2016 Hoffman Challenge

This year's Hoffman Fabric Challenge introduced a number of exciting enhancements:

  • This is the first time they are used a digitally printed fabric, Crystalia, as the challenge fabric.  Digital printing offers a number of advantages to the environment, flexibility in translating the original artwork into textile print, but ultimately breaking the barrier to the typical 18-color limit available with current screen printing!!  Just look at that brilliant burst of bold and vibrant color all contained within one print!!  
  • Even more exciting is the fact that the challenge fabric was offered in two versions:  black and white!
  • The organizers also debuted a new Home Decor category (replacing the former doll category).
  • They also switched to digital entries for the first round of judging (translation--providing the ability for participants to work right up to the deadline without losing any time for shipping actual quilts for judging!!)

Crystalia Digital Prints Deconstructed!
This may have been the first Hoffman challenge fabric that really appealed to my aesthetic.  I just loved the different butterfly designs, and all that amazing color!!  Oh the quilt design possibilities!  

Initially, I set out with a game plan to create one large butterfly mandala (surprise, surprise!).  Having spent an entire weekend fusing and cutting out 8 repeats of the various butterfly motifs (200+ butterflies), I was excited to get my zen on.  Starting with the smaller butterfly motifs, I would construct the inner rings and work my way out with larger and larger motifs.  However, each mandala design would fizzle out as I approached the 3rd ring, and I would begin anew.

Since the inner rings had appeal, I adjusted course and created a bunch of smaller mandalas.  Individually, I loved my mini mandalas, but their beauty was muddled when I tried to combine them all into one composition (and they were close to exceeding the size restrictions!!)

So I started to disassemble the mandalas and experiment with alternate layouts.  I kept two of my favorite mini mandalas, and added in a few smaller mandalas, grids and stacks.  These new layouts reminded me of framed butterfly displays, so I set out to create several miniature quilts that would be finished/framed (aka bound), and ultimately mounted onto a larger background quilt.  Finished size was still a concern, but not as pressing as the rapidly looming deadline, since I went from creating one finished quilt to a total of eleven quilts.  Oh--did I forget to mention that this was all occurring one week prior to the 6/30 deadline--what was I thinking?!?  With a game plan in mind, I got to work stitching down the butterflies.  Almost immediately, my needle kept gumming up, and would produce uneven stitches (if it stitched at all!)  This proved to be extremely frustrating, until my Brother and much needed alcohol came to my rescue.  My Bernina can be a bit finicky at times, so I pulled my ever reliable Brother sewing machine which was more cooperative, provided I use rubbing alcohol to wipe off the needle in between each and every butterfly!    
"If plan A doesn't work, the alphabet has 25 more letters--204, if you're in Japan."-Claire Cook
Having lost far more hours than originally budgeted, panic began to set in.  I started to rethink my game plan and look for more simplified designs.  In between butterfly sets, I would stretch my legs and audition modified layouts on the studio floor.  I had a hard time letting go of any of my mini quilts and as a result, I found myself recreating the same layout over and over.  So I turned to Doug to bring a fresh perspective to my design dilemmas.  I gave him the rough dimensions needed, handed him the blocks and simply watched on as he opened my eyes to some new design possibilities!   Whereas most of my design were laid out horizontally, I noticed that Doug's designs tended to be more vertical.  Following his lead, I followed suit and came up with a few possibilities...which I continued to rethink up until the very end!  Even Panda wanted to get in on the action...or should I say distraction!  Clearly she thought it was time for belly rubs...why else would I be crawling around on the floor?!?
Setting My Sights Higher!
As my mini quilts were coming together, it was time to set my sights on the background quilt.  I auditioned three background fabrics:  using the backside of another fabric from the Crystalia collection (which would earn me bonus points with the judges, but seemed too washed out), a light lime green solid (which was an improvement, but stilll seemed pale) and finally a robin's egg blue solid (which I immediately loved).
Auditioning Backgrounds
I imagined mounting my butterfly displays on an embossed wall-papered backdrop, and set out to free motion quilt a faux-embossed, whole-cloth quilt!  Yes, much of my time, effort and quilting would be completely covered up once my butterfly displays were mounted in place...but I hoped this attention to detail would impress the judges.  Extra-wide blue painter's tape was used to mark out alternating rows widths that were filled in with figure eights and a large floral motif, stitched in a variegated lavender Aurifil 50-weight thread.  As these are two of my favorite motifs, and I was able to stitch edge to edge, the quilting was completed in just a few hours!  
My Faux Embossed, Wall Paper Back Drop
White 50-weight Aurifil thread was used to add Free-motion quilting details into the backgrounds of each of the mini butterfly displays.  I started out by simply stitching one filler design around each of the butterflies.  As I found my free motion groove, I started breaking up the background space by stitching in mats, arcs, feathers and more!
Hand-crafted Butterfly Displays
More Free- Motion Quilted Fun
This year's challenge was co-sponsored by Aurifil thread.  Quilts that use Aurifil threads visibly (ie. thread painting, embellishment, beading, etc) are eligible for one of three Best Use of Aurifil Awards.  In total, eleven different spools of 50-weight Aurifil threads were used for applique, quilting, binding and final assembly of my quilt    
Aurifil Thread Line Up
I was starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but suspected an all-nighter might be necessary to wrap up the loose ends and meet the entry deadline.  But then I was gifted with a quilt challenge miracle:  a facebook post announcing a 1 week deadline extension!!  After verifying the legitimacy of this announcement by checking three different sources, I decided to celebrate by take a much needed break.  My plan was to get a good night's rest to help me recharge so I could tackle the finishing details the following morning.  Instead of waking up feeling refreshed and energized, I woke up sick and spent most of the weekend on the couch or in bed fighting a virus that packed a punch!  Luckily I managed to muster enough energy to finish up the binding/finishing and I celebrated the Fourth of July by submitting my quilt entry...a day ahead of the revised deadline!!  
Butterfly Boxed Sets, Finished 34" x 42"
Artist Summary:  “Butterfly Boxed Sets” showcases the brilliance and beauty of the digitally printed Crystalia challenge fabric.  Each framed butterfly display features a hand-crafted artistic arrangement of vibrant butterflies mounted on a textured white back splash.  Set against a faux-embossed wallpaper (free motion quilted whole cloth quilt) this exquisite 10-piece collection is ready to migrate with this year’s Hoffman trunk show to a quilt show/guild meeting near you!


  1. They are beautiful....Loved the progression to the finished product!

    1. Thanks Sallee...these challenges often involve a variety of twists and turns before arriving at the final design. I love the process as much as the final product, and glad you do too!!


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