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

Walking the Boards

November 25th, 2014


November 24, 2014, and temperatures in the 70s. With cold–and even snow expected in a couple of days, the hub and I wisely decided this was NOT a good day to stay in and work…or go to the gym. He had a destination in mind: the newly-built “Boardwalk” on the Schuykill (River, that is). Here’s the professional shot:

Boardwalk on the Schuylkill

My pics, while not so panoramic, showcase far prettier sunshine and shadows, if I say so myself…and I just did. The light mid afternoon was spectacular. I felt as if any one of my photos could inspire an art quilt. Which one do you think makes the best composition? Which one would translate best to fabric?



“Wood-grain” cement floorboards, with shadows…and I can picture this one with black lines of quilting, can’t you?


Some photo editing took this scene into a more fantastical, if not Peter-Max-imum realm:


Writing this blog post certainly inspired me to learn to spell Schuylkill correctly. Going Dutch, like the 17th century Europeans from the Netherlands as well as Sweden and England, gives us the translations of schuylen and kill to mean “hidden creek.” Perhaps since the mouth of the river was “discovered” by these explorers hidden behind dense vegetation at Delaware River’s League Island.

Along the boardwalk, runners, bikers, strollers (like us, but the kind with babies on board, too) all make tracks.


To one side of us, the glorious Schuylkill River, the dreaded Schuylkill Parkway (where traffic is almost always at a crawl), and beyond that, West Philadelphia. On the other side,  the scenery was equally EPIC. Train tracks, trains, construction sites, scrub brush, texture and movement.















Yup, today’s walk was such a good idea…which is invariably the case when following this guy’s train of thought:


OK, we’ve reached the end of the line!


6 Responses to “Walking the Boards”

  1. LOVE all the photos! I can feel your WONDERFUL day in the sun . . . by the water . . . just having a JOY filled day.

  2. Alice (allen) Kolb says:

    Such fun to find you. Love your creative spirit. May blessings be to you and your family,

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Iceland Rocks!

October 8th, 2014



In a trip to Iceland this past August, the husband and I took mini-bus tours out to the rocky coasts, where cliffs, hillsides, and beaches bore the vestiges of  volcanic and glacial upheaval.

P1012937 - Copy - Copy

I’m so lichen this interplay of ground and sky.


Landscape or still life?


Like a man-made mesa, with a walking path high up just on the other side of this wall.


If I were a rock climber with all the right equipment, if I were not so scared of heights, if I never had to descend, and if I never looked down, then maybe…


Green green, grows the grass on the far side of the hill. Which is why the names for Iceland and Greenland should be switched.


Rocks + water = Gorgeousness, no?


Arc-i-texture! (with a tip of the cap to Carol Taylor for the caption title word-play)


Gully, but this cliff is terrif.


Natural stadium seating.


Don’t mind taking a seat myself.

P1012935 - Copy - Copy

Patch of colorful life.



Wildlife sighting: a colony of puffins.


p1013755 (2)

Don’t mind saying that while life has its ups and downs, our marriage has never been what I would call rocky. The husband is my rock, and a rolling stone who propels us on these adventures.


Out of the Dark, Esterita

A favorite quilt artist who really rocks the heck out of color, shade, and perspective. “Out of the Dark,” by Esterita Austin.

Into the Light, Esterita

“Into the Light,” by Esterita Austin. Check out her workshops! http://esteritaaustin.com

I confess, these days I’ve hit rock bottom in terms of time, energy and motivation for creative fabric play that’s just for fun and personal enrichment. However, as far as seeking inspiration and dreaming about quilt projects to come, I’m leaving no stone unturned! How do you rock your quilts…or your quiltmaking regimen?


One Response to “Iceland Rocks!”

  1. Sue Levin says:

    Beautiful, Elly. My friend just got back from Iceland and encountered a lot of cold rainy weather. Love Esterita Austin’s patterns. Have that one shown above. dont know if I possess enough artistic license to interpret it like she did. It’s definitely on my bucket list, though. Best regards, SL

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What if?

September 16th, 2014


Yeah, what if?

What if I crowdsourced an arrangement of elements on my blog (see my last two posts!)?


What if I took all the suggestions to heart, and kept going?

What if I continued the graphic lines in the fabrics into the quilting?

What if I curved the side edges?

It’s my modus operandi, the “what if” way of working. Try this, take a look or take a picture, then try something different. With digital image reminders, I can easily go back to a previous rendition. Anyone else use this “making it up as you go along” method?

The result, called “What If?,” natch, is about 28″ at its widest x 36″ — if memory serves.

Furthermore, much as I enjoyed the process, I see all that could have been—a simpler, stronger, less belabored piece of work. Out of my sight for a while, I’ll return to look at it with fresh eyes and a more accepting attitude…I can only hope. But here’s another thing about the way I work with fabric art: I am never totally pleased with an oeuf…er, oeuvre. But even working in a series, it’s almost impossible to make something that’s just slightly different, with just minor readjustments. And the next word play art might just be Just/Readjust!!

As the adage goes, “Done is better than perfect,” and I won’t be redoing this puppy. OK, maybe minor revisions. But what if I were to apply your points of view to my next piece? I’d get to be a better fabric artist, wouldn’t I?

In the meantime, what if any of you are  going to the Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza in Oakes, PA, this Thursday thru Sunday? If so, look for it in the Spirit! exhibition group.

Whether you go by these images of the full piece above and detail below, or whether you get a glimpse of it in the cloth, let me know what you think in the comment box below. Remember, no hoops to jump through, no weird characters to copy to prove you’re not a robot. Your constructive criticism, easily keyed in, is always appreciated.







2 Responses to “What if?”

  1. HelenMarie says:

    You are an inspiration! I love to stitch by the seat of my pants, and hope to have more time to do that. Soon. I get to do a bit tomorrow with Newtown Quilters! They have Victoria Findlay Wolfe coming for a 15 minutes of play workshop. And Donna Laing found out they had an opening! Why is it I feel compelled to take everything AND the kitchen sink along? Hope to see you and your quiltlet at Oaks.

    • Eleanor says:

      OOOOH, what fun! To play with HelenMarie, Donna Laing, and the Newtown Quilters….let along Victoria Findlay Wolfe. Wish I could play too. Actually seeing my mother-in-law off to her heavenly rest…should be imminent. What if everyone could enjoy a long life of meaningful activity and loving friends and relatives as she has had?!

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Are We There Yet?

August 7th, 2014

A new day, a new perspective. Up to now, grid-like horizontals and verticals have ruled—and enforced a sense of static, grounded, cityscape or Easter Island kind of construction.  Now at least one errant angle provides some sense of movement. For this paradigm shift, I have to thank my resident critic—my DH. And yeah, he is also a wonderful supporter of my work. He’s been looking at the images I shove under his chin, occasionally glimpsing my design wall, and agreed, up til this point, that this art quilt-wannabee has not yet arrived.

I’m gonna keep the previous numbering system from previous blog posts. (In reality, the number of candidates I’ve arranged and photographed approach a hundred.)











The hubby just stopped in to turn his work break into a short play-date. See what resulted:


#23–See someone flailing?


#24–the start of my what IF series…



C’mon now, leave a comment. I really need, if not a crowd-sourced solution, at least a vote of confidence for one of these fabric sketches, or your advice for an old or new direction! Thanks!





16 Responses to “Are We There Yet?”

  1. Carl says:

    #25, #26 or #18

  2. Judy says:

    No. 25 is the one that appeals most to me. Very eye-catching.

  3. Sammie says:

    #25 or #26 but I’d like to see them larger so I can really tell. Frustrating not to be able to click and make full page.

    • Eleanor says:

      I appreciate what you’re saying, but for my purposes, it’s better you not get caught up with the details…just judge the overall design. Thanks, dear friend!!

  4. Christina says:

    I have to agree…#25 is the most Eye-catching to me also. I like the way the negative space plays an important role in pulling this piece together. What did Your resident art critic say???

  5. Lynn Kunz says:

    I just don’t like that medium gray. It distracts my eye from the colors you are highlighting. Sorry.

  6. Carol says:

    On #20, I’d replace the gingham and the solid white with solid purple. Then straighten the bottom piece to vertical, along with the piece on top of it. This would give it balance and fix the “busyness.” (in my opinion anyway.)

  7. I was leaning towards #20, but when I studied #25 it began to grow on me. I have to take a look at yesterdays again. There was one there I really liked (but didn’t comment)

  8. Laurie says:

    I like #7, 14 or 15 . I would probably add some more blue and/or purple, pulling from the colors in the fabrics you already have. I think the white is too stark but a light contrast is needed…? Maybe a very light grey or beige? Will be interested in the final choices. Good luck!

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Auditions are Ongoing (Arghhh)

August 7th, 2014

Dozens of renditions for this puppy…or perhaps I should say dog of a project. I’ve lost all perspective. Really. I can’t get back far enough, I just keep slapping (various elements up on the design wall) and snapping (pics to crop and consider). Tell me if any are getting close! The numbering system continues from the last post.









#10–the quilting will provide the interest…


#11–maybe without that yellow piece top center…





Lucky 13??









Do not worry if you don’t like any of these (I don’t!). Clearly I am not there yet.  Tomorrow I’m going to try angling a piece or two, and working from the center outward. I may be driven to abstraction–in both senses of the term, but I’m not ready just yet to go back to pictorials!

2 Responses to “Auditions are Ongoing (Arghhh)”

  1. I like #8, but I am just that kinda gal. What is the size of this, by the way. It would make a difference.

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Opposing Forces = Art

July 30th, 2014

Looking for a zen-like, meditative haven? How about an intense and heady tour of some of the most riveting and revolutionary sculpture ever created? I found both experiences at the Isamu Noguchi Museum in Queens, NY.  You will, too.


Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) was one of the twentieth century’s most important and critically acclaimed sculptors.

I am struck by all the opposing forces in his life, which found expression in his work:

  • His mother was a Scottish-American writer; his father was a Japanese poet.
  • Noguchi spent most of his life and had studios in both Japan and New York.
  • That East-West tug on his identity made him fully comfortable in neither place.
  • He was inspired by the lyricism of nature, and the boldness of Brancusi’s reductive, powerful forms.
  •  Noguchi created huge stone monoliths and delicate paper lampshades, mass-produced furniture and fine art, public gardens and theatrical set designs.
  • He said,”The best is that which is most spontaneous or seemingly so.” He also said, “Brancusi made me realize that what I had learned previously – the quick ways of doing things – was all wrong. It is a search you have to enter – into yourself.”


































In my art-making, I am constantly struggling with opposites:

  • I want to produce work that is both subtle and bold.
  • I covet simplicity but I want to convey complex ideas.
  • I strive for the sophistication of abstraction but always seem to end up with pictures–still life, landscape, recognizable figures.
  • I admire the purposefulness of working in a series, yet I flit — from one sort of style, group of materials, and type of end product to another.
  • I know I should put in the time, but I am, at heart, a quick-and-dirty worker.
  • I seek popular success for my books and patterns and presentations and workshops, but I think it’d be awesome to be accepted into the lofty echelons of the serious fiber art world.

My sewing room, aka my studio, reflects the dualities. I have two sets of projects calling to me:

Baby banners, pillows, and Skinny quilts/table runners for gifting and patterning for my recently launched EllyLdesign line on Craftsy and Etsy (another dichotomy, as I haven’t committed to just one quite yet).

trio (2)









Psst–You can check out my Craftsy Shop or my Etsy Shop.  I’m proud to say that the instructions are 100% reliable and user-friendly and full of how-to photos –just like my books. Let me know, in the comment box below, what you think!




OK, the commercial message is over, so let me switch over to the other side of my brain. That is focused on the constantly evolving arrangements on my design wall.  Here are a few of the iterations. Once again, I welcome your comments: Which one appeals most? 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or 6?




























I definitely dig Noguchi’s aesthetic. He was lucky to have good critics and great supporters — he hung out with Arshile Gorky, Willem de Kooning, and a lot of other abstract expressionists. He found ways to nourish and bridge the different aspects of his identity and to address many different interests, putting the tensions of opposing forces to work in his favor. 

Me, I often feel like Dr. DooLittle’s pushmi-pullyu, that crazy, two-headed unicorn gazelle, trying to go in two opposing directions. Still, I’ll get there, wherever there is, somehow, sometime! Thank YOU for the criticism and the support. Heck, thanks for reading this!


5 Responses to “Opposing Forces = Art”

  1. Thanks Elly, I enjoy reading your blog.

  2. Janice M cK says:

    Number 6!

  3. Diane says:

    #3 is the one I like best.
    Interesting post. I suffer from many of the same yes-no balancing acts. I took a class in working in a series and blocked at the third week. Now I find I am working on some samples that fit into my series… great, huh?

  4. Sherrie S. says:

    I just found your REALLY fun site through your quiltart post. I suffer the same pulls — I want to make big, important, fabulous pieces of serious art, but I also really enjoy making little crafty projects. I used to fight it, now I just figure I’m well balanced! I have some of your books and love your work.

  5. Susan S says:

    No. 2 really appeals to me. Things are to dark by no. 6. I tend not to make gifts for people as they are rarely appreciated.

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Art = Play

June 24th, 2014


      The Contemporary Arts Center –a highlight of a long weekend in Cincinnati, was as fun for my almost 4-year old great nephew as it was for his mom, my DH, and me.  An ultra-colorful and creative current exhibit is titled, “Shall I tell you the secret of the whole world? Painting, Parody & Disguise.” Defining the Parody part, curator Michael Stillion mentions, “Taking serious art not so serious and making it hilariously serious.” With that insanely in mind, Zachary Herrmann describes his installation, with its special appeal for us young and old viewers, using other opposing concepts, so that “cultural cues, symbols, and sensual stimulation…project into a more loosely structured space where fictions about beauty and repulsion, violence and humor, mortality, transparency, and psychology are at play.”


detail,fools-houseMark Fox, A Fool’s House Fulfilled–A broomstick — among lots of debris–is a clue as to the scale. P1012102


Upstairs at CAC is the UnMuseum. There, Casey Millard’s character, Shark Girl, is not having a good day. She hides behind a shark head, because that is the animal she feels like. What animal do you feel like? I am a clingy Labrador retriever, Marcie is a kangaroo mother, and Norman is a curious little monkey.



Ryan Mulligan created the most beautiful, free-play putt-putt course–no clubs; you use your feet to guide balls into holes…or send them down the clever chutes…or maybe you simply roll around in the balls like a little Ikea ballroom. It’s called The Dinosaur Says Moo.



P1012115 P1012113 P1012114P1012108 P1012112











I think I’m ready to be more playful with my quilting…how about you?






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Not for Mother’s Day Only

May 13th, 2014

Listen To Your Mother---detail

Two days late for Mother’s Day–but two weeks early for the deadline of the annual Quilt Alliance contest, exhibit, and auction. Not too shabby. I especially grooved on the theme this year: “Inspired By…”

The organizers originally presented a few classics from the pantheon of patchwork and applique masterpieces, and one of my faves was there. So even after the contest was opened up to “Inspired By…” ANY of the quilts on the Quilt Alliance’s Index and S.O.S. (Save Our Stories) sites, I couldn’t get this one out of my mind:


The maker of this silk screened quilt, made in 1997, was Jean Ray Laury. For almost 50 years, Jean was a pioneering, rule-breaking heroine to quilters. The gentle humor behind her folk art gave special resonance to her messages. Who doesn’t hear her own mother echoing from the nine patches of Jean’s silk-screened Listen to Your Mother? Or recognize the love behind such neurotic exclamations?

I offer a Not for Mother’s Day Only lecture–and am often invited to present such fare at an April or May quilt guild meeting. I invariably show an image of this quilt, and read the panels out loud to the audience:

  • What will the neighbors say?
  • If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
  • I’m telling you this for your own good.
  • Change that underwear! you might get hit by a car.
  • Get out of that tree! you’re going to fall down and break your head!
  • Watch out! You’re going to poke somebody’s eye out with that.
  • Put that down! You don’t know where it’s been.
  • Uh…is that what you’re going to wear?
  • Stand up straight! Keep those knees together! Pull your tummy in! And can’t we do something with your hair?


Forced to choose only one universal mother, I borrowed Whistler’s:



I directed her admonitions just to quilters. Typed and photo-transferred onto white cotton, these are the rules our quilting fore-mothers passed down to us. Equally well-meaning as the teachings of Jean Ray Laury’s universal mothers, these statements tell of how one is supposed to quilt.

And out of laziness or rebellion or time constraints, these are the quilting rules I frequently break!


  • It takes how much guilt ‘til you finish that quilt?
  • What about the label?
  • The baby is due any day! How are you going to get that thing done in time?
  • Pull up that bobbin thread! You’ve got little nests all over the backing.
  • Better needle-turn; you don’t know what fusible web will do after 50 years.
  • What?! You didn’t preshrink before lumping that new fabric in with the others?
  • Get those new rotary blades while your coupon is still good.
  • If you’re not going to quilt, then you should be cleaning your house.
  • You’re going to use that for the binding?
  • Move that needle position back to center! You’re going to break that needle!
  • Check your tension! Loosen up! Go faster! Keep to an even pace! Relax! No pressure!

What “rules and regulations” do you ignore in your quilting? Please leave a comment to let me know what to put on the next quilt! Whatever it is, you know that wonderful, inspirational rabble-rouser, Jean Ray Laury, will be smiling down from heaven!

PS–The deadline for the Quilt Alliance’s challenge in June 1, the size of your “Inspired By” must be 16″ square, and your piece should have 3 layers stitched together. Some rules you gotta follow–it’s for a good cause!


6 Responses to “Not for Mother’s Day Only”

  1. HelenMarie Marshall says:

    “PRESS! Do not IRON!”
    “There are no mistakes in quilting; there are only design opportunities.”
    “It’s Only Fabric.”

  2. TX Creatrix says:

    Your stitch is not too big unless you can catch a toenail in it.

  3. Amy says:

    If you want it to last forever, make it out of polyester.

  4. Jeanie Ray Laury was a huge inspiration and source of information to me, too. Thanks for posting this beautiful tribute. As for the maternal quilty advice I dispense, there is, “If I ever see you cutting paper with my fabric scissors again, I will have to kill you.”
    And, speaking of demise, “She who dies with the most fabric in her stash wins.”

  5. Nothing quilt related from my Mother as she doesn’t even sew but my quilt guilt is from my first quilting teacher, I hear her voice every time I sew over pins and it makes me feel like I’m a naughty, little girl! Now I teach quilting I tell students the ‘rules’ but that they’re made to be broken and also that they can do what they like in the comfort of their own home with no-one else watching – there’s no quilt police (unless you’re entering a competition) and no-one’s even going to know. I love your piece, your process and how you’ve executed it. I work at The City Quilter in Manhattan and I look forward to seeing it at Quilters Take Manhattan :D

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Whoop-TEA-doo! It’s Earth Day!

April 22nd, 2014

In honor of Mother Earth, I just added a new piece to my ReUSE series.


tea rose-detail


I don’t know how long I’ve been stalking the idea of a Tea Roses piece, that is, roses made out of tea bag envelopes. Last year, I took lots and lots of pictures at a rose garden in Florida. Then, meaning to get rid of one horrid picture of me, I mistakenly deleted all my shots. That’ll teach me to put on my glasses when reviewing my shots!

Starting again, I found a photo of a yellow rose that I cannot now find–I think it is one of Sammie Moshenberg’s lovely images. I traced the picture, numbered the pieces, and prepared to do a cut and glue sort of applique with tea bag envelopes.





The “kit” of materials I assembled sat by the TV for months. Turned out this method that was waaaay too complicated for me. I’m more of a slap-dash kind of quilter.

Last week, an online quilt class taught by the extraordinary Pamela Allen of Canada featured an assignment for a fantasy fabric garden. That was the impetus to go back to my Tea Rose project once again, and substitute my trash stash for fabric prints to dash off some flowers. Following the lead of my sister students, I cut petals freehand, and worked in rounds. In this series, I simply adhere shapes with glue-stick over patchwork. White bags that once held ground coffee gave me bigger pieces and a quiet background, too.  I cultivated plots of assorted tea bag and coffee packaging to sort of fence in my garden.


tea rose 1


Due to the foil-lined packaging that holds a crease, I was able to fold back some of the petals like a real flower. But even with the silver backing peeking up, the flower heads looked too dense, and the petals weren’t readable as separate shapes.

Back to the drawing board, I tried out an open design, like an arts & crafts style stencil or stained glass design.


tea rose 2


Better! Then on to layering over woolfelt (wool and rayon blend), preshrunk for a thick, sherpa-like quality.  Quick quilting and trimming with passementerie and ball fringe gets everything sown so I can reap the rewards before Earth Day ends!




tea rose-EL


My garden is a bit messy, and even though the bottom edge is angled, the whole thing should still hang straight and true. Not the case, not even close. But as they say, DONE is better than perfect.

Hope everything’s coming up roses for you! And that you ReUSE, RECYCLE, and REPURPOSE trash or found objects to REDUCE your carbon footprint. Oh, and RECONSIDER the many ways of creating quilted art!



4 Responses to “Whoop-TEA-doo! It’s Earth Day!”

  1. Marsha says:

    Good for you to finish this…I really like the striped borders on the left and bottom! And I really like the angled bottom edge.

  2. susan says:

    Love it….I use kids coloring books to get idea….and I used to recycle tea leftovers by just placing the grounds in the soil, but lately I forget. But I do recycle. Susan

  3. Mary Ann says:

    I love how this turned out. Great idea to back it with the felt.

  4. Genius! I love the slant – it’s the icing on the cake! And the danglies! I think this could be another kit/class!

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Painting with Flowers

April 16th, 2014

Be still my heart, when one art form or expression is interpreted in a different form, and the1cassat-duo results bring honor to both:

*A religious prayer  as expressed in classic east Indian dance

*The myth of Pygmalion, where a sculptor falls for his creation, as expressed in the musical, My Fair Lady

*American blues, gospel, and work songs translated into the opera, Porgy and Bess


So you can imagine my rapture when the husband and I went to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts for PAFA in Bloom. Floral designers were challenged to do an homage to a work of art, and the result was exhibited beside it.


Baby on Mother’s Arm, Mary Cassatt, 1891


Linda Lord, Gloucester, NJ









The Skaters, Gari Melchers, ca. 1892
Kristie Lynn Borchick, Allentown, PA



Girl in a Plaid Scarf, Susan Macdowell Eakins, ca. 1880-1885
Michael Haschak, Philadelphia, PA



Warning, Jimmy Ernst, 1960
Dierdre Gross, Medford NJ


Jefferson Market, John Sloan, 1917
Carol English, Cranford, NJ


North Shore, Charles Prendergast, 1939
Cathy Hozack, Philadelphia, PA


Promenade, Maurice Prendergast, ca. 1915-1918
Darcie Garcia, Allentown, PA


















Ariadne Asleep on the Island of Naxos, John Vanderlyn, 1809-1814








Peicha Chang and Rachel Berkowitz, Philadelphia, PA












I could go on and on!

There were more than 40 such pairings, with wide ranges of interpretation, from the literal–like the ship of orchids paired with a tall ships scene, to the metaphorical, like a Peaceable Kingdom interpreted with a variety of flowers, from the very raggy and wild to the tight and symmetrical.

Is this not exciting stuff?!!

Similarly exciting is the wonderful online class I’m taking with the extraordinary quilt/folk artist Pamela Allen of Canada. The first lesson asked us to translate a celebrated painting. No, not in flowers, but as a fabric “sketch.” Like many of my classmates, I chose a piece from that exuberant colorist, Henri Matisse. This one is called Anemones in a Chinese Vase, and it’s from the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art:


 Here is my fabric sketch, tweaked in just the right way by Pamela:



And here I’ve used the same fabrics to translate another lively scene–the wine and seder plate at our Passover celebration.



Hope this blog post has sparked your creativity, encouraging you to find a fine art masterpiece that inspires you to “paint” with flowers or fabric.


4 Responses to “Painting with Flowers”

  1. So inspiring and so creative! Thanks!

  2. Marsha says:

    Hi- I am in the class too!
    I once saw a flower/painting exhibit like thistoo. It was alot of fun and very interesting and inspiring.
    Thanks for posting this.

  3. Beautiful, Eleanor! Thanks for sharing this story!

  4. This is so after my own heart, Eleanor. I just absolutely love it. This could return me to quilting full-time! It is fantastic. I remember years ago, I made a quilt, Wabi Sabi, out of used coffee filters and other recycled things. It was one of my all-time favorites. I guess I HAVE used recycled or repurposed things in my art over the years. This really inspires me to get back into it again. Keep up the great work and do please keep me on your mail list. You can inspire me ANY day! Annie

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