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

Archive for the ‘Fashion or Costume’ Category


Tuesday, 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!








Well Past Midnight

Monday, 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.

Another Kind of Folk Art: Embroidered Punjabi Shawls

Tuesday, June 27th, 2017
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.
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.

What’s new is Oldham, Todd Oldham

Tuesday, June 14th, 2016


All of Everything refers to the many materials, styles and themes that Todd Oldham used to put into his fashion. It is the name of the show, the first major exhibition to focus on the exuberant style and playful aesthetic of Todd Oldham’s runway opus of the 1990s. I just saw it at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) Museum; it’s there until Sept. 11.

Some glimpses that us quilters will love…that is, IF you’re into All of Everything, and everything but the kitchen sink in your fashion!


Different types of fabrics and patterns in the coats above and below, and in the mock-up with glued wool that was photographed and used for a print.




Patchwork with Woven Ribbons








Button Embellishment







Beading, Quilting


Knitting, Lacing, Surface Design, & Beading




This last pièce de irresistance was the culmination of a class Oldham taught at RISD in 2014. Except for this collaboration, it has been 14 or 15 years since he’s designed fashion. In the years since, he’s been putting All of Everything into interior design, kid-crafts, and other follies for Target, Old Navy, La-Z-Boy, Escada, movies, and TV. Check out his home here!


Out of Africa? Wearable Art

Saturday, May 28th, 2016

Stunning fashion at the Philadelphia Museum of Art stirs up passions…and questions. Those who know global fabrics have long recognized that the colorful fabrics long associated with Africa come from Europe, particularly the Netherlands. Which begs for an understanding of colonialism and economic exploitation. In any case, Africans as well as Europeans have embraced the fabrics, combining them in ways wild but wearable, even for large ladies.


From its website (http://www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions/845.html):
Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage, April 30, 2016 – January 22, 2017

Explore how the Dutch company Vlisco became one of the most influential textile brands in West and Central African fashion and a design inspiration around the world. Known for its bold and colorful patterns, Vlisco creates fabrics that marry tradition with luxury. This exhibition highlights the company’s classic and new designs, follows the creation of a textile, and showcases a selection of contemporary fashions by African and European makers as well as Vlisco’s in-house design team.
The wax printed textiles associated with Central and West Africa have a surprising history. Although consumers in Africa and the diaspora embrace them as African, the fabrics have long been designed and manufactured in Europe, and now in China and India. The most luxurious are the wax prints designed and made in the Netherlands by Vlisco. Shortly after its founding in 1846, the company began exporting imitation batiks to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia). Three decades later, Vlisco found a new market in West Africa. This exhibition is offered in conjunction with Creative Africa, a season devoted to African art and design.”
Have a look!


























Sumptuous, right? Would you wear any of these wow’ems?


Costume Review!

Thursday, October 11th, 2012

Gotta gear up.

Oct. 20, the hubster and I host our Halloween Party, held only every four years, when a presidential election is looming. Guests are asked to come in mask or costume…which must reflect a political figure…or a political concept.  Some friends take the easy road, and buy masks: Nixon and Kennedy, for example. Others find simple props: Bill Clinton brought his saxophone, and Sandra Day O’Connor donned a graduation robe and white wig. Then there was the guy, a hunter, whose wife sewed curvy oblongs of brown fake fur to his sweatshirt, so he could be the Right to Bear Arms.  She wore a giant tapered cylinder that had Slushie on it, with monopoly money taped all over…Slush Funds. Carl, my hubby, wears a swing and a boater with a red, white, and blue hat band…he’s a swing voter. This year, he’s thinking an oven mitt and a couple of steaks, but after the last debate, Romney’s “Mitt-steaks” seem less pronounced.

We’re partying early, cuz  I’ll be hawking my new book, Quilt Blocks Go Wild! at Quilt Market in Houston the following weekend. And there, too, I’m prone to making an ass out of myself, for the sake of drawing attention to this book. (I’ll be at Schoolhouse, demoing at the Fairfield World booth, and doing a show-‘n-tell and book-signing at Brewer’s booth. Haven’t quite figured out that costume yet, but it’s gotta be wild. Welcome your suggestions!

This photo album begins with a few pics from the last political Halloween bash, in 2008. That’s Jane Biberman as the Dems Donkey with a GOP elephant behind, and Sarah Stoll as Sarah Palin (remember her?). The rest are assorted costumes I’ve created for partying — beginning with Blind Justice–my quadriennial political spook…er, spoof. And then, lots more garbled garb for purposes of shameless self promotion at quilters’ gatherings and Purim celebrations. The rule of thumb is quick and clever, rather than appealing artistry!

Precious little quilting this time, but possibly some tongue-in-cheekiness to inspire your own upscale wearable statement–personal or political, at Halloween or anytime you wanna play the fool.


What have we wrought here?

Sunday, July 8th, 2012


While producing the book, Choosing Quilting Designs–one of the volumes of the Rodale’s Successful Quilting Library Series, I really got jazzed fleshing out unexpected sources of inspiration as suggested by Elsie Campbell in the chapter, “Great Inspirations.” Since then, I have frequently snapped architectural details with an eye toward how I might find good candidates for quilting. Here are some elegant ones, all in wrought iron, from my trip to Brussels, Belgium earlier this year:

My hubby and our friends walked the Art Nouveau neighborhoods, and I could hardly stop snapping:























But here’s my all-time favorite design:




That window design was the one that inspired my latest piece of wearable art. As I was designing for summer, it unfurls itself as free-motion stitchery and applique rather than quilting. I used it to embellish–and rescue–a sort of kimono top that I got at Loehmann’s decades ago. It came with a skirt that no longer fits–go figure! (Cuz my figure has already gone!).

Oh so blah!

Oh so blah!


Click on this to enlarge for an embarrassing bootie call!

Click on this to enlarge for an embarrassing bootie call!

Traced the blown-up window image onto Sulky Solvey.

Traced the blown-up window image onto Sulky Solvey.

So now I had a pattern to follow, and a stabilizer. Once the lines were free-motion stitched with a heavy thread--like King Tut, the kimono was rinsed, and the Sulky Solvey dissolved.

So now I had a pattern to follow, and a stabilizer. Once the lines were free-motion stitched with a heavy thread–like King Tut, the kimono was rinsed, and the Sulky Solvey dissolved.

Next, I added circle and leaf shapes: pulling from my black and white fabrics, with Wonder-Under to fuse, a lighter-weight thread to outline and secure.

Next, I added circle and leaf shapes: pulling from my black and white fabrics, with Wonder-Under to fuse, a lighter-weight thread to outline and secure.





Doncha like the modesty panel I added to the bottom--to cover my bottom? Also lengthened the sleeves--cuz what's the good of a short-sleeve jacket, anyway?

Doncha like the modesty panel I added to the bottom–to cover my bottom? Also lengthened the sleeves–cuz what’s the good of a short-sleeve jacket, anyway?

If you’d like to hear more about Choosing Quilting Designs, learn about it here.


Wanna bring a fun program to your quilt guild? I’ve got lots of wearable art pieces that fit a multitude of body shapes, so YOU get to be the runway models for Quilt Wearabouts: Strut Your Stuff. Tons of inspiration and laughs! Add a Show ‘n Tell where guild members bring their wearables–tote bags and purses, too.  Just click on the colored text above, and I’ll take you there (so to speak).

Comments always welcome!! No gobblety-gook to type in to prove you’re not a robot! Tell me what you think! Tell me what unlikely sources of inspiration rock your quilting designs!


Aprons to Reflect Who You Are

Friday, March 30th, 2012

When I was growing up, aprons had a really bad rep.  They were the pitiful junior high school Home Ec project meant to be your maiden voyage into Sewing-Machine Land. I was fortunate to have a mother who sewed, and who had taught me the ropes back when I was in fourth grade.  I already knew how to insert zippers, make buttonholes, fit sleeves into armholes.  I had skirts, dresses, and jumpers to sew. I had no need for aprons.

From college on, I was a feminist set on making my mark, if not saving the world. Aprons symbolized “the little woman”–submission, domesticity, a denial of your strengths and talents.

In the ’90s, I certainly identified with Cynthia Myerberg’s tongue-in-cheek Kitschen Help series. She used the apron shape with all its demeaning meaning. And photo-transfers from 1950s advertisements that brainwashed women into believing that domestic life could be so joyful, as long as you had the right appliances.  Plus chains as the occasional neck strap. Cynthia’s aprons, which I originally saw at the juried exhibition Art Quilts At the Sedgewick (AQATS–now Art Quilt Elements–more on that show soon!), were the delicious attire of satire. [Check out more about the advent of art quilts in America in my book: American Quiltmaking: 1970-2000, available elsewhere on this site.]

But just when you thought we’d all string aprons up by their, well, apron strings, flash forward to the new milennium.  Vintage aprons suddenly have panache.  They’re collected–I couldn’t resist buying a few sweet ones at flea markets myself! They’re oohed and aahed over at the quilt guild show ‘n tell, worn when hosting coffee klutches with your quilting friends, hung as charming valances in retro kitchens.  Young women in Modern Quilt Guilds make them up in contemporary fabrics and wear them everywhere, layered like tunics or back-wrap dresses over tank tops and skinny pants. Very cute–if you’re young.

Well, ladies, tonight I saw the humble apron rise on up in respectability–way past cute.  Launching the Fiber Philadelphia 2012 weekend events was my very own synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Shalom. There, we were treated to a spectacular one-person show, The New Sacred: Ritual Textiles by Rachel Kanter.  Rachel is a young, innovative fiber artist, yet she seems incredibly secure in her traditional family roles as grand-daughter, daughter, sister, wife, mom of 3 young children. But it’s her Judaism that pervades her life and her art. Once she decided she wanted a tallit–prayer shawl–for herself, she set out to create a uniquely feminine one. On her website RachelKanter.com and in person, Rachel explains that her inspiration is the four cornered robes worn by priests in biblical times. However, in using vintage apron patterns from the 20th century for her designs, she finds “a means of connecting her story as a woman with her story as a Jew.”

My favorite piece in the exhibit was this apron/tallit with stitches outlining the demarkations on patterns for darts, shortening and lengthening the shape. Like all the ritual aprons, it has the knotted fringes common to every tallit, with a knot or twist for each of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

Called God’s Aspect, it’s made of sheer fabric, so that God’s image may be glimpsed in the wearer herself. (Rachel’s preaching to the choir on this one: for me, God is definitely female!)

Other aprons depicted the environs of Jewish female farmers. Huh? Who knew they existed in America today? Nice to see that environmental and ethical concerns color their lives, as they color these pieces. Especially nice that one of the farms is a wind farm!  (See the  pole and blades of the wind mill on the natural linen apron.)

Rachel’s art in this exhibit extended to wimpels and mikvehs, themes of binding together, of renewal, of family and community. I snapped the artist in front of one of her ritual tablecloths (below). She elevates the kitchen table to altar-status by appliques of cherished family objects, imbued with food, feasts, conversation, and memory.

She accomplishes the same thing with the lowly apron, don’t you think? Still, you wouldn’t wear these out in public, let alone to a worship service. Progressive Judaism relegates “Sunday Best” –or in our case, Sabbath Best–for the High Holidays.  Rachel herself admits that she doesn’t wear these tallit-aprons, at home or in synagogue. She’s successful as an artist, and her work is widely exhibited. Wouldn’t do to get them stained. So these aprons will remain as ritual objects…the new sacred.

Rachel Kanter, in front of her Mikdash Me’At, a ritual tablecloth in the exhibit.