08 March 2012

Quilted Race

final tweak

Ten days to finish. Or at least make it look finished. Photos and entry form must be in the mail by March 18.

a range of choices

When I first began this yet unnamed snowflake quilt way back in about 1995 or 1996, I selected favorite snowflake patterns and began crocheting and hand appliquéing them to velour squares until I apparently ran out of velour. I'd bought the original batch of velour on clearance in Brighton (for a warm winter Daisy Kingdom dress for my adopted daughter; leftovers went to the quilt). A search of my stash last January revealed I had indeed found more matching velour but had never pulled the project back out to finish the quilt. Good thing. I like today's block design much better than my original plan.


Initially, I planned to scatter the blue snowflake fabric windows randomly. While playing with squares on the floor prior to our Utah vacation last month, I decided a cascading light-to-dark color scheme would be much more attractive. The revised design also would allow me to incorporate some newer fabric from my stash. I can never resist blue snowflake fabric, especially when it goes on clearance in January or February, so my stash is quite extensive now.

one third of the collection

After cutting a new velour square, I cut new snowflake windows until I ran out of white sparkly border fabric. Then I tweaked the layout and tweaked it again and again until I achieved just the right mix.

totally tweaked

While shooting these photos, I recalled my Brazilian friend Ane Scherrer properly identifying the book I'd used to make these snowflakes. I decided I wanted the snowflakes to be my own, and I wanted them all to be the same thread and the same tension. That harmonious element was missing from the original arrangement, not only because the snowflakes were created whenever I could manage a free minute or two while raising two special-needs kids alone, but also because some of the snowflakes would be too large for the squares if I worked them in size 10 thread. Back to the cutting board, although I didn't have one of those back when I started this quilt. I used a paper pattern to cut all those original squares and rectangles back in the mid-90s. New snowflakes also meant back to the crochet hook, and with a BIG deadline to boot.

20 new and perfect snowflakes
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During mostly snowed-out vacation in February, I successfully finished 20 more brand new white snowflakes, all with the same thread, same hook and same tension. I had to adjust some of the patterns to get them to fit on the squares. And then I developed a blister on my right pointer finger pinning all those snowflakes in a day!

pin heaven

Then began the process of attaching the snowflakes to the squares, definitely the most time-consuming part of this quilt. As I motored along, trying to get this step done in three nights after work, I mentally began piecing and quilting the squares in my head, trying to come up with a quilt-as-you-go method to speed up the process and allow me to finish in time but still enjoy the work and create a visually pleasing and stimulating quilt suitable for competition. I decided to attack the project the way I would set in a collar on a tailored jacket. Row by row, corner to middle twice, I would leave one end open, seaming front and back edges separately, mostly by machine, closing up the final center back seam by hand. This process would allow me to quilt while commuting if I needed to by keeping the sections smaller and more portable while also enabling some row joining during my commutes if needed.

the hardest part

One done!

We still get a lot of snow this time of year in Colorado, so the bicycle fleece blanket we put up over the window last October to hold in precious heat is still there, and that makes my sewing station somewhat dim. Just knowing the days are getting longer helps me push past the winter doldrums, particularly when I imagine my ancestors quilting by hand by the light of a candle after a day of working on the farm or slaving over the stove while putting up fresh tomatoes and peaches.

Woman Cave

ready to stitch

press on

stitch away

After appliquéing all the snowflakes, I made one more velour square and replaced one of the snowflakes spur of the moment because I decided Purple Mountain wasn't perfect enough. Besides, I'd wanted to include the Century Snowflake, but the original pattern was too big. I finally worked up yet another adaptation (to be featured in a future Snowflake Monday post). The squares that aren't being used allowed me to try out some of the different quilting ideas in my head before committing them to the actual quilt. It also means I have a new collection of snowflake potholders!

new century

One of my ideas was to outline the snowflakes Hawaiian style. I tried that with the rejected Purple Mountain Snowflake square. I learned variegated quilting thread gets overpowered by velour. Standard white sewing thread looks much better. Two rows of outline looked pretty awesome, but the third row made the piece look, well, Hawaiian. And that's not the effect I wanted. Better to learn on a potholder than a quilt.


not bad


too much

Piecing FINALLY began. And I thought the appliqué process was bad!!! I will be finding dark blue velour nubs all over the house for months!

velour hell

velour nib solution

As I stitched, I remembered one reason this quilt never got finished. I mean, besides running out of velour. I hate velour! This is one of the most difficult fabrics in the world to work with. The range of emotions raging through my soul nearly caused me to give up on the quilt altogether. I'd curse the fabric while I seamed, then I'd get up from the sewing machine to press the seams, turn the piece over and remember why I chose this fabric in the first place. The dark blue velvety soft velour really makes white snowflakes stand out.

strips pieced

I also became dismayed because I can't precision piece this quilt. Not that any of my quilting is that perfect anyway, but this project will not have the polish of a dedicated perfectionist, no matter how hard I try, because I'd cut the pieces using a paper pattern I drew by my math-challenged self. My scissors likely were dull to boot. That happens when you have kids. They use your good scissors for everything that shouldn't be cut with sewing scissors.

sloppy piecing

These quilt squares just don't line up the way they should. I've never seen an imperfectly pieced quilt in the Denver National Quilt Festival, and I don't want to be the first. I also really don't need another rejection beneath my belt, which likely will be the result if I do submit this because these squares are SO far off. Last year's Spindrift didn't make the Quilts at the Capital exhibit because it was an inch too short. I'd measured the quilt prior to crocheting the edge, which I finished after submitting photos of the all-but-edged quilt. The crocheted edge would have brought the size into compliance. Rejection stings.

completion of the first two vertical strips

The decision not to enter the quilt brings with it a heavy burden as well as tremendous deadline relief. I won't be motivated to finish the quilt. Ever.

Once again, I thought of my great grandmother, quilting with remnants of my great grandfather's work clothes because that's all she had. She didn't have a fancy sewing machine. She didn't have a cutting board or a rotary cutter. She didn't always get to color-coordinate, and there were no fancy patterns back then. She used up every spare piece of (typically used and worn) fabric in quilts that were loved and appreciated because they kept recipients warm.

A new goal is in order for me. Now, I'm trying to finish the quilt by the opening of the Denver Quilt Festival in May. The new deadline will allow me to have a life outside of quilting, and it will keep me quilting until I finish. Then I can still buy a 2012 Denver National Quilt Festival pin because I'll attend the show, and because I finished another quilt for the show, just not exhibited IN the show.

vertical stripe pieced

Once again, attitude is everything. This quilt will not be perfect. I may not even want to show it off! But it will embrace three of my passions - snowflakes, quilting and crochet - and it will reflect how far I've come since those lonely days back in the 90s when I thought I'd be an old maid forever because I was better at needlecraft than relationships. The imperfect piecing symbolizes the ends that were so hard to meet back when I was single-parenting, and the corners that do meet will demonstrate that I can pull things together when I try. The quilt will document how shaky and jerky I am free-motion quilting for the first time ever and hopefully how I perfect my technique by the time I finish. The quilt boasts my favorite colors and color combinations, and it showcases some of my favorite snowflakes. Finishing this quilt will convey some of that same rugged determination I use to get up a mountain (or almost get up a mountain) or ride 60 miles in a day during Colorado's harsh winter.

I'm thankful this quilt has taken so many years to come together. It has taught me so much. And even if it's not perfect, it's still one heck of a pretty quilt! Um, maybe it will be just perfect over the window next winter...

perfect corner!

my first hand at free motion

the flip side


  1. Far be it from me to suggest something to another artist but I just have to mention how GORGEOUS this quilt is going to be. One thing did occur to me though that I just have to share! I wonder how it would be to have all the dark blocks on one side and then go to the opposite side in ever increasing shades of lighter to the other side. Maybe it's the painter in me I don't know but I would love to see the subtle gradation of values across the quilt. Please don't mind me...just thinking out loud! Thank you for sharing your beautiful things with us. :)

  2. This quilt will be stunning - well worth finishing just for its own beauty. It might not be perfect (that's what machines do) but it will be wonderful.

  3. Thank you, Judy and Annie!

    Judy, I like your idea, and I do think I will make another one at some point, but not with velour. :)

  4. stunningly gorgeous (sorry,just one adjective wasn't nearly enough- it needed an adverb also!)
    love the quilt- and love you, unmet sister.

  5. Oooo! And Ahhhhhh! It is remarkable and you are remarkable! my goodness. I can't believe how talented you are. You should try to make a Peanut quilt some day. I'm just sayin'... Seriously, you GO, girl!

  6. Wow!
    Your quilt is almost finished! Dear friend, it is amazing! Velour! Trés chique! What a great idea you had.
    But...why do we have to be so perfectionists? Well done!
    Brazilian kisses...

  7. Amazing! You started out with my favorite colors and shades of blue too! Your 1..2..3.. steps look so easy, here...but could I do it with and not be all thumbs??? That is a very big question indeed! Little stupid (sewing story) while making a robe for my hubby, I accidently put the right sleeve on the left side and left sleeve on the right side...took me 2 days to try to figure out what I did wrong...then my sister-in-law (a professional tailor) came over and the second she saw it....she knew what I had done....all thumbs or???Brainless, perhaps! lol

  8. It will be great and what a race :).

    Ps. I am so in love whit my new sewing machine :D.

  9. Whenever I check into your blog, I need a moment of silence.
    Beautiful work. Thank you so much for sharing your work and some of yourself.

  10. It IS one heck of a pretty quilt. I do like the light-to-dark cascade idea. There's so much going on with the snowflakes themselves that it adds just the right amount of movement without too much randomness.

    I'm glad the pressure's off. Enjoy the process! It will look beautiful over the window, or wherever you put it.

  11. The quilt turned out beautiful! I may have to use this idea for myself for the future...I love skiing, and therefore snow, but hate being cold.

    Also. the sewing machine you have is the same model I learned to sew on! The poor machine is still going, though it can't zig zag anymore after over 20 years of use and all 4 of us children learning on it.

    1. Why, thank you, Purrfect! I do love this idea, but the quilt is still not done. I've never overcome the squares not lining up purrfectly... :) I also love my Viking. I just got it service for the second or third time in all the years I've had it, and it works like a dream again. I won't wait so long for it to be serviced again now!


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