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Inspiring Quilting: Elly's blog to boost your creative IQ

I Fell for Collage

June 8th, 2018

Took a class with Deborah Fell from Monday to Friday last week at Quilt & Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It was divine. A return to a community of artists who get off on fabric, who are passionate about purposeful creativity, generous in sharing what they know and what they have in their stash.

Deborah calls this 5-day class “Three Sisters”–Raw edge applique, foundation piecing (which isn’t piecing at all, it’s collage on a foundation fabric), and mark-making, i.e., slow, hand-stitching or quilting. My goals were to get away from the large opus magna I’ve been laboring over, and free myself up with a less is more approach. I also sought freedom from high concept, but aspired to put ambiguity into my work, so viewers might enjoy interpreting my work as they wish.

Above was my board by the end of the day Monday. Below, that’s me showing my work on Friday…as you may be able to tell, I had worked on each “textile sketch” with varying degrees of success.

No matter. I stretched, I grew, I stayed up late working in the classroom, I met my goals…some of the time, at least. Oh, and I had so much fun, with the best broads, who gave me support, interesting scraps, the loan of key tools, and unbelievably rewarding friendship, sharing their life and art stories.

Here are some of the pearls of wisdom Deborah Fell dispensed:

Embrace imperfiction.

I can quilt 10 stitches to the inch, but I don’t want to.

I was normal once. I didn’t like it.

Doubt is part of the creative process.

Think outside the block.

Plus, favorite quotes she included:

Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.–Pablo Picasso

Textiles have been a form of art, communication, survival, seduction, spirituality, expression, and community throughout history for all humankind on Planet Earth. — Elaine Lipson

Now for some close-ups of my work. Each one is still in process, and most vary from 15″-20″ on the longest side:

  

Hope to complete them all this summer, in among more pressing demands. Criticism always welcome!

 

 

 

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From Painting to Quilting, and Black

April 3rd, 2018

Back home in the bosom of my family for the Passover seder, I took the opportunity to see an art quilt exhibition at the Baltimore Museum of Art that’s been getting a lot of great press, which it richly deserves. It’s comprised of new work by Stephen Towns, trained as a painter, self-taught to quilt — for this body of work in particular. BTW, you can see it in the cloth if you get to the BMA before Sept. 2.

The piece above and below, titled “Birth of a Nation,” is the star of the show. A black mammy, tenderly suckling a white baby against the backdrop of an American flag of 1777, puts slavery and white supremacy in tension with each other. A coffee and tea-dyed dress, patched with toile prints and barely clearing the bed of dirt below the quilt evokes the humble status of the Madonna-like figure.

Surrounding this installation are seven smaller story quilts; whether portrait or landscape orientation, each is about a yard along its longest edges. These works depict key moments in the life of Nat Turner’s life and the rebellion he led against slavery in 1831. My favorite one featured another mother and child: Under the cover of night, when plantation work was done, Nat Turner’s mother teaches her young son to read, or schools him in gospel. The composition proves Mr. Towns’ incomparable talent as a portrait painter…just as the materials and techniques give away his seat-of-the-pants sewing and quilting skills. Fabrics are from an old stash (perhaps his mother’s?): those of us sewing and quilting in the ’60s, and ’70s will recognize the calicos, ginghams, and synthetics, and that proud feeling when you think to add translucent tulle and sparkly beads to skies, buttons to clothing.

Titled, “Special Child,” this piece is the first in the cycle, which all show what how the facts known about Nat Turner coalesced into myth and icon: slave, keenly intelligent child, preacher man, leader of an effective slave rebellion. It’s refreshing to have the story, told so often by whites such as William Styron (The Confessions of Nat Turner), reclaimed by an African-American living and working in the Black Lives Matter era.

Stephen Towns assesses his “framed” portraits of Nat Turner and his wife, Cherry Turner, which accompany the exhibit.

Stars, moons, or suns (plus the occasional butterfly) play a role in each work of art, connecting people with the universe, and with the spirit as creator. Celestial bodies stand in as haloes, symbolizing sainthood or martyrdom. And is the red scroll below an ecclesiastical stole, or a symbol of the bloodshed already committed and also up ahead?

In each work of another series of paintings, the halo is a blue moon behind an enslaved rebel leader who has been caught. A hangman’s noose and a fist figure prominently. Click here to read what happened with these intensely powerful, provocative portraits.

On a lighter note, quilters viewing this blog post may want to look back at the story quilts and note the minimal free-motion quilting in thread that matches the fabrics flattens the backgrounds, so they recede. In contrast, large stitches that most seasoned quilters would decry as “toe-hookers” become strong design lines in Towns’s narratives. Not only do they define important features, they add naivete, the mark of the hand.

As an art-lover, I have so much respect for Towns’s cohesive works within series, for his conceptual underpinnings and iconography–sun, moon, stars, haloes, butterflies, and the gold-leaf that recalls the elaborate frames on medieval religious art (as in the “framing” on Nat and Cherry Turner’s likenesses). The piece below is from yet another series. Each work depicts a child who experienced slavery, and each work bears a title from the Lord’s Prayer.

Riveting. Heart-rending.

And yet one detail resonates most for me as a quilter. Can you guess what that is?

 

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Heart-pounding inspiration, biennially

March 19th, 2018

What a privilege and thrill, every other year, to see the Art Quilt Elements show at the Wayne Art Center.

An even bigger adrenaline rush to be there at the Artists’ Reception, to be able to catch up with many friends and make new connections. To hear the makers talk about their work, is it just coincidence how many works are about the ability or inability to make connections in our country, and in our world?

Transfusion #3, by Catherine W. Smith: Lines of red fabric like a blood transfusion that flows from one body to another.

Seeking A Common Thread, by Karen A. Brown. Sharp pointed forms are filled with loud and destructive words and actions, such as pain, anger, poverty, fear…

Structurally Unsound, by Diane Savona. Assembled from Salvation Army jackets, sweaters, and the clothes of workers, and embedded with construction tools. Expresses a deep concern for our rich, powerful country that does not have the political will to maintain our roads, bridges, and railroads that allow us to connect.

Juxtaposition 1: Crossing Lines, by Karen Schulz. We are taught not to divide our art in half, but Karen achieves a dialogue, one half with the other, and strikes a balance.

Conversation, by Marti Plager. “Is it possible for opposing sides to have a conversation? Is it wishful thinking on my part that the conversation can be a civil one?

This poorly photographed collection of beautiful works and their beautiful makers pushes me to research and save up for a better camera. I only hope it pushes you to get to the Wayne Art Center, in Wayne PA, by April 28, to see these powerful pieces in the cloth!

One Response to “Heart-pounding inspiration, biennially”

  1. Beautiful and meaningful art, Eleanor… really appreciate your shared photos and they look geat actually! Love the fact that I feel as if I am there, hearing the voices and drinking in the colour, design savvy and the dynamic messages. There right beside you…
    Bethany

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Topsy-Turvy

March 13th, 2018

Do you remember topsy-turvy dolls? A bit like a Pushmepullyou from the story of Dr. Dolittle.

Do little, however, is rarely my modus operandi…quite the opposite, I tend to go overboard. So when–a long time ago, I took a class from one of the top dollmakers in the world, Elinor Peace Bailey, I didn’t make a doll from one of her kits. I didn’t make a doll…I made a topsy turvy doll. Here’s the basic body:

Here’s the Sun’s sun-dress, made today from a pillowcase that my grandmother had, and the Moon’s nightshirt:

   

Takes me back to my girlhood. I never played with dolls, but I made dolls and made costumes for them.

Always nice to have a reason to finish a project. This topsy turvy doll is headed–pun intended–to a baby who is the sun, moon, and stars to her family. Only hope the dog doesn’t chew it up before she can enjoy it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2 Responses to “Topsy-Turvy”

  1. HelenMarie says:

    Your works are so full of the joy of life, you inspire me to keep on keeping on! Btw I have two tops turvy dolls but not the one from my childhood which was black and white! My cousin had one that was wide eyed at one end and sleepy eyed at the other. The current ones which I bought when our grandgirls were very young (now 18 and 23) are grandma and the wolf at one end and red riding hood at the other, and goldilocks and the three bears!

  2. I should know that you, being such a fabulous drama queen, would have these storybook characters, Helen Marie!

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Well Past Midnight

February 26th, 2018

A class experiment at a Quilt Surface Design Symposium back in 2006: Cynthia Corbin assigned us to make and remake what she calls a black fabric sketch–a unique patchwork block from a sketch of lines. As happens in these intensive classes, I joined my classmates staying up quite late one night, making up a patchwork block in many different color and pattern iterations. Finally, I mutinied, and created the patchwork all in black fabric, and opted to show the side where the seam allowances are exposed. Soon after, I “sketched” on the piece, using tan thread to free-motion-stitch a figure. Years later, I embellished the “drawing” with embroidery.

Another sample stuck away in a drawer—a paint-dabbled moon. And when the Studio Art Quilters Association announced a call for entry: From Dusk to Dawn, I decided to combine these UFO’s (unfinished objects) and rise to the challenge. I slapped lots of different fabrics from my overflowing stash up on my design wall, trying for a pleasing, William Morris-style feeling.

I kind of like what I came up with early on, and should have stopped there with a sketchy expression.

But no, I kept auditioning other fabrics for backgrounds, and growing out the figure to complete it. I also tried miniature quilt projects under her hand, suggesting that she, too, was a quilter.

I found, however, that the quilting projects merely increased the cacophony of prints and negated the pensive mood I was after. So I ended up giving the figure a book instead. This allowed me to connect personally with the figure and the quilt, since I often stay up all hours of the night reading. I completed the piece with that pleasantly addictive, obsessive behavior in mind.

 

I call it, “Well Past Midnight.” Ahhh, to have and to hold a book so good you cannot put it down. Along with the supreme luxury of not needing to put it down. All is quiet. You succumb to the thrall of great literature, a world of enchantment, and a fantastical bower  grows around you long into the wee hours…

Far better, this poem expresses the mood and the moment: 

Just learned my art quilt did not make the cut for the SAQA exhibit From Dusk to Dawn. I never thought it would. It’s over-labored, tries to be too pretty and figurative, at a moment when the art world and the art quilt world savors abstract expression. I totally get it, because  I know that small exhibits must be cohesive, creating a flow around the room.

For me, a call for entry, particularly from SAQA, is often the kick in the behind I need to produce work, to hone my design skills and my technical skills, too. I am glad to have made this piece, to share it with any readers of my blog, and to put it away, not look at it for a while.  I do look forward to seeing the pieces that have been accepted into this show should it come to my part of the country. Bet you will, too.

3 Responses to “Well Past Midnight”

  1. Liz says:

    I love the evolution of this piece and the story it tells. It is a lovely belt piece. Thanks for sharing

  2. That is a masterpiece, period. I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s magnificent.

  3. HelenMarie Marshall says:

    Always inspiring. Thank you!

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Defending Democracy…with an Art Quilt

December 21st, 2017

Not many people I know are aware of the “blue slip process,” a 100-year-old tradition in which home-state senators can indicate approval or disapproval, on a form printed on blue paper, of a President’s nominee for a lifetime seat on the federal courts, and advance or halt the nomination from moving forward. So I wanted to make a fabric illustration. But not with lingerie…that is, until my friend Carole queried, “Why not lingerie?”

So when I found a blue slip in a Montreal vintage clothing store, and the price was right, I had my beginning. Was about to combine it in a patchwork of blue rectangles, but the outcome would have lacked color contrast and aesthetic interest. I couldn’t reconcile the actual undergarment with a geometric abstract. Next Eureka moment happened when my friend Barbara said, “Why not have Lady Liberty wearing the blue slip?” Which coalesced with my subject matter as my friend Sammie remarked that, “If anyone would wear a blue slip, it would be Lady Justice.” Bingo. I happened to have made a figurative block, and I sliced into the face to insert a blind-fold, and made the bowls for her scales of justice.

I probably could have (should have?) stopped there, but I felt the viewer would need some more visual clues. To integrate various areas into the piece, I did some painting, dabbing, and printing on vintage doilies and lace. I used applique and piecing to collage various fabrics into a cohesive background.

Next, I got to work with my new midarm machine, quilting each area down. That was a steep, but enriching learning curve…with days spent futzing with the machine, adjusting the tension with each new thread, and coming up with different quilting patterns for each section.

Note the blue slips swirling in the background. I intended to crop the top of the quilt, but couldn’t bear to do that, so I filled the extra space with a bird, like so many that perch on statues. It’s a mourning dove, which symbolizes both the desired peace of a fair, bipartisan process, and also the grieving that came when judiciary committee chairman Grassley abandoned the blue slip process, to move ahead with the nomination of two men who were unacceptable to their home-state senators.

Another vintage item, a sliver of a silver tie that my grandfather wore, became Lady Justice’s sword.

I expected the piece to end at the hem of the slip, but the effect was truncated, off-balance. Earlier, I had auditioned feet emerging from the slip, but they just didn’t stand up to the rest.

 

I wanted to suggest a pedestal base, and after auditioning multiple fabrics, I settled on an early choice–see my first draft second photo from the top. I altered this batik look-alike, quilting suggestive lines of type on all squares except for two: One sports a doily, it’s S-shape center motif alluding to the serpent at Justice’s heels. And one provides a space for my signature and date.

The finished piece is larger than I intended…As tall as I am.

And less expressionistic than I wanted. Yup, that actual blue slip gave abstraction the slip.

But it’s done!…which is always better than perfect.

One Response to “Defending Democracy…with an Art Quilt”

  1. Wow! What a great story, great quilt – I’d love to see it in person – When I first saw the photo, I didn’t really think about the fact that it’s as big as a person! I hope this quilt gets seen by many people.

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Expanding on History, Part 2!

July 29th, 2017

You gotta love the direct hit to the heart that this Square Bulleye quilt top delivers. I sure did, when I bought it for not very much money about 10 years ago. I think it was on the table of a very reputable dealer at a quilt show.

For a long time, it was part of my trunk show for Quilters Who Dared. And daring it is, with all that precision piecing. Waaay beyond my patience level.

Now, however, my presentations feature more wonky and imprecise performances in patchwork. Inspiration for quilting out of the box, and daring to break the rules.

And now this beauty is the perfect target for remaking our home, our bedroom, and yes, our bed!

I was gonna do this the easy way.

Our bed is a queen, so step #1 was adding borders to make it overhang the edges generously. Finding a timeless, black pin-dot was easy. And a repro extra-wide quilt back–E-Quilter has a great selection. After washing to pre-shrink these new fabrics, I cut same size lengths from the black pin-dot, and stitched them to the edges of the quilt top all around.

Then took the expanded quilt top and backing fabric right over to a wonderful long-armer.

I know a lot of great long-armers in my area, but chose Donna Laing of North Star Quality Quilting because of her experience with traditional, antique quilts.

I just adored working with Donna to choose a quilting design for this beauty. I thought that a traditional Clamshell, or Baptist Fan would be true to the era of the fabrics. The coolest thing was how Donna lay a window of Plexiglass over the quilt, and used a washable marker to audition continuous line quilting patterns. Wish I’d taken a picture of that.

Also wish I hadn’t left Donna with a lot of extra work. See all those triangles in the patchwork design? The outer edges are all bias. Stretchy bias. I should have stay-stitched these edges; even sewn a fabric ribbon tape along them to keep them in gear. Instead, my borders followed these edges, and were a hot mess of ripply distortion. Donna saved the day, making tucks in each border by hand. Next time, I promise she won’t be biased against this customer.

I picked up the quilt but alas, it was another few months before I got to the binding and this Bullseye made a beeline for our bed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Makes a real statement, right? Nice overhang, yes? So the husband and I don’t fight for the covers.

One Response to “Expanding on History, Part 2!”

  1. Donna Laing says:

    Wowza. That quilt looks great on your bed! And those log cabin pillow shams are so cool. I loved the careful color placement that seemed so random until we really looked closely. Good job!

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Expanding on History

July 14th, 2017

It’s called a Summer Quilt because it has no batting. Just an appliqued top with a backing; quilting in the ditch to hold the layers together. I bought it for a song many, many years ago, and I’m guessing it’s not quite as old as I am. Circa 1950s or 60s.  I’ve always loved its retro style: Dresden Plate patches include corduroy, flannel, homespun, and wacky prints. Best of all, that on-point setting with stripped lattice is fresh and kicky.

 

 

 

Because it’s so light, it makes a wonderful summer bed-cover. All except for one thing. You guessed it. Old quilts were not made for queen-size beds. So in order to enjoy having my vintage find on the bed, the husband and I are always fighting for covers, pulling the quilt to his side, or mine. And when the bed is made? The effect loudly proclaims: SKIMPY and CHEAP.

But not anymore. I added borders–or rather, panels that break for the bed posters, to the sides and foot of the quilt. Shopped all over for a fabric that would work, and found it in Kaffe Fassett’s Millefiori print, which had all the colors in the Dresden Plate motifs and striped lattice. While contemporary, it felt in keeping with the era and mood and the small scale meant it didn’t fight the vintage piece for attention. I backed this fabric with strips cut from an old mint-green cotton tablecloth, which probably dates back to the same time as the Summer Quilt.

The husband and I sleep well at night now.

One Response to “Expanding on History”

  1. zoya catalog says:

    Indian ethnic wear is like no other clothing in the world. This country’s rich and varied history has resulted in a vibrant, multi-cultural society full of color, life and variety, and nothing exemplifies this better than the fashion. Ethnic clothing from India includes many traditional garments as well as more indo western versions that have been updated for modern generations. Moreover, even the most traditional Indian outfits come in modern variations, from sarees and salwar kameez to lehenga cholis and kurta pajamas.

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Another Kind of Folk Art: Embroidered Punjabi Shawls

June 27th, 2017
Phulkari.
Phul (pronounced either pool or fool) means flower.  I certainly felt that I had stepped into a glorious flower garden when I entered a featured  exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art last week (see it through July 9, 2017).
Kari means work, and it’s readily apparent that phulkaris take months or even years to make.
And oh, how richly ornate are these flower works, silk embroidered shawls that are often started upon a daughter’s birth, or stitched by the girl herself, to bring into her husband’s house as an important part of her dowry. Phulkaris are worn draped over head and shoulders by women all over Punjab–the area that straddles Pakistan and India — during marriage festivals and other joyous occasions. They can also serve as bedding and wall hangings. Like quilts!
 Phulkaris from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection are supplemented by others from the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s collection, and most were created in the early 20th century. In Phulkari embroidery–silk and cotton threads ornament the cloth, usually a handspun, handwoven cotton. Folk art folk and animals seem to be making their way across the shawl, while flowers and geometric forms provide a well-balanced cacophony of figures. It’s fun to imagine the story being told in the stitches.
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We quilt-lovers of quilt history can draw many parallels between the domestic arts of Punjab and of 19th century America. Like quilting, the making of phulkaris was usually done in the home, fulfilled creative urges, and brought color into what may have been a drab day-to-day existence. Both were and are often remain celebrated folk art forms.  Check out this appliqued quilt top, below, known as “Bird of Paradise,” made in the Albany NY area between 1858 and 1863, from the collection of the Museum of American Folk Art.
 
The charming story quilt below was appliqued and tied by a self-taught African-American woman who was born a slave in Georgia. Known as the “Harriet Powers” quilt, it is thought to have been made between 1895 and 1898.
 
 Getting back to punjabi shawls: I love this one below: peacocks strutting, rain falling, plus a floral border with a little section of red, like an error but not, thought to ward off the evil eye. Just like the deliberate mistakes in Amish quilts, because “only God is perfect.”
    
Notice the similarity in pictorials between these eastern and western examples? Many different cultures obviously like to feature images symbolic of marriage, family, fruitfulness/fertility, and home. Art of “just folks.” Folk art.
As mentioned, most phulkaris show the background cloth, much like applique. You would think these birds, horses, and people are done on a background fabric where the warp floats over a few threads to make a sateen textile.
But no, the marigold background is all embroidered. That’s a “bahg” phulkari, embroidery so dense that the base cloth can’t be seen.
Another example is below, with shapes that recall gems, jewelry, and other embellishments. With silk thread from China, these were very costly to make. No wonder then, that the threads are stitched mostly on the front of the cloth.
 
Also on view in this exhibit are a couple of gowns and a man’s jacket created with phulkaris by a famous contemporary designer, Manish Malhotra. I wonder if he was given a hard time for cutting up phulkaris for his posh outfits? One can only hope he used damaged pieces, just as we should only cut up a ragged quilt or fragments to make wearables,  pillows, holiday stockings, and bags.

Want to learn more, and see more, about phulkaris? Watch this lovely, informative video produced for the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

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Tradition with a (Muley) Twist

June 10th, 2017

Just when I least expected it, a most relaxing, wonderful haven that is the Muley Twist Inn gave me an unexpected quilt fix.

The husband and I arrived here after a long day hiking in Capitol Reef National Park. The inn Carl picked out is off the beaten track, outside Teasdale, Utah. The vistas are better than the guide books promise, and I began writing this post on the front porch overlooking a stunning view of low mountains and Ponderosa pines, the natural colors I’d been seeing for days. Innkeeper Penny, upon learning of my interest in quilts, let me into an adjacent bedroom where quilts were spread and stacked.

I was instantly charmed by this simple Square-in-Square, with alternating plain blocks:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nine Patch may be the quintessential plain patchwork pattern, but the bubble-gum pink lattice and jazzy prints provide kicky refreshment.

  

Experts will look at those prints and help me date this charmer…1950s?

Made me think of how Southwest artists translate the landscape into vibrant vistas. Like my favorite local artist, Paula Swain. Ran into her at Gallery 24, in Torrey, UT–right after I’d purchased one of her works. The husband and I had a really hard time picking the one we wanted! Here it is hanging on our wall so I can enjoy “Capitol Reefs Color” as I eat breakfast. Paula told me that she was raised in a family that went out to do plein air painting at every opportunity. Her father pushed her to use a realistic palette, and she resisted. It’s only since he passed away that she’s felt liberated to take artistic license and go wild with color, putting her own twist on the tradition of landscape painting.

 

 

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