Dream Window 21: Head, Heart, Health and Hands

I apologize for keeping this Dream Window from you for so long.  I’m really, really sorry.  I actually built this thing about twelve months ago, but I wanted to save showing it off in the blog until today.

And when you read this post, you will understand why I employed an information embargo on this Dream Window construct.

In August 2016, when I visited the Altamont Fair, I toured the various barns and buildings, looking for ideas for future creative exploits.  And in the Arts and Crafts building, I found a competition that truly intrigued me.

It was a competition called “Recycle Your Ribbons.”  The idea was to take your prize-winning silks and turn them into a new artwork – whether it was a purse or a pillow or a hand-crafted rosette.

And I’m thinking to myself … oh hell to the no, I’m not ruining my competition ribbons.  Every one of my award-winning silks is special to me.  I earned those stripes.

Yet I was still captivated by the whole concept of “Recycle Your Ribbons.”

I kept thinking.  And it dawned on me.  What’s the biggest agricultural club out there?  4-H, of course.

So what if I took all the ribbons and awards I’ve won in 4-H… and crafted them into a Dream Window?  Yes, that would be an awesome creation – a Dream Window with every single 4-H ribbon and rosette and award I’ve ever earned…

And you’re looking at me and thinking, “Ha ha ha, it would be a very interesting Dream Window in that Chuck Miller has never won a 4-H ribbon or medal in his life.  It would probably be the first Dream Window that was more ‘window’ than ‘dream.’  Ha ha ha!  What a jamoke!”

See, what you don’t realize is that my brain’s creative side is currently synchronized with my brain’s cognitive side.  They both matched up, like the cylinders in a combination lock.  And the lock opened.

And right off the bat, I thought…

I’m gonna need some 4-H prize ribbons.

And I don’t care how I get them.

Hello, eBay…

The goal was to acquire ribbons and medals that represented prizes won from county and state fairs across the United States.  I wanted blue ribbons, red ribbons, white ribbons, any color ribbons.  I wanted ribbons with rosettes, I wanted ribbons with pins and stripes and sashes and buttons.

And, thankfully, there were plenty of ribbons on sale at eBay sites, and all costing next to nothing.  I not only had plenty of ribbons at bargain prices; I also had more than enough ribbons to practice cutting and sewing and trimming and sculpting.  This is going to be fun.

Real fun.

Serious fun.

The latest frame for a Dream Window.
The latest frame for a Dream Window.

At the same time, I had to prepare the “window” of my Dream Window project.  I had a nice 24″ x  57″ 12-paneled transom window that I purchased in 2012.  That’s right, four years and this thing has been sitting in my apartment, gathering dust and looking dingy.  I’d already bashed out all the broken glass in the window years ago, and cleaned away all the dirt and cobwebs and gunk from the panes.

Now for the next step.  A few spritzes of Citristrip paint and varnish remover, and the chipped, discolored paint came off like cookies from a Teflon baking pan.  I wonder if there’s a 4-H badge for lead paint removal…

The Citristrip didn’t remove all the paint, so I had to use a little old-fashioned elbow grease and some sanding sponges.  A little hard work never hurt anybody… right?

Looks better with a nice sanding, don'tcha think?
Looks better with a nice sanding, don’tcha think?

Eventually, after I ran out of sandpaper and shoulder strength, I rented a palm sander from Home Depot. Ninety minutes and $12.95 later, I sanded off the remaining paint and age and gunk from the frame.

Once the window frame was cleaned and dusted and wiped, I purchased some water-based wood stain.  And since this is 4-H, where the predominant colors are green and white, I used some green-colored wood stain.  Benjamin Moore’s Arborcoat formula, to be precise.

Yeah.  Chuck wants this to work.

Eventually, with all the sanding and staining and sanding and staining and standing and saining and stainding…

The window looks much better than before.  Frame is ready.  Now for the interiors.

What, you didn’t think I would just enter this window in competition without putting something in the panels, right?

Silly you.

Ladies and gentlemen… I have now entered the world of quilting and hand stitchery.

Yeah, I’m surprised as well.

IMG_20160912_1902220After practicing with a few patches of fabric, I successfully stitched this 1937 blue ribbon onto a piece of quilted fabric.  This will go into Panel 5 (center left), where it will fit nicely.

In addition to the ribbon, I decided that Panel 5 would work perfectly for the collectible achievement pins.  Down the left side of the ribbon, I added several pins that denote a person’s career involvement with 4-H.  The first four pins are numbered, one for each year, then there is a silver pin (5 years), a 10K gold pin (10 years), a pin with a small pearl in its center (15 years), a pin with a small diamond in its center (20 years), one with a green emerald in its center (25 years), and so on and so forth.

There are actually pins that go up to 65 years of service in 4-H, but those are very hard to find.  Especially since I would probably have to acquire them in an estate sale.


Anyways, I’m pretty impressed with my first-ever attempt at stitchery.

The next step…

After I’ve stitched the ribbon to the fabric, and added the necessary achievement pins to the fabric, I bonded the fabric to a 4×12 strip of cardboard, and mounted it into the window frame.

Accomplishment.  It’s a wonderful thing.

Altamont Fair RibbonWhile searching for various ribbons to include in this project, I came across a yellow third-place 4-H silk from the Altamont Fair.

Big deal, right?

How about if I told you that the ribbon was from the Altamont Fair in 1936?

You heard me.  An 81-year-old 4-H silk.

Research time.  The July 31, 1936 edition of the Altamont Enterprise noted that the Fair that year cost 50 cents per day admission, or 25 cents in the evening.  “Kiddie’s Day,” on Tuesday, August 11, was free admission for children.  The Fair only represented Albany and Schenectady Counties; Greene County wouldn’t be part of the Fair until years later.  The Fair ran from Monday, August 10 to Saturday, August 15; it was the first time the Fair had operated in August; previously the Fair was a September event.

The Altamont Enterprise also noted that there would be demonstrations of 4-H skills for boys and girls at the Junior 4-H building and the livestock tents.  “Boys will offer daily judging demonstrations of livestock and farm products while the girls will concentrate their efforts on culinary products, domestic and fine arts.”

And amongst the displays of animal husbandry, horticulture and food preparation, there was indeed a fine arts competition at the Altamont Fair in 1936.  “On exhibition will be hand painted china, lacework, embroidery, knitting, tatting, oil paintings, reed and raffia work, water colors, pastels, crawings and crepe paper work.  There will also be an extensive collection of antiques.  One of the features of the display will be a quilt owned by Charles Pratt of Philadelphia, which is composed of 53,000 patches.”

So for that panel, I decided to shadow-box the pane by showcasing the Altamont Fair silk along some blue and purple ribbons, just to make the Altamont Fair banner stand out.  I also decorated that panel with some New York 4-H stickpins, just to really make a nice emphasis.

The ribbons came from all over the country, and I looked at the tagbacks on each of the ribbons to find out how they were earned.  A series of ribbons from the Franklin County Fair in Vermont showed that in 1952, Joyce Farrar won blue ribbons for her raspberries, her blueberries, and something called an etched zumble – it’s either the 63-year-old handwriting or my 53-year-old eyesight.  A series of silks from the Winnebago County Fair showed that Dennis Geddes had prized Holstein steers from 1961 to 1963.  Also in the 1960’s, Cynthia Pikul won a ton of ribbons for various sewing and home economics prizes at the Hampden County F-H show at the Eastern States Exposition in Massachusetts.

Understand this – I treated all the ribbons with reverence.  Every silk and satin was earned by hardworking young boys and girls, all of whom took the messages and mantras of 4-H to create and develop their own prize-winning entries.

In addition to the ribbons, I received a plethora of other ephemera – record books, pamphlets, paper awards, the like.  They weren’t going to be part of this art project, and I couldn’t just toss them in the garbage.

So I resolved.  If I could determine where the original 4-H county organizations were that issued these awards and certificates were located, then I could send these documents to those 4-H clubs for their own personal archives and collections.

Next thing I know, Cynthia Pikul’s sewing and home economics record books and pamphlets were on their way to the Hampden County 4-H office at UMass Amherst.

IMG_20160905_1059266For the Dream Window’s corner panels, I had a great idea.  There should be 4-H logo-buttoned rosettes in each corner.  In award parlance, a “rosette” is a strip of satin that is folded in such a way as to resemble rose petals.  The center of the rosette is often covered with a badge or a button to hide the rosette’s center fold.

Through some diligent searching, I came across four 4-H rosettes that were previously awarded at the Ramsey Fair in White Bear, Minnesota.  The ribbons were from the early 1950’s; one white ribbon, two blue and a purple.

But, as you can see, the full ribbon and rosette would never fit in my Dream Window’s tiny little corner square.  Thus, I must surgically separate the long, flowing ribbon from the rosette.

This is not as easy as it sounds.  I didn’t want to just take some shears and slice off the dangling ribbon.  It had to be removed carefully.  And if I cut the wrong thread, I ran the risk of unraveling the rosette.

IMG_20160905_1104468Careful.  Double-check each thread.  And with a tiny razor blade…

I slowly sliced a single strand, slipping the smooth, satiny strip from its structure.

Did it.  And as for the other three rosettes… no rosettes were harmed in the removal of their silks.

I missed my calling.  I should have been a mohel.

Nothing goes to waste.  I’ll save the long ribbons for another part of the Dream Window … or maybe for a future Dream Window.

Now to install the rosettes into the window frame.

I stitched some thread into the plastic backing, and sewed the rosettes onto cotton fabric.  Then I placed the rosettes in the Dream Window at corners 1, 4, 9 and 12, and anchored them with 4×4 square mounts.

Rosettes installed.
Rosettes installed.

Fits perfectly.  Four more squares complete.

Now comes the fun part.  I’ve got the ribbons … now I need to start sewing.

Do you have ANY idea how much a decent sewing machine costs these days?

A quick stop at Jo-Ann Fabrics and I almost fainted.  You could purchase a brand new Husqvarna sewing machine for the low, low price of $2,500.

Yeah, let me check my couch cushions for some loose $20 bills.  Nope.  Didn’t find any.

I did, however, find something called the Singer Handy Stitch hand-held sewing machine.  It was capable of making simple loop stitches, which is all I really need.  It was also $29.

Look, it’s either this or I use a needle and thread and hand-stitch every single patch.

$29 later, I acquired my first little sewing machine.

It’s September 2016, and I decided that one of the two center panels needed to represent the ribbons in a quilting project.  This will fill up the area currently known as Panel #6.  I gathered all the red ribbons, the blue ribbons, and the white ribbons; I measured each ribbon and separated them into piles.

I then pinned the ribbons together into a raw compilation of the United States flag.  Okay … looks good.

Now I have to stitch these things together.

A quick trip to Jo-Ann Fabrics for supplies, and I purchased a strip of quilted cotton fabric.  Shopping note – if you go to Jo-Ann Fabrics, go there early in the morning for your supplies, or you’ll be standing behind 37 other crafters who want their quilted cotton fabrics custom-trimmed – and don’t ask for more than one trimmed section of quilted cotton fabric, or people will give you very icy, stab-you-with-knitting-needles stars.

I purchased several spools of colored thread and some needles.  Carefully using the needles and thread – and lots of tight eyesight to thread the needles – I slowly stitched each ribbon into the quilted cotton fabric.  First I stitched the blue ribbons into the upper left corner, then added red and white ribbons into a striping pattern.

This was not easy.  Some of the ribbons were wider than others, and although I had plenty of silks from some fairs and competitions, there were other fairs and competitions for which I only had one or two championship ribbons, and I wanted them in the pattern as well.

Eventually, however, I got it all stitched together.  Total time for my first stitching pattern?  Approximately two weeks.  Amazing that you can actually watch NFL Redzone while stitching your fabrics and not miss a step.  Okay, granted, I would NEVER presume to be a seamstress of any sort… but I did my best.

And for a first attempt…

Panel 6. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Panel 6. Photo by Chuck Miller.

I don’t think I did half bad.

You can see the different 4-H organizations from across the United States in this creation.  Franklin County in Vermont.  Hampden County in Massachusetts.  Fayette County in Iowa; Greene County in Tennessee.  The Ramsey Fair in White Bear, Minnesota.  The Winnebago County Fair in Minnesota.  The Rush County Fair in Indiana.  The Columbia County Fair in Wisconsin.  Twenty-one different 4-H clovers in the mix.  Man oh man oh man.

What do you think?

For Panel 7, the other large center pane, I thought about sewing another set of ribbons into a cloth panel.  But instead, I wanted to try something different.

I acquired a 12×22 foam-board panel from FedEx Office, and it fit into the window frame perfectly.  This is why you measure twice before cutting.

For this panel, I decided that instead of sewing the ribbons onto the panel, I would instead apply them with an applique compound.  Apparently there’s a liquid compound called Mod Podge, a hobby-themed liquid for decoupage projects.  I purchased a small bottle of fabric-based Mod Podge and some foam brushes.

I first trimmed the ribbons to the proper sizes required, applied a little Mod Podge to the foamboard, layered the trimmed ribbons onto the foamboard, and used a hand-held rolling flattening device called a brayer to bond the ribbons to the base.  A brayer.  Ha ha.  Or should I say Hee Haw?

After I added the ribbons, I looked at the project.


Nice.  Look at all these different ribbons from all these different counties.  Hampden County in Massachusetts.  Ottawa County in Michigan.  Brown County in South Dakota.  Fayette County in Iowa.  Wabash County in Indiana.  And lots of 4-H clovers.

img_20161012_0007I was fortunate to come across a collection of 4-H horse show ribbons, apparently they were part of the “4-H Boots & Saddle Club,” and although I don’t have any idea which 4-H organization was responsible for this set, I do know when these ribbons were made – August 1952.  The ribbons – two reds and a purple – were part of an eBay auction from October 2016.  Three “Buy It Now” clicks and the ribbons were mine.

Again, I disassembled the ribbons so as to preserve the flowing satin rosettes.  And my plan was to put the “4-H Boots & Saddle Club” and “Annual Fall Horse Show” as horizontal ribbon swatches for what would be Panel #10, and save the rosettes for later.

I used some yellow ribbons as background upon the panel, then took the red and purple streamer ribbons and glued them to the yellow fabric.  Since the horse-head rosette was attached to a wire clip, I was able to easily slide the wire clip into the foamboard.

And here’s what came out.


Yeah, I’m getting creative in my old age.  And as I get closer to my deadline, I can add some 4-H pins here and there to further decorate this piece.

Achievement pinsThere were several different types of pins and pinbacks included in my artwork.  There were round pinbacks with the 4-H cloverleaf logo; there were cloisonné pins denoting achievement in 4-H.  And there were also some exquisite miniature golden pins – measuring barely an inch in height – for excellence in various categories and disciplines.

And the golden pins were produced – or co-produced – by corporate sponsors.  In going through the pins, I saw such companies and industries as –

  • Achievement – The Ford Motor Company
  • CanningKerr Glass Mfg. Co.
  • Dairy FoodsThe Carnation Co.
  • Dress RevueThe Simplicity Pattern Co.
  • Home ImprovementSperry and Hutchinson Co.
  • Food NutritionGeneral Foods
  • LeadershipThe Sears-Roebuck Foundation
  • PhotographyEastman Kodak
  • SafetyGeneral Motors
  • SwineMoorman Company (now known as Archer Daniels Midland)

Amazing.  When I saw the names of these companies and their partnership with 4-H, it really connected, for me, the concept of the corporate world working with our youth.  This is cool.

Today’s 4-H awards have gone way past the home and farm pins of yesteryear.  There are now project pins for such disciplines as computer science, aquaculture, performing arts, and robotics.  Truly 4-H has evolved over time.

Granted, I could go to 4-H’s online store and buy the pins right from the website.  Nope.  I need to build this Dream Window with the pins that were won by young men and women.  This needs to be created in such a way as to honor their education and their skills and their achievements.  And in doing so, I’m building on my own technical and educational skills.  Pins must be arranged in such a way as to compliment the project; not distract from it.

After I applied the ribbons for Panel 10 to a fleece substrate, I applied the pins in strategic locations to the panel.  I put one or two achievement pins between each ribbon, making sure that the two “Dress Revue” ribbons were connected with “Dress Revue” pins.  Of course I did.  It makes more sense to do that.

So here’s what Panel 10 looks like.

Panel 10. Photo by Chuck Miller.
Panel 10. Photo by Chuck Miller.

Hey.  I know you’ve been reading this for a while.  Bear with me.  This will all pay off in the end.  And don’t gripe at me about the length of this blog post.

Panel 7.  The other large center panel.

This time, instead of creating a sewn quilt panel, I chose instead to build a quilt-like pattern out of specially cut and trimmed ribbons.  I looked at various quilt patterns and decided to try something with squares and triangles and vibrant colors all around.

I acquired a 12×22 trimmed foam board from a shipping supply company.  All I need to do now is trim my ribbons, apply them to the board with some Mod Podge materials, and then cover the top with a clear coat.

This is where I start to worry.  Am I going too far in this project?  Do I even have an idea of what I’m trying to achieve?  Have I completely lost any remaining sanity?

Doesn’t matter.  I have to try this.  I can’t leave this Dream Window with a missing panel.

And with a few days left … I finished it.  Dream Window number 21, officially known as “Head, Heart, Health and Hands.”

Take a peek.

Dream Window 21: Head, Heart, Health and Hands. (c) Chuck Miller, all rights reserved.


So why have I waited until now to tell you about this creation?


Later this evening, I’m dropping Dream Window 21: Head, Heart, Health and Hands at the Altamont Fair.  This will be my first – and maybe only – entry in the Arts and Crafts category of “Recycle Your Ribbons.”

When you visit the Altamont Fair, this little artwork won’t be in the Art Barn, where the majority of my entries reside.  Instead, it’ll be over at the Arts and Crafts Building, the facility that’s adjacent to the Grange and 4-H buildings on the Fairgrounds.

So if you visit the Altamont Fair this year … and you visit the Arts and Crafts Building … and, for a moment, you wonder, “Hey, who designed that thing that looks like one of Chuck Miller’s Dream Window artworks?”

Yeah.  That’s my creation.

Hope you like it.