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

Archive for the ‘Personally Speaking’ Category

Letting Concepts Flow

Monday, June 29th, 2015

No matter what the crisis or social issue, there’s a warm and multi-layered response from the quilt world. As a quilter who’s passionate about advocacy and fabric-play, I am salivating and drooling to participate in a challenge by Quilts for Change. The theme this year is:

Water is Life: Clean Water and its Impact on the Lives of Women and Girls around the World

A challenge quilt exhibit to debut at United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland in March 2016 to commemorate UN World Water Day. Organized by the United States Mission to the United Nations in Geneva in partnership with American Exchange Rome and Quilt for Change.

Quilters are invited to create and submit art quilts that address the issue of clean water and its impact on the lives of women and girls. Participating quilters can highlight any aspect of water – for example, how access to clean water can effect women’s daily lives, health, safety, the environment, mobility, income and development or any other aspect related to the theme, including women’s relationship to water, such as fishing, acquaculture and even transport.

The call for entries is here:

http://quiltforchange.org/quilt-for-change-exhibits/water-is-life/, and the deadline is Nov. 1, 2015.

Planning this work has meant 3 stages so far:

Idea collecting:

*Images of women with water containers on heads and yokes…which has been done so much, and to which I have no personal connection.

*Vessels–a symbol for women, bulbous or with sinuopus curves, vases or urns with handles that mimic the uterus with fallopian tubes, and vessels that call up containment in the sense of being held, of safety and security…and again, presume the womb!  I return to this image again and again in my work:


Wedding gift for Archaeologist Marcie Handler and Classics Instructor Mark Atwood


for my mother

Gift for my mother, a wonderful potter, upon her 80th birthday

the vessel-detail-vase (2)

Detail of The Vessel


Vessel (a completely different title, right?)



Stage 2: Panning for Gold! I read all the articles cited by the challenge orgs and more to better understand the issue. I googled images of microbes for typhus, river eye blindness, and more. Reviewed some great watery-art quilts and images used to illustrate the problems of water. Wishing well graphics would find their way into my piece…

Stage 3: Advice from the experts! Answering my calls for help, uber-advocates Janet Goldner and Sammie Moshenberg pointed me toward insightful articles on the subject, focusing on sub-Saharan Africa and Colombia.These readings illuminated the bigger problems, above those of purification, draught and pollution and access and climate change. It’s not just about good, scientific solutions to the problems of purification and access. That’s solvable. It’s corruption at the top, a lack of good governance. Funding for local wells, well-kept-up pipelines, and the technology for safe water and sanitation practices rarely reach those in poverty who need them most.

No question about it, WATER is a complex, many-layered problem, with interwoven aspects. Think I’ll do a woven piece and let it evolve…


Waking Up, Down the Shore in process



Surprise Party of Color, detail


Text is the only way I can think of to get across the sophisticated concepts. So I’ll layer areas of organdy, printed with words or phrases. Try to express the GAP of Governance, Access, and Policy. The importance of Power and Justice, Funding streams and the Full-on Flow of Wealth, rather than trickle-down realities. I’ve been pooling together other expressions: Pollution and Poison,  Poverty and Powerlessness—but these are all polarizing negatives. No one wants to see a PO (pissed off) attitude displayed, but a clear POV (point of view) seems essential.

What other words or phrases concisely speak to this issue? Could a top-down ordering of concepts in text be used to show the hierarchy of problems? Or differences in font size? And apart from using curves, spirals, teardrop shapes, and vessels, how to communicate the role of women in all of this? I’m struggling in the water…who wants to throw me a lifeline? Comments extremely welcome!








Tea Rex

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

TeaRex, detail

Word play is often a part of my art quilting, so my riff on T-Rex shouldn’t come as a surprise. And like other pieces in my ReUse, trash-stash series, this piece is made of tea bag envelopes, coffee bags, and other foil-lined packaging. And yeah, it’s a “green quilt,” as in the term coined by Susan “Lucky” Shie, representing an effort to use what’s on hand and upcycle, to do our part for the planet. Of course, the citrus net bags, vintage fabrics and trims, buttons, beads, and rickrack are here partly because, as my hubby bemoans, I never throw anything away.

Yes, I began with an appealing pun, a Barney-like dino and an Alice-in-Wonderland tea party set up, with a funky vase made from my grandmother’s well-worn, embroidered neck wrap, and the vase is filled with—what else?—tea roses.


Here’s where the word play wandered into sword play, quickly and quilterly lunging into the more politicized rooms of my mind. Didja notice the space ship and volcano out that window?


How about the tsunami rushing in, the blazing sun, the meteor hurtling towards earth? It seems our titan of leisure is cluelessly indulging in conspicuous consumption. Our Tea-Rex is denying inconvenient truths, such as global warming and waning resources for those lower on the food chain. Instead, the arriving guest invents wild fabrications…and invites extinction. A cautionary tale? A parable for our time? Obviously, this Tea-Partier is way out of date.

Tea Rex, by Eleanor Levie, 32″ x 57″, March, 2015

Volcano Season!

Thursday, January 8th, 2015



The Slow Stitching Movement: So. Not. Me.

This is me: Scraps on the floor after another obligatory project is due and done. Restless rumblings. Silk, rayon, and frenetic free motion stitchery building, colliding, bursting, erupting—all in the course of one intense evening—just don’t ask me how I define “evening.” Ideas surge and flare, drowning out the inner mom trying to guilt me into cleaning up before starting something new, the urges to check the computer screen one more time, the calls from the hubby to come to bed. This is how I do my best work, imho. If only this brief season of volcanic creative activity would strike more often than once in a blue moon!

But opportunity may strike for you! Here’s how:

1 Day (Feb. 4) — 100 Artists (I’m one of ’em!) — 100 Patrons (You could be one!) — $10,000 for the American Cancer Society.  My 8″ x 10″ art quilt, which I call, “Volcano Season,”  is one of the amazing 100 art quilts that could be yours. Mark your calendar: Wednesday, February 4, 2015, at 10 a.m. Central. The first 100 people to contact Virginia Spiegel at her website, VirginiaSpiegel.com will be given a link to donate $100 by credit card directly to the American Cancer Society through Fiberart For A Cause. Somebody gets my piece. But oh, you gotta check out the talented quilt artists–lots of big names–who are also among the 100 contributing artists. This site shows you a bunch: http://www.pinterest.com/…/the-100-fundraiser-to-fight-can…/ You’d contribute to the ACS anyway, right? Be on time, and the bonus is gonna be bodacious in your abode.

What about you? Do your brainstorms erupt suddenly? Or build quietly over time?


Ode to 2015

Friday, January 2nd, 2015


It’s here: the year MMXV
Ushered in with jubilee
Ball drops and fireworks on our screens
To welcome in two-oh-fifteen.

The hub and I had a vaca Caribbean
Enjoyed adventures near-amphibian
Took warmth from sun and sand and sea

Spending, tipping, napping, touring
Eating, drinking, smorgasbording
You’re on vacation, just indulge!
Never mind the tummy bulge!

Never mind expense and guilt!
The unsent cards, the un-made quilt.
Now back to productivity
To Mac/PC captivity.

Back on the wheel, one of the cogs.
New lesson plans, new posts for blogs.
News and views, make ’em halfway clever!
Offers to guilds for gigs wherever!

Back to eating healthily,
Chemical pesticide- and hormone-free.
Neither vegan, heathen nor yokel be!
(Though nothing’s fresh now locally.)

Back to winter chill and freeze
Nowhere outside reached with ease.
Forced marches grimly to the gym,
Feign that claim to vigor and vim!

Oh woe is me, my vaca’s over.
There’s bills to pay and I’m cold stone sober.
I’ve muscles that ache, and rashes that itch.
…Can you believe I’m such a bitch?

I’m fortunate as all get-out!
Got NO excuse to rant or shout!
My life ain’t perfect, but my deal’s hardly raw,
One can’t avoid hassles or prevent Murphy’s law.

Any Crazy Quilters still following this thread?
Then I wish you a bright patchwork year ahead.
No Spider’s Den, no Rocky Road,
No need to have stitches ripped out or re-sewed.

May you grow the techniques in your repertoires.
No whine, all Roses, all Pinwheels and Stars,
May your Shadows be brightened by lots of Sunshine,
And may your aggravations be as minor as mine.

All the best for 2015!

Walking the Boards

Tuesday, 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!


What if?

Tuesday, 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.







Opposing Forces = Art

Wednesday, 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!


Not for Mother’s Day Only

Tuesday, 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!


Gifting Personalized Miniatures

Saturday, December 21st, 2013

I have a passion for little things in life. Dollhouses, tiny dolls, miniature villages and train displays, demitasse cups, bonsai, newborn babies—who isn’t captivated by these wee charmers?

mini-fini 2 (2)

For personalized gifting: my mini cactus garden

Those were the words that introduced my book,  Marvelous Miniatures, part of the Rodale’s Successful Quilting Library Series. And years before that my first book ever came out: Great Little Quilts: 45 Antique and Doll-size Quilts with patterns and Directions (Harry N. Abrams). Another book I authored is Creations in Miniature: 101 Tiny Treasures to Stitch & Craft (published by Krause). See a little trend here?

Yup, I love quilting and crafting miniatures…especially when they are quick. As gifts, they can be very personal. And no risk: unlike a big quilt, they can be displayed anywhere at all.

Here are three gift minis that arose out of creative playtime. The first one is quite recent:



1. Mini Cactus Garden

This year’s Christmas gift for dear friends who travel and therefore cannot water houseplants regularly and who adore their springer spaniel.


Cactus pot from my local Lowes, tiny jalapeno peppers, black heavyweight thread, two old paintbrushes, iron vintage look dog figurine, engraved and plain polished stones.

How-To Tips:

Thread peppers onto black thread, making knots to keep them separated. Tie ends onto paintbrushes and insert into pot. Set figurine and stones in pot.

cactus (2)    pepper-stringing (2)

peppers,strung2 (2)

mini-fini -detail2 (2)


2. Alice-in-Wonderland Treasure Chest

For a wonderful, witty, and fabulous BFF, a Lewis Carroll fanatic and a high-powered NGO advocacy leader in Washington DC, who lives an adventure filled with comic characters, changing scenes, and strategic challenges.


Small wood chest/jewelry box, photocopies of illustrations from Alice Through the Looking Glass, vintage-look tissue paper, decoupage medium, mini, 3-legged “table” to keep a box lid off a pizza, green leprechaun’s hat from a St. Patrick’s Day cupcake, a playing card, plastic miniatures–dresser with mirror, perfume bottles, Alice doll,  playing card, Happy Birthday confetti, bits of lace, ribbons, ribbon rose, watch works, stickers, glue dots and hot glue.


alice-3 (2)


Note: That special Lewis Carroll quote I printed must surely resonate for my friend, and for all of us:

“It would be so nice if something made sense for a change…”

How-To Tips:

Different adhesives performed different jobs in this assemblage. Brushing decoupage medium under and over photocopied illustrations–torn or cut–and tissue paper, I decorated the insides of the lid and box. Using tweezers to keep fingers from getting burned, I hot-glued the heavier playing card, plastic figurine and other assorted items in place. Glue dots came in handy for the tiniest items, and stickers stuck as expected.


alice-4 (2)

3. Box in a Box in a Box

This gift was inspired by a niece who’d just received her PhD in archaeology. After wrapping a piece of jewelry by a local artist in a small box, I incorporated the gift box into a larger, personalized scene. Invited the hubby and son to add their congrats, then packed it off, well-padded, in a slightly larger box.


A cigar box (chosen as my niece’s name is part of the brand name), text pertinent to Marcie’s dissertation, which concerned pottery in ancient Greece, typed and printed out on old, scroll-look paper, hand-made ceramic buttons, ribbons and twine, currency, an engraved stone, and a Playmobil figure with relevant accessories.

How-To Tips:

As described above with number 2, various adhesives did the necessary securing of objects. The little gift box, wrapped in the same text document as the background, was too camouflaged to be seen. That’s why I had to direct attention to it, with a little OPEN ME post-it.

Marcie-PhD-box 1 (2)

   Marcie-PhD-box 4

Marcie-PhD-box 3 (2)

Marcie-PhD-box 2 (2)


Last-Minute Friendly?  Not so much!

Stay on the lookout all year long for inexpensive little items that speak to a loved one’s interests. Neighborhood tag sales and garage sales nearly always include minis, from Happy Meals to games with only some of the playing pieces. Buy polished rocks with a little saying at museum shops and gift stores.  Whether you send handmade gifts,–whether it’s quilty or crafty, or just participate in the packaging and wrapping of gifts…it’s an impressive show of love. Keep it fast and fun. And make it  personal. Such touches make these gifts that will be kept and cherished!

Please leave a comment before the year ends, telling me what you pursue in the miniature creative realm. I’ll award a copy of my book, Creations in Miniature, to each of three lucky mini-lovers! Be sure to subscribe, and you’ll get wind of new postings—approximately two per month.

Hope your holidays are hugely enjoyable, and may all your problems be miniature ones!



I Kit You Not

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013


A tug in opposing directions has characterized my quilt publishing career through the years. On one side, I am pulled by the needs of a broad range and huge numbers of quilters who lack the confidence to create their own designs, and so they look for designs they love to reproduce. In books, patterns, and kits, the quilting industry is set up to cater to these folks.

On the other side, I can’t deny a tepid feeling about a copycat quilt, one that’s perfectly faithful to the original. Even when the original is an amazing antique classic that has entered the public domain.

Maybe that’s unfair. After all, when I made the table runner pictured at the top of this post, I certainly started with inspiration: an ancient Sephardit design that originated in Spain or Portugal. The Etz Chayim—Hebrew for Tree of Life—is a symbol for Jews’ most sacred object, the Torah. It also represents family, growth, and strength.

I fully expect folks to start with an existing design–you have to start somewhere! This is exactly why I produced the book Quilt Blocks Go Wild!, which allows you to take a classic block and do something exciting to it, to make it your own. I simplified the tree for a second rendition, offered as a workshop for the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needleworkers.












For the first time in my teaching career, I was tasked with providing kits to the participants. With a little reluctance, I took orders for a honey, natural, or lavender linen-blend fabric. But I drew the line at including any other specifics, and merely set out stacks of different-color felt for tree trunks and piles of fabric fat quarters and scraps for leaves. I explained to the class my discomfort with straight copying, and my hope that they would each apply their own a personal stamp or different color palette, a unique perspective on the project. Students went well beyond my expectations, and I had the privilege and fun of helping each participant ensure a good contrast, balance, and the injection of her own personality. The resulting quilt tops present a varied grove, a treasure trove of uniqueness. Check out the fabulous, fused appliques below. Kudoes to those who cut an unusual, chunky tree, added a “carved” heart on the trunk, a bird’s nest of eggs, or unusually shaped leaves.

  P1010183 P1010185 P1010186 P1010187 P1010188 P1010189 P1010191 P1010194 P1010197 P1010199 P1010200 P1010201 P1010202

By the way, the how-to’s and the actual-size pattern for the Tree of Life pillow—no kit available! is on my website’s free & fun link; click here for that. But the Pomegranate people let me know they planned to use their designs for wall hangings, tabletoppers, challah covers, and other applications.

What do you think? What’s your take on patterns and kits? What inspires your creativity?