Twelve times 12″ by 12″: December Quilt Reveal

The 12th and final 12″ by 12″ quilt, December, is complete and so Christmas Eve seemed like a good day to put it on the blog! As I explained in my last 12″ by 12″-series post, because this is Ice Bear Quilts, the subject of the December quilt would be a polar bear. I had been keeping my eyes open for possible designs, and came across an applique patternlet by The Wooden Bear designed to be used on a tea-towel. I decided that I could adapt this to make a very cute December quilt.

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The Wooden Bear Polar Bear Patternlet

So I dived into my stash. I decided to make the background from quilting cotton, and the bear and his clothes and mug of hot chocolate from flannel, for a cozy winter feel.

It is dark at the North Pole in the winter, of course, so I wanted a starry sky for my bear. The ground is snowy so I needed white for that. I found a perfect dark blue with small-scale scattered stars, and a white with little metallic silver dots.

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Sky and snow cotton

For my bear I chose three colours: snow white, grey for the snout and inside of the ears and black for the nose.

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The flannel for the bear

For the bear’s clothes I went for red, blue and green, in fresh, clear colours.

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Flannel for the bear’s clothes

And for his mug of hot chocolate with a wisp of steam, I chose dark and light blue flannels, chocolate brown (what else?!) and a beige with snowflake pattern.

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Flannels for the hot chocolate

Further I needed two black micro mini buttons for the eyes, and three white tiny buttons for the marshmallows in the hot chocolate (it is Christmas, after all!), and some embroidery floss to make a fringe on the scarf. All of which I had.

In the original pattern, the white background behind the bear was appliquéd, but I decided to piece the background (partly to obviate show-through) and only to applique the bear. I started by tracing the applique shapes onto paper-backed fusible, and then ironed them to the back of the appropriate colour flannel. I made a tracing of the lay-out using a sharpie, and laid that under an appliqué pressing sheet. Then I constructed the applique on the sheet, starting with the hat.

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Making the hat on the applique pressing sheet

I fused the entire applique into one piece on the sheet, so that I could transfer the whole bear in one go to the background and then fuse it down.

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The applique shapes fused together on the pressing sheet

Then I made the background. I used Ruth B. McDowells foundation technique to do this, making myself two pattern pieces using the curve of the original applique shape to make the curve of the snow. In this technique (explained in more detail in the November 12″ by 12″ post) one makes freezer paper templates, marked with the grain of the fabric and dots and dashes for matching. These are ironed to the reverse side of the fabrics. When using curves, the freezer paper has to be removed, and the dots etc. are transferred to the seam allowance with a pencil. This technique allows for very accurate piecing. I made the background bigger than I needed it, so that I had plenty of space for quilting, and could decide exactly where to have the bear later in the process.

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The background pieces with the freezer paper templates

I pinned the curve with lots of pins, and then stitched the two pieces together.

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Pinned, ready for stitching

Then I pressed the seam to one side; because of the direction of the curve, this was towards the snow. To make sure the blue didn’t show through later, I trimmed the dark seam allowance a little, so that no threads escaped beyond the double layer of white in the seam allowance.

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The background (wrong side)

So then I had my snowy landscape and twinkling artic midnight sky.

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The background for the bear

I positioned the pre-prepared applique shape on the background, and fused it in place. I kept the bear in the lower part of the top on purpose, to emphasis the vastness of the polar night sky.

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The bear fused to the background

I wanted the bottom of the quilt to be at the bottom of the bear’s red jersey. But if you look carefully at the photo, you can see that his arm and green cuff extend slightly below the straight edge of the red jersey: so I decided not to stitch these down, but to stitch them down later, on top of the binding, as if the bear was coming out of the picture.

Then I put a piece of tear-away fusible behind the applique and appliquéd all the pieces in place. I used matching thread colours from Aurifil. I used blanket stitch for the hat and the jersey and scarf, to enhance the feeling of knitwear, and a zig-zag stitch, in varying sizes for the bear itself and his mug of hot chocolate. I stitched his mouth using a double line of stitches with black thread.

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The bear appliquéd to the background

Then I turned the top over, got out Uncle Bill’s Silver Gripper and tore off and picked-out the fusible.

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The back of the top, after applique and before removal of stabiliser

I wanted to quilt the sky to give an icy feel, and at the same time I didn’t want to quilt over the stars, or have the quilting be too visible, as I felt this would detract from the starry-night effect that I was looking for. So I decided to quilt the sky in dark blue random jagged straight lines that travel between the stars. I used Charlotte Warr Andersens one-line-at-a-time box-kite method to do this, but whereas her method gives a very even regular result, I deliberately distorted my peaks and valleys to give a random result. I chalked all this lightly on the sky before layering and quilting.

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The sky marked with quilting lines

I made myself a snowflake template for the snowy white background on either side of the bear, and marked dots to indicate the snowflake lightly with a chalk pencil.

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Home-made snowflake template

I found a jolly red fabric with polar bears skating on it in my stash to use as a backing for the quilt. (I have quite a selection of polar bear fabrics, but they are nearly all blue and white: I can’t remember where this one came from, and I don’t think I would ever have found use for it otherwise, but there you are, it makes a great December quilt-backing).

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Skating polar bear backing fabric

So I layered the top, batting and backing and used a combination of thread and pin basting (thread around the edge and the bear, pinning elsewhere as the pins are easier te remove on the go).

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The quilt layered and basted

I quilted the sky with dark-blue thread along my marked lines. Because of the way I had marked them, I was able to do this only stopping three times. I had drawn my jagged points so that they would remain free of the binding seam in the finished quilt, as I wanted the pointy effect. I also quilted in the blue very close to the bear, along his ears and cheeks, to make him pop out a little, and in the blue along the curve of the snow.

Then I quilted the snowflakes in white in the snow, and coloured lines on the hat, scarf, cuff and cup of hot chocolate and steam. I quilted the hat and scarf following the curves of the garments, except for the pompom, which I quilted out from the centre in arcs.

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Sky and bear quilted, basting still in place

I was really pleased with my jagged sky quilting: it gives a subtle impression of ice and cold. It is hard to see in the photos, so I took a close-up at an angle.

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Close-up of sky quilting

The I used a 12 1/2″ ruler to determine exactly where I wanted the bear to be in the final quilt: I chose to centre him on his nose, using, as determined earlier, the bottom of the red jersey as the bottom of the picture. I drew around the ruler with a chalk pencil, then stitched 1/8″ inside the line to stabilise the edges and hold the top together, as there was very little quilting that went to the edge. Then I cut the quilt to size.

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Basting around bear removed, cutting lines marked, not yet trimmed

As with the whole series, this quilt is also bound with a batik. I had a dark blue batik with light blue spots, which I thought gave a nice pop of colour and tied in well with the picture without being distracting.

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The blue batik for the binding

Before adding the 2″ double-fold binding, I added a hanging sleeve made of the skating bear fabric to the quilt back. Then I very carefully loosened the bottom edge of the polar bear’s green cuff and red sleeve, pinning them back so that they would not be sandwiched between the top and the binding. When I had stitched the binding onto the quilt front, I folded them back down, and appliquéd them in place, before I sewed the binding to the quilt back, so that the stitching doesn’t show on the back.

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Detail: the cuff and sleeve stitched over the binding

I sewed on the two black buttons for eyes (taking care not to give him too goofy an expression!) and the three white buttons for marshmallows.

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Detail: Polar bear face

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Detail: Marshmallows floating in hot chocolate

In the original pattern, the fringe for the bear’s scarf was sewn with lazy daisy stitches, but I decided that as this is a wall hanging, it would be more fun to make a real fringe, that could move and stick out a bit, complementing the arm and cuff. I used three strands of DMC embroidery floss in a matching green, and made a number of individual fringes along the bottom edge of the scarf.

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Detail: The embroidery floss scarf fringe

I separated the strands of floss with a needle, so that they hang as separate threads.

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Close up of the completed bear

So the front of the quilt was complete.

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The finished quilt from the front

I added a label to the quilt back, and my Twelves times 12″ by 12″ series was complete!

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Quilt back with hanging sleeve, label and quilting lines

Then I put the quilt on the hanger, added the december pine-tree topper, and placed it on the chest of drawers in our entry hall.

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December 12″ by 12″ quilt

I really love this quilt: I think the bear is so cute! It makes me smile every time I walk past. I am also very pleased that I have now made all 12 quilts in this project, and achieved the goal I set myself, and am looking forward to being able to change them month-on-month throughout the year.





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