"I think you're going to need spikey tires to ride in this."
A little more than a year ago, my snowflakery was highlighted in Art Forum magazine, the biggest, best and most well-known international art magazine in the world.
As a result of that Pinch-Me-Or-Is-It-A-Dream rise to snowflakedom, I was invited to be a featured artist in a New York art gallery this summer.
My work has been exhibited before, so I know the game well. Things may not go the way you hope or think. Schedules change. Minds change. Trends change. I've learned from experience not to get my hopes too high and to make contingency plans just in case.
I asked if the gallery wanted to showcase just crocheted snowflakes, or if multi-media was expected/desired. Never got an answer back on that, and that's okay because I knew I had enough time to prepare many different kinds of projects, and if the show didn't come to fruition, I'd have a healthy supply of snowflake items to last me throughout the year and possibly into gift-giving next Christmas. Nothing wrong with that.
One of my ideas was an appliqué snowflake quilt, inspired by a very popular greeting card I designed several years ago.
I knew I would need a LOT of snowflakes. I could see them in my head, and all of them were white. For seven months, I made white snowflakes. I rarely took color breaks. I made white snowflakes until they literally were falling off my bedroom dresser and computer desk. I went through five big balls of white crochet thread. I made so many white snowflakes, I didn't ever want to see another white snowflake as long as I live.
Until it began snowing (again) in December. I finished a couple of very pretty white snowflakes, and I really wanted to go cross-country skiing, so I got excited about white snowflakes all over again.
From the beginning, my plan was to incorporate a whole cloth quilt top, which I intended to dye by hand, either with natural dye (pre-reduced indigo) or commercial dye. I had a blue gradient in my head, and nothing else would do.
I waited too long on the fabric, though. It was too cold to do an outdoor dye pot when I was ready to begin the appliqué work. If the New York exhibit did happen, I'd probably have to be completely done with the quilt by February. Even if you've been asked to be a featured artist, you still have to go through the jury process.
If the show didn't happen, I could still enter the quilt in the Denver National Quilt Festival. Nothing wrong with that!
So I began an intensive search for ready-to-quilt gradient blue fabric. Initially, I thought McKenna Ryan's Natural Instincts in the Ice colorway would be just perfect. The Lizard, however, thought the strong contrasts might detract from the snowflake design in my head. So at the end of December, I bought two yards of Hoffman Fabrics' Radiant Gradient Ombre Shimmer in Marine Blue. Apparently the last two yards available on the planet!!! I was a bit disappointed the Shimmer didn't shimmer, but it's still a nice fabric, and it looks like winter to me.
I took a picture of my bike, then converted the photo into line art and had Fed Ex print a plain architect blueprint-size copy. I waited for a bright, sunny day to tape the "pattern" and the fabric to one of the large windows at work so I could trace the outline for snowflake appliqué placement.
Sunshine wasn't plentiful the first week or so of January, though. I ended up finishing the chalky deed on an overcast day. The quilt fabric fell from the window about 11 times before I finally finished tracing. Several co-workers helped me reposition the fabric several times until we gave up altogether, and two tall guys held it in place for me until I finished. Thanks, guys!!!
While tracing with a white embroidery pencil on the dark areas and a regular pencil on the light areas because the blue embroidery pencil did not show on the blue fabric, I mistakenly thought we'd rehung the fabric wrong side toward us. After nearly finishing the outline, I thought the outline was on the backside of the fabric. I didn't want to make those guys stand and hold that fabric while I traced the bike all over again. So I just kept going, thinking, oh, well, using the inside of the fabric for the quilt top was unique and different. But deep down inside, I was crushed!
When I finally finished and we gently lowered the fabric to a table, I realized I had done the outline on the right side! I didn't have to be different and unique!!! Yippee!!!
I couldn't believe how many cycling fans I work with! Everyone who saw what I was doing and who helped hold the fabric at one time or another couldn't wait to see the finished product! I could only hope the finished quilt would be as popular at the Denver Merchant Mart at the end of April and beginning of May if this masterpiece successfully gets juried into the 2015 Denver National Quilt Festival!
After tracing came the time-consuming process of positioning and appliquéing 110 snowflakes onto the quilt. I pinned the quilt top to our bedroom wall and used quilt basting spray to attach the snowflakes. Every night while I slept, an unforecasted indoor blizzard would occur. Some of the snowflakes would fall off every night. I was constantly reapplying.
One good thing that came of the lack of stick is I didn't realize until I started placing the snowflakes on the quilt that some of my 230 total white snowflakes since June were in a different colorway. They stood out badly. The unexpected blizzards allowed me to weed out the slightly vanilla flakes.
Hardscrabble Snowflake Variations
Also, one of the snowflakes that fell got ugly on the carpet; I may not have noticed this particular flyaway right away. By the time I found it and the empty spot on the quilt where a flake should be, we had thrown our hats in this year's Ride the Rockies lottery. Hardscrabble Pass, which I missed due to forest fire smoke in 2013, is featured on this year's route. I'd designed a snowflake back then and named it after the pass I didn't get to do, and that snowflake had not made it into the quilt. I replaced the dirty, smudgy snowflake with Hardscrabble. My husband, who did get to climb that pass, told me Hardscrabble is HARD. So I'm thrilled to have the snowflake featured in my quilt! The quilt just wouldn't be as symbolic if that particular snowflake wasn't included! Because, well... WE GOT DRAWN! I'm going to try to climb HARD Hardscrabble this year!!!
My greeting card has a red snowflake for the tail light, and I had planned to add one to this quilt, but when I held the oblong sparkly red snowflake in position below the bike seat on the quilt, The Lizard quickly shook his head.
"It doesn't need that," he said. "It's fine without it."
Less is more. I heeded his expert opinion.
The appliqué portion of the quilt top took three nights and was tedious. I had decided during the construction of my niece's snowdyed baby quilt to appliqué the snowflakes BEFORE sandwiching the quilt layers for this quilt to prevent unwanted gathers on the underside. This meant the appliqué stage would be doubled, but I assumed the duplicate effort would be worth it in the end if I had no rip outs due to catching fabric in the quilting on the underneath side. I still stick to my guns on this opinion, but the appliqué for this project definitely was tedious times two. !!!
After the first round of appliqué, I hand-basted the layers (the top, batting and the bottom a gradient navy blue batik, positioned opposite of the front) the old-fashioned way on the quilt frame my dear husband crafted for me back when I was struggling with hand-basting "Lizard Leftovers." Hand-basting took two nights.
I quilted the bike spokes with metallic thread in one night. I was so shocked the metallic thread never broke! I had planned to quilt free-hand free-motion snowflakes in the negative areas of the quilt, but after one unsuccessful attempt, I pitched that idea right out the window. The metallic thread broke and broke and broke. Aaaargh! I changed to white thread and never looked back.
Actual motif quilting became a traumatic battle of procrastination because my first couple of snowflake motifs came out so awful, in my opinion. I ripped the first one out nine times (plus the metallic attempt, which equals ten), then finally decided it's okay for the motifs to have a hand-drawn (ugh) appearance. So some of my motifs look as though they were drawn by a child. One of my co-workers was quick to point out how attractive some wrapping papers are when they incorporate designs that appear to be done by children. So I pressed on.
Then came the second round of machine snowflake appliqué. Because I was ready to bind the quilt and be done with it, this step seemed to take forever, but in reality, took just over two weeks. With lots of re-dos.
The binding, from my blue snowflake fabric collection, was done the old fashioned way, by hand, with no regrets because I knew I could pull off perfect mitered corners by hand. I have no such confidence when binding by machine. Murphy's Law got me again, though. One of my "perfect mitered corners" ripped while I was stitching it. I patched it as best I could with matching blue thread, knowing full well the Denver National Quilt Festival judges were going to have a heyday with my quilt. Provided they get to see it...
On the Friday night I thought I would be able to finish the quilt once and for all, I did something to my shoulder while holding the quilt up for The Lizard to see. I had to take ibuprofen and go directly to bed, do not pass go, do not collect $200. This really wreaked havoc with the Denver National Quilt Festival Deadline, just two days away.
Fortunately, my shoulder was fine the next morning, and I finished. I finished!!!!! Yippee!!!!!
This entire quilt seems like such a bear because although the quilt stage only took three months, I've been working toward this final product since last June. It feels as though it took forever!
Because I had penciled the bicycle outline in the lighter areas, the quilt needed to be washed. By this time, I knew there was a possibility the quilt might not make it past the jury process, so the washing machine didn't seem as big a risk.
I assumed the metallic thread would be ruined, the crocheted snowflakes would all curl up beyond recognition, and the batting would shrink more or less than the fabric, so the whole quilt would be shriveled. I was so glad to be done with it, I didn't care. I gently tossed the quilt into the washing machine, most gentle cycle, cold water, and took off with The Lizard for my biggest bicycle ride since the Tour de Lavender last August. 56 miles later, I gently pulled the quilt from the washing machine and inspected it.
Amazingly, the metallic thread held its ground! The snowflakes all looked fine! Shrinkage was totally manageable!
But the dark navy blue batik on the back of the quilt bled through my needle holes in the light blue area on the quilt top.
I posted my dilemma to the quilting group on Ravelry. Should I take a toothbrush to the stains with a mild soap or detergent? Or should I toss the whole thing back in the washer and try again, hoping for the best? Or should I just toss the mess in the dryer, set the stains and allow the stains live a long and prosperous life because they provide more definition than the white thread on light blue did?
The wonderful, helpful souls on Ravelry suggested I wash again with color catchers. One told me bleeding typically is caused by allowing the fabric to sit in the washer after the cycle is complete. Um, guilty as charged. Our 56-mile ride probably lasted at least 4.5 hours longer than the wash cycle. I had to look up color catchers because I honestly had never heard of them.
In my research, I discovered homemade color catchers may be made from any white fabric mordanted with soda ash. Voila! I have plenty of that!!!
I tossed three slices of my Snowdyed baby quilt leftovers in the washer with the Snowbike quilt and promptly pulled them from the washer as soon as the cycle was finished.
I had less than 12 hours before the Denver National Quilt Festival cut-off. The stains were gone!!! The metallic thread was still metallic thread and still properly positioned! Some of the snowflakes had curled up, some badly, and the shrinkage between snowflakes was pretty hideous.
I decided right then and there not to enter it. I can already hear what the judges would have said, and I don't need to hear what I know I need to improve next time.
I should have prewashed the quilt top after appliquéing the snowflakes and before assembling the layers. I probably shouldn't have used a pencil. And I need a ton more free-motion quilting practice before I attempt a project of this magnitude for competition. Or exhibit. Thank heavens that art show never materialized!!!
Believe it or not, I'm not devastated. I'm disappointed because I put so many months into this. But the pressure is gone. The pressure to be perfect is gone. The stopwatch is no longer running. The shame of my first free-handed free-motion snowflake motifs is mine alone, well, besides what I publish here. And... best of all, I don't have to put a sleeve on the back!!!
I love this quilt anyway. I'm not sure yet where it will hang, but I'm thinking it's perfect for the basement, where my husband works on our bikes. While brightening up the unfinished concrete, it could keep all our retired bikes company!
Linking up with Confessions of a Fabric Addict and Crazy Mom Quilts.