01 April 2010

My Fourteener Quilt

My 14er Quilt beneath 14er Mount PrincetonI didn’t finish the 14ers the way other mountain climbers do. I did it my own way.

As far as I know, I’m the only person so far to quilt all the 14ers. In winter. Solo. Hand powered (except for piecing).

After my unexpected but mandatory back surgery in 2004, I had to give up climbing, cycling and volleyball for a while. To keep from becoming depressed with all the hours and hours and hours of nothing but sitting with my legs up to reduce pressure on my spinal cord, I decided to make a quilt. Because I couldn’t be out in the mountains where I wanted to be, I decided to quilt them.

A Visitor atop Mount Evans, the peak I've climbed the most... on my bikeI had taken pictures of all but five of Colorado’s 59 points that rise above 14,000 feet by November of 2004. After surgery, mountain photos were out of the question for several months. So The Lizard and our friend Ferenc jumped to my rescue. Ferenc loaned me two peaks, and The Lizard loaned me three more. The Lizard also let me use one of his photos I liked better than mine.

This story actually starts before I began the fourteener quilt. About a year before my surgery, I got the bright idea that my photos would look cool in a quilt. I cut some plain white fabric to the size of computer paper and attached it via cellophane tape to a sheet of cardstock and ran it through my photo printer. Man, did it ever look cool as it rolled out. The colors were so vibrant and sharp! Much better than any commercially printed fabric I’d ever seen in a store. Oh, was I onto something BIG!

Sunshine PeakI stitched a fabric frame around the fabric photo with contrasting fabric (quilters call this sashing), then headed to the ironing board to press my seams flat. A couple of light squirts of water mist and… YIKES!!! The beautiful color of my luxurious fabric photo was icky and brown and all over everything I touched. Even a few things I didn't touch. Back to the drawing board. That is, after thoroughly cleaning my ironing board... And the iron. And the carpet. And my clothing.

I did a ton of research and studied up on printing on fabric before trying again. After what amounted to a $20 or so degree in printing on fabric, courtesy of a marvelous little pocket-sized book by Caryl Bryer Fallert, I began the experiment again, this time with 14ers and post-surgery.

my favorite square, just because it's not your typical mountain pictureI pre-treated three yards of plain white cotton with Bubble Jet Set, then cut the fabric into 8.5x11 pieces and applied it to wax paper with my iron on very low heat so I could run it through my printer. (This was MUCH easier than taping fabric to cardstock!) I then post-treated the squares (which actually are rectangles, but quilters call them squares) with Bubble Jet Rinse and washed and ironed them to make sure they were indeed colorfast.


I selected a denim-look fabric for peak names because so many mountain climbers belittle anyone who climbs peaks while wearing T-shirts and jeans. Denim also probably is my favorite fabric, although I have not climbed a peak while wearing jeans yet. Yes, it is something I will do one day just to be able to say I did it.

Pyramid PeakI chose a stone-gray fabric for the sashing because that seemed to fit the quilt theme better than anything else I found.

I hand traced and hand embroidered the calligraphy mostly with floss I inherited from my crafty grandmother 26 years earlier. I tried to match the embroidery floss to colors within the photos as close as I could. I did have to buy a few supplemental skeins, so now I have floss leftovers in about seven shades of dirt I probably never will use. Maybe a granddaughter of someone will be inspired to use it in a revolutionary way a quarter century after I’m gone...

Uncompahgre Peak, my favorite mountainI machine pieced the quilt face. All the quilting, thousands of stitches, is by hand. I outlined every peak. You could say I inched my way over every one of Colorado’s 14,000-thousand-foot-tall mountain peaks.

My quilt acquired quite a few non-typical miles during this memorable journey. I worked on the embroidery every day on the light rail and on the quilting until it got too big to lug around (it's 6 feet by 8 feet). I quilted in the car every weekend en route to our cross-country ski adventures, even when the quilt got too big to carry on the train.

Sunlight and Windom, courtesy of The LizardFunny facts: I did Uncompahgre and Sunshine in a day! (Although some mountaineers could accomplish this fete on feet in real life, I have yet to be able to climb two peaks several miles apart in a day.) I accidentally stabbed myself on Sunlight and had to stop working on the quilt for a while so I wouldn't get blood on it, so that was my most dangerous summit. (Sunlight Peak is considered by many to be the most difficult or second most difficult peak in Colorado.) I finished the 14ers on Pyramid... in the Powderhorn parking lot. (Pyramid Peak, near Aspen, Colorado, is a good summer day trip away from Powderhorn Ski Area, atop the Grand Mesa.)

I finished the quilt with a jeans pocket on the back. I hand embroidered all the pertinent information. And I left the top of the pocket open so I can hide trail maps or love notes in the quilt. Although I can’t say this treasured piece of memorabilia will ever find its way atop a bed. (It’s hanging on my living room wall, and it can stay there as long as it wants.)
quilt pocket


  1. Absolutely wonderful! I totally understand setting such a project in such a situation, and you set about and accomplished a truly outstanding one!

  2. Wow, that's beautiful and amazing! I love it!

  3. This totally redefines what to do when life hands you lemons...

    This is a short story that should be mandatory reading for every recovering athlete. If only we were all so talented... :)

  4. You certainly put your down time to good use. I believe your beautiful quilt is a unique work of art and deserves to be displayed on a wall. Somebodies granddaughter will treasure this as a heirloom masterpiece.You and Mr Lizard are both amazing.

  5. Wow, the greatest quilt EVER, in my opinion.

    I loved your quips about doing two peaks in one day and your most dangerous summit!

  6. A true piece of art. Your talents never cease to amaze.

  7. Absolutely amazing quilt! Truly beautiful!


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