Elkins artist Nevada Tribble found a way to combine her love of sewing and her admiration for the outdoors.
Driving along Park Street in downtown Elkins on a spring day, you see a strawberry-blonde woman walking alongside a peculiar bicycle.
She turns down Buffalo and up Sycamore and parks the bicycle beside the city park. She lowers a giant center kickstand that holds the rear wheel off the ground and steadies the bike both left and right, and she cheerfully goes to work. She removes a protective cover to reveal her bread and butter: a cast iron 1966 Sears Kenmore sewing machine. She sits backwards on the bike seat and starts pedaling, which powers her sewing machine—think of a foot treadle–powered sewing machine, but with bike pedals. Her small, careful hands move a handmade sheet of leaf green paper methodically as a grin touches the corners of her mouth and the thread starts another illustration.
Elkins Artist Nevada Tribble, named a 2020 Emerging Artist Fellow by the Tamarack Foundation for the Arts, created her one-of-a-kind sewing bike. It is as unique to West Virginia as the creator herself. She designed and constructed the bike herself, and it’s a joy to watch her use it.
At first glance you know it is a bike except it has a working sewing machine attached behind the seat. It works perfectly for Tribble, who uses sewing and her sewing machine as a way to stitch art.
Tribble came up with the idea in her senior year of college at Shepherd University. She was taking a drawing class and, as a longtime seamstress, went into the class challenging herself to use only her sewing machine as a means to create art. This ended up being more difficult than she expected, because she also wanted to explore the outdoors and create art from life.
She struggled to figure out how to make her sewing machine mobile. Weighing in around 25 pounds, it isn’t something she can easily tote around. Her first idea was to use an extension cord and possibly a car battery, but that seemed too bulky. When she talked with her professors and friends about it, someone joked about a sewing machine powered by bicycle. After working out some kinks, she got it going.
Tribble explains her technique, known among fiber artists as free motion quilting, like “backwards drawing.” Imagine the needle as an artist’s pencil and the thread as the marks the pencil makes. “Instead of moving the pencil, the paper is what would move to create shapes and lines,” she says. This works the same way, except with a sewing machine and needle. She uses that and thread to create her pictures.
Tribble is both a visual and textural storyteller and makes her own papers to achieve the surfaces and colors she wants to express. Although she was born in Ely, Nevada, she joyfully calls West Virginia home, and her work with art shows both her true Appalachian spirit and her West Virginia grit. She makes a lot of her own tools—like her sewing bike and handmade paper press—and uses scraps when she can so as to not waste anything. “The new thing I make carries some of the history from what it was before,” says Tribble.
Her art focuses on community and weaves what it means to be both West Virginian and a West Virginia artist. She is currently working on a series documenting life in Elkins. “There is a deep sense of community here that brings me a lot of hope and joy,” she says. “Art is a way I find peace and my path within this world, especially throughout the very tumultuous last year we had.” Her art centers around memory, place, and change and how the three intersect.
Tribble’s bike and her art are both conversation starters, and the bike is something that gets attention no matter where she takes it. She is most excited for some normalcy after the COVID-19 pandemic and can’t wait to take her bike around Elkins and West Virginia. She affectionately looks forward to a time when she and the sewing bike can interact with others at the Mountain State Forest Festival.
You can find Tribble’s work in galleries in the region, including Bloom in Thomas and DISTRICT Arts in Frederick, Maryland. You can also order directly from her online storefront, and she takes requests. She currently teaches papermaking classes in Elkins at The Arts Center and hopes to offer more classes throughout West Virginia as time goes on, nevadatribble.com, @nevada.wv on IG.