flakes and reapplied fresh homemade cornstarch glue, and the flakes yellowed again. So she uses only laundry starch now. In talking about the problem, we decided metal might be contributing to the yellowing, so I would advise against storing snowflakes in anything metal.
I have had success using Mod Podge as stiffener. However, snowflakes stiffened with it will warp if displayed in a window for prolonged periods. The misshaped snowflakes can be flattened, but it takes time. After trying every method of glue removal I could think of, I tried saving a few of my ruined snowflakes by applying a coat of Mod Podge on top of glue, but the gunkiness looks even worse. I hate doing it, but I think some of my ruined snowflakes will be destined for the circular file if I can't think of an appropriate way to use them.
While we're on the subject of window snowflake display, colored snowflakes should not be displayed in a window where they receive prolonged exposure to sun, unless you want them to be pastel and eventually white. Colored snowflakes will sun bleach.
Stiffened snowflakes, regardless of stiffening method used, are subject to humidity. Do not leave them out all year if you live in a humid environment. Storing them in airtight containers is imperative if you live in a humid environment, including running a swamp air conditioner all summer long. This also applies if the snowflakes are openly exposed to a kitchen where a lot of water is boiled. My climate is not typically humid, but I have humidifiers for my indoor plants, and the mist does a real bang-up job on my snowflakes.
A few years ago, I washed two school glue-stiffened snowflakes in the washing machine with my whites. I'd placed them on gift packages, and they were inadvertently dropped on the muddy, icy street and run over by cars during a winter storm. The recipients never inquired whether the snowflakes were successfully reborn, so they are members of my collection. After a round of fresh stiffening, my adopted adult snowflakes look gorgeous on my tree and show no signs of the abuse and neglect they endured as children.
Many crocheters have asked how I store my snowflakes. For years, I stored them improperly and had to reshape them every season. They were stacked with no regard to size and placed on the top shelf of my closet, where tiny peanut butter and jelly-covered hands could not reach them. I also didn't want the snowflakes to be used as Frisbees or floated down a river just to see if they'd sink. I had to reshape the snowflakes each year, and sometimes they needed to be cleaned even though muddy, soiled little fingers never touched them.
When my nest emptied, I found myself with more time and a tiny bit more money and space for proper snowflake storage. I've decided proper storage is worth the investment. It’s so wonderful to be able to pull the snowflakes out in October and November and not have to reshape them or clean dust off them.
I store my own hand-dyed snowflakes in sealable bags, which then are stored in airtight containers normally used for food leftovers. I don't completely trust my color-fasting because I'm still a toddler in the hand-dyeing process. I don't want my beautiful turquoise snowflakes rubbing off on my white snowflakes.
Snowflakes made of thread not colored by me don't get the plastic bag treatment, and so far, my snowflakes have been safe. However, the gorgeous blue and white thread I used for the Mount Sneffels Snowflake was purchased on eBay, and when I stiffened the snowflakes (with homemade cornstarch glue), the turquoise ran like crazy. Those snowflakes will be stored individually in their own bags.
I store my snowflakes biggest on the bottom, smallest on the top, like the donut rings we used to play with as babies. I learned from experience, the hard way, of course, when snowflakes drape over a surface, including a smaller flake underneath, that's the shape they will retain.
The El Diente Snowflakes are too big for any of the plastic containers I've found, so I keep them in large gallon bags, sealed, and then inside a clean pizza box. The Lanterne Rouge, Antero Jewel Box, Christmas Bells and St. Elmo Pomander each get their own plastic container now because I found perfectly sized units for each. I have to reshape the Mod Podge-stiffened Jewel Box legs each time I take it back out of storage, but the box will bear weight for a few weeks before the legs go flat again.
This has been a long post, but I hope by sharing my experience, other snowflakers will not have to endure the loss of precious snowflakes.
I had a request last month for more small snowflakes, and this is one of six results so far. Sometimes I leave little notes on the patterns so I can remember which snowflakes go with which directions. This one said "sixtopus." When I finalized the pattern, I thought the note name was cute and unique enough to keep instead of naming the snowflake after a mountain.
You may do whatever you'd like with snowflakes you make from this pattern, but you may not sell or republish the pattern. Thanks, and enjoy!
Finished Size: 3 inches from point to point
Materials: Size 10 crochet thread, size 8 crochet hook, empty pizza box, wax paper or plastic wrap, cellophane tape, water soluble school glue and water (or desired stiffener), glitter, small container for glue/water mixture, paintbrush, stick pins that won't be used later for sewing, clear thread or fishing line
Note: I also made snowflakes with size 20 thread with a size 12 crochet hook and size 40 thread with a size 14 crochet hook.
Sixtopus Snowflake Instructions
Make magic ring.
Round 1: Ch 2 (counts as 1 dc), 1 dc in ring, ch 3, *2 dc in ring, ch 3; repeat from * 4 times; sl st in 2nd ch of starting ch 2. Pull magic ring tight.
Round 2: *2 sc in next ch 3 sp, ch 10, 1 sc in 3rd ch from hook, 1 hdc in next ch, 1 dc in each of next 3 ch, 1 hdc in next ch, 1 sc in next ch, ch 1, 2 sc in same sp, ch 6, 1 sc in 2nd ch from hook, 1 hdc in next ch, 1 dc in next ch, ch 2, 2 sc in next ch 3 sp; repeat from * around 5 times, ending with ch 2 on final repeat; sl st in top of joining dc of Round 1; bind off. Weave in ends.
If you're not reading this pattern on Snowcatcher, you're not reading the designer's blog. Please go here to see the original.
Finish: Tape wax paper or plastic wrap to top of empty pizza box. Pin snowflake to box on top of wax paper or plastic wrap.
Mix a few drops of water with a teaspoon of glue in small washable container. Paint snowflake with glue mixture or desired stiffener. Sprinkle lightly with glitter. Wash paintbrush and container thoroughly. Allow snowflake to dry at least 24 hours. Remove pins. Gently peel snowflake from wax paper or plastic wrap. Attach 10-inch clear thread to one spoke, weaving in end. Wrap fishing line around tree branch (or tape to ceiling or any overhead surface) and watch the snowflake twirl freely whenever you walk by! Snowflake also may be taped to window or tied to doorknob or cabinet handle.