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Archive for the ‘Unusual Materials’ Category

Swimming Upstream

Sunday, October 23rd, 2016


I am a bottom feeder who cannot pass up a slab of rusted metal in the street, the cardboard wrapper for some fancy smoked salmon, texture and patina. I have a box of such hard found pieces. I also have an accordion folder and loose piles of fancy papers, tear sheets, beautiful calendar pages…thank you, Sammie Moshenberg! Thank you, Barbara Adler for that glittery packaging from smoked salmon! From the time I was a girl, I collected my father’s lithography samples from when he worked for a printing company.

The obvious thing to my mind is to combine papers and metals into a collage. But I challenged myself to make unrelated materials play together. One way to do that was to use color—salmon and it’s color complement, light blue—as a way to breed the hard with the soft. Some of the papers had been given  a wash of paint, obliterating a clutter of text and integrating them into a cohesive grouping.

I thought the rusted metal held secrets, and history, and I looked to fabrics with not just color coordination but also unfathomable text and visual texture, to continue that narrative of mystery. Thank you, Lonni Rossi! I quilted them to provide a more stable background, and connected by stitch the ephemera, the old and new papers, with the cotton fabrics. Unsure of where I was going, I arranged and rearranged the composition, and when I thought I was close, I still had challenges of mounting the disparate pieces for durability of display, deciding to pull it over stretcher strips, screw spacer strips to support and elevate the metal piece, and camouflaging the screws with spirals of copper wire.

I was definitely swimming upstream, my title for the piece…. like the salmon, expecting only to get screwed by the all difficulties, and die in the end, that is, to have this project end up in the trash.

But on the other hand, I wasn’t floundering. The work had a nice flow to it, and I never felt I was fighting the current. Maybe that’s because my art quilting has not followed a single direction, despite my deep respect for artists who work in a series. I’m not a serious artist, and I can’t take my work or myself all that seriously. But I have to say, finding connections of line, and a balance of shapes is a very satisfying exercise for me. Perhaps, after all, this mixed media piece may not be a one-off; I just may return to the river where hard and soft textures and disparate elements combine. I’m not fishing for compliments, but I sure welcome feedback!



LOUD Conversation prints!–Love ’em!

Wednesday, June 1st, 2016


Contemporary wax printed textiles stretched onto frames—I’m guessing 24″ x 36″— like art: as stunning as the fashions in the Creative Africa exhibit currently at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Perlman annex. Did you catch my blog post about that? you can look at it here.

The comments are really interesting, as comments always are! The print below, though it seems to belittle conversation and communication, nonetheless speaks to the way all us quilters silently express ourselves through cloth:


Although most people think of them as African, the fabrics are designed by Dutch designers and made in the Netherlands by Vlisco. Still, they are inspired by African motifs and symbols, and made into clothing and worn mostly by Africans. Here’s a photo from the collection of African architect Francis Kéré, also shown in the PMA exhibit:


Clearly, the fabric you wear is an important way of expressing who you are. And your position in society. Here, the reference is to bolts of fabric included in an African woman’s dowry.


I naturally gravitated toward other motifs related to cutting and stitching:




Symbols of upwardly mobile wealth, especially for women in the market and on the go, also take the forms of fancy shoes, wheels, and cars.



On the grill of a luxury car, the Vlisco logo takes over for Mercedes Benz.



Think those cracks in the side mirrors of a Mercedes refer to our warped perceptions of where we’ve come from, i.e., our humble beginnings? Or literally to the batik process of breaking up the wax painted on the fabric so dyes can seep into the cracks?

Another traffic-related print poses the question, are you heading towards love or money?


Perhaps the most “out-there” fabric from 1953 features a traditional patchwork design around a sort of fertility mandala, shall I say? It’s named after an African proverb that translates to “children are better than money.”


Stay tuned. My next post will show some distinctly African-made fabrics. In the meantime, how do YOU use conversation prints in your work?

Give me a hand…

Friday, July 31st, 2015

KitchenHamsa (2)

Seems I have a hamsa series going. Often called the Hand of Miriam by Jews, or the Hand of Fatimah by Muslims, this middle-eastern symbol features three fingers and two thumbs. Don’t ask me why. A good luck charm, it’s said to ward off the evil eye…cast by those who would be envious of what good fortune you may have. Lots of folks wear a hamsa as a talisman around their necks. But since bad luck can occur right at home, frequently in the form of cooking disasters, I recommend a household hamsa —especially in the kitchen. Done in foil-lined, plasticized packaging like coffee bags and tea bag envelopes, the resulting art can be wiped clean of cooking grease, sprays from spills, dust and grime. I teach this class as a workshop for trash-stash quilting, using the sample shown above, or for a westernized version, the hand-in-heart motif below.


Hand-in-Heart folk art, by Eleanor Levie, 2015, approx. 8″ x 10″


First time I ventured into hamsa territory was for a 2011 Quilt Alliance challenge; lots of shiny packaging made it impossible for this amateur photographer to capture a good representation.


Tahrir Square, by Eleanor Levie, 2011, 16″ x 16″

Recently, I answered another challenge with Eyes Wide Open as the theme. Right away, I thought of a hamsa with an eye, done out off coffee and tea bag packaging to reference the caffeine that literally opens my eyes, and the need to reduce and recycle that informs my trash stash quilting. Two other inspirations guided my creative pathway. First was  an article in the Summer SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Associates, Inc.) Journal referencing the keynote speaker at the SAQA annual conference. Namita Gupta Wiggers is an art historian, and director and co-founder of Critical Craft Forum. She pushed for art quilts to take a place of power. Art in and of itself, instead of simply as a reference to the older, more traditional form of a bed covering. To do that, she encouraged breaking out of the rectilinear picture plane, and redefining the medium through the use of materials other than cloth. Hmmmm.

Another inspiration from a few years back was Pamela Allen’s Black-Eyed Susan art quilt, where plastic doll eyes peeped out from the centers of a bouquet of blooms.

Thus was born my Black-Eyed Susan Hamsa!


Securing top layers to bottom layer of black felt.


















Couching satin cord over felt edges.











Black-Eyed Susan Hamsa, by Eleanor Levie, 2015, 14″ x 24″ ?





















Photo by Carl Harrington, who is angling to get out of the photo business!

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

Whoop-TEA-doo! It’s Earth Day!

Tuesday, 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!



Guilty Pleasures, Quilty Art: Part I

Monday, March 24th, 2014

Hold onto your soft, cushiony seats, folks. Over the next  month, Philly is a contemporary quilt-lover’s paradise, but if you cannot get here, I’ll guide your armchair-travels via this blog post and the next one.

Here, I’ll share three of my faves from the Fiber Biennale, now showing at the Snyderman Works in Philly. Think fiber is a  field for females? Think again. These pieces are all by men, and each is a legend in his own time.



I’ve never seen a John McQueen that wasn’t a shapely vessel. But this sculptor/basketmaker bar none has created a comparatively flat piece from poplar, pine, and birch bark. For me,  I’m reminded of a contemporary applique quilt…just not soft. “After Dark Comes Calling,” 2011, 36″ x 42″




Warren Selig, professor in the Fibers/Mixed Media program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia–who calls Rockland, Maine home– insists on redefining textiles.  Just as quilting stitches produce a play of light and shadow, so do the stainless, intersecting rods with clear acrylic spheres that extend 5″ from the wall. Titled “Shadow Field/Crystal Path,” it extends to 83″. Gallery co-owner Ruth Snyderman stands alongside for a sense of scale.

selig w Ruth

selig detail

Finally, no show, no collection of top-tier quilted art could be without a piece from Michael James. Professor in Textiles at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, James gives a nod to the traditions of cloth, piecing, and quilting stitches. Yet he soars by using digital textile printing to play with pattern in ways that reference dreams and memories. What a calm feeling washes over me as I study “Lands End: Quiet Hour,” 2014, approx. 51″ x 54″. Full view and detail:




Neither my photos, nor the greatest, most professional photography can come close to seeing these pieces “in the cloth”…er, or steel, or bark. Go to snyderman-works.com for more info. I must caution you, seeing only makes you want to touch, and you can’t touch–unless you buy. And these masterworks will cost a pretty penny. And why not? For all their humble materials, these pieces, and dozens of others in this extraordinary show that is always two years in the planning, represent the best contemporary art. The fact that it’s categorized as fiber art doesn’t make it less worthy of our esteem as any of the fine arts. In fact, for me, it holds a much greater interest. This show will challenge you to question what is fiber? What is art? And leads to that perennial discussion (and my next blog post) of what is a quilt? Man, oh man, oh man, we’re having fun in Philly.






A Little Luck

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

Whether the topic is creativity, genius, or success, the formula is often quoted to be 10% inspiration, and 90% perspiration. The first–inspiration–like breathing in fresh air, involves listening to your heart, keeping an open, free-range mind, and just pure luck. The second–perspiration — means doing the work: hands-on, facing challenges, problem-solving, trial and error.

Hamsa is a Hebrew word, with the initial h pronounced with a gutteral sound like chutzpah. The semitic origins of the word Hamsa mean hand, five, and the iconic shape represents the Creator’s protective hand. It’s usually depicted as a hand with two thumbs and three fingers in KitchenHamsa-EL (2)between. But the Hamsa presents a handy, creative opportunity to everyone, even those who claim they are all thumbs.
The use of the Hamsa is part of Jewish and Israeli folklore and superstition. A Hamsa  is an ancient yet still popular amulet for magical protection from the evil eye. It has nothing to do with religion! But who doesn’t want a good luck charm, just in case?!

I recently had the good luck to teach a group of women from the Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework how to create a little good luck wall hanging using my favorite media–recycled coffee and tea bags. I gave each participant a shrinky dink Hamsa — cut on an Ellison die cut machine at my synagogue Sunday school — to use as a template. I showed them my sample, but encouraged them to personalize their creations to fit their style, their personality, and their decor…which they did in spades!  Take a look at their work in progress:

P1010179 P1010172


P1010173 P1010174  P1010176 P1010177 P1010178    P1010181



Anyone wanting to put your Hamsa…er, hand to quilting with recycled packaging? The instructions for my design are up on my website now, on the Free & Fun link. Foil-lined packaging means you can hang this good luck charm in your kitchen, and just sponge off any grease or dust. The shine of the material means it’s nearly impossible to capture these recycled art Hamsas in a photo that does them justice. But like a quilt top vs. a quilted piece of fabric art, adding a background/filler/backing  plus quilting stitches to draw the three layers together really makes the piece a success. Two layers of felt and design lines in thread depress the plasticized foil surface into little hills and valleys, giving depth and definition to the piece.  I can’t wait to see the finished projects, and hope these “Poms” will complete their projects and email me a jpeg—with a little luck!

Leave me a comment, and do share your thoughts about your favorite good luck charm, the power of amulets or recycling, how I should photograph shiny surfaces, or what quilting outside the box YOU are doing. Oh, and do click on the subscribe button to get alerts in your email in box when I have a new quilting blog post. Look forward to hearing from you!

Remarkable Recyclables

Friday, September 27th, 2013

DSCN1535 Seen and admired at the Pennsylvania National Quilt  Extravaganza last week:



This vibrant abstract is by Batia Eichenholz of Herzelia, Israel, and it’s a winning entry in the 2013 World Quilt Competition XVII that was on tour at PNQE. Called Shopping, this machine stitched and zig-zag quilted wall piece is made of plastic shopping bags–which would seem to be more colorful and sturdy than the US variety, and so I’m certain they get lots of repeat use. Love the black bars that give the composition strength. Notice in the details the Hebrew that occasionally appears, and the metallic prairie points that punctuate the design.

DSCN1533 DSCN1534


KitchenHamsa-EL (2)


Kinda reminds me of what I do with recycled, foil lined packaging, predominantly coffee and tea bag envelopes. I’ll be teaching this technique in a workshop for the Pomegranate Guild on Oct. 7.

Click here to check out the other pieces in my ReUse series.

And bear in mind, that plastic or plasticized packaging prevents this amateur photographer from getting a sharp, clear image for ya!






Back to the real artists: Like her Israeli compatriot, Orna Shahar also used shopping bags, but as commentary on their severe environmental hazard. Her piece is called Artificial Nature. The plastic bags are fused, creating lace-like leaves, and the orange of the background is meant to serve as a warning.

ArtificialNature   DSCN1541










Another innovative use of recycled materials reveals itself in Tea, by Trienie Krugel of South Africa. This artist placed used teabags under tulle on an old tablecloth, and hand-quilted. At some stage she must have stamped images of tea cups and tea pots. Gathering stitches turned round teabags, clearly already dunked in a cup, into mini flowers.













And now to return to that most classic of recyling materials–old clothing and leftover scraps! For the making of Don’t Fence Me In, entered into PNQE’s “Home” themed contest, Margaret Fabrizio of San Francisco was inspired by the Siddi people. Of African descent, they had been brought to India as slaves 400 years ago. Emulating their style of quilting, she did the piece completely by hand, and with Indian fabrics–upcycled into this stunner:


Dig those corners–another unexpected use for a prairie point!


What have you seen, and what are you working on, that turns recyclables and found objects into art? Do tell, in the comments below!



Are you game for a quilting challenge?

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013
Take 20, detail

Take 20, detail

The intriguing themes of the Quilt Alliance’s 20th anniversary contest and auction always jump start my creativity, and this year’s theme, “20” had me immediately sketching.  In fact, this is probably the first time I’ve had an idea and stuck with it. My inspiration was the crossed legs of a classic bistro table form  a double X, or XX — the Roman numeral for 20.

Friends and readers of this blog know about my fondness for upcycling foil-lined packaging. If you’re new to this blog, you may wanna look at my entire ReUse series before this one in my earlier post, Trash Stash Quilting. The great things about using trash are: free materials, no need to press, and the knowledge of helping the environmental situation that plagues our throw-away culture.

And the great things about making pieces for the Quilt Alliance’s annual fundraiser are: a push to produce work with definite guidelines, the opportunity to show work, the knowledge of contributing to this amazing organization, and, in my case, the freedom to exhibit in the public realm a piece that’s full of branding and logos many venues would not accept.

So I love this challenge, and pass along TWO challenges for you. First, you have until June 1 to submit your own “20” quilt. Dimensions must be 20″ x 20,” natch, and all the info is on the website provided above.

Second, and you may have to place the winning bid on my quilt in order to rise to this challenge, I incorporated a little “I Spy” game in my quilt: Find twenty 20’s–characters (like the XX table legs), text (there’s lots on the packaging, such as “Use before 2012” or the words for 20 in other languages), and quantities of items (5 Four-Patch blocks, 20 flowers).

take20-elevie-5-2013 (2)

Maybe, just maybe, the number 20 marks your own anniversary, birth date of the month, sports hero jersey. But even if  20 has no special meaning for you, consider bidding on my quilt because of the advisory behind the title: It’s called “Take 20”– because everybody needs a break now and then, even if it’s just 20 minutes to enjoy a cuppa with a friend.

Alas, no time for that now—I’m off to mail in my entry!





More Trash into Treasures

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013


I admit it, I am a trashy art lover! No, not soft porn, or sexy comic-book art, but art that utilizes the graphic excitement of commercial packaging and found objects. With these imaginative concoctions, that which is usually thrown away gets a second life  worthy of our highest regard. Not to mention that each one is a treasure of entertaining pleasure.

Eileen Neill commented to my last blog post: “I too make art quilts from trash. there is a particular brand of potato chips (Miss Vickie’s) here in Canada that has a really nice bag. I have made many small wall quilts using these bags. I commission my grandchildren to eat the chips for me.”


Miss Vickie’s, by Eileen Neill

Fun! And makes me want to hit the pantry for some crunchy munchies myself!

I’ve shared in a previous blog how Amy Orr uses cut-up credit cards in her art. Get a load of another masterpiece with a diversity of discarded “gems.”

alphabetquilt (2)
Alphabet Quilt, by Amy Orr
Crack vials, action figures, miscellaneous plastic and metal fragments, Publishers Clearing House stamps and glass beads, hand-stitched onto velvet
41″ x 32″

Doncha LOVE it? Amy’s use of unusual trash and found objects always provide an underlying, almost subversive dimension to her collage fiber art. So, although you’re looking at a textural icon recalling a joyful classic juvenile quilt style, Amy is also commenting about the dark, dangerous horrors all too prevalent in the environment or future of a child living in urban poverty.


Ellen Saul, one of the  Dumpster Divers of Philadelphia now exhibiting in Upscaling: Trash into Treasures, used a stained, vintage hanky and vegetable bags, among other things, to make her little masterpiece, My Way, below. Excuse the glare from the glass, and like all these pieces, you just have to see them in the cloth! And, her other little hanky-pankies, on her website.


Another member of this esteemed group of artists bound together by their talent for taking trash to the max is Ellen Benson. With the understanding that art quilts are one step away from more 3-D forms of mixed media, you’re bound to fall under the spell of Ellen’s talismans (talismen? taliswomen?).

EllenBenson-talismans-3 EllenBenson-talismans (2)

In the event you need an extra reason to covet them, Ellen makes a variety of weathered, ancient-looking labels available, so you get to choose the figure you want, plus the nightmare you wish to ward off. I seem to need the one that says Amulet to protect me from my computer going down….Talisman to prevent cellulite…or to ward off loud cell-phone users. You might prefer  Protection from overwhelming urges to go shopping–although I think there’s only good karma in purchasing from Ellen or other artists at dumpsterdivers.org.

ellenbenson-labels (2)

Finally, let me share the work of one more Dumpster Diver in this show–soon to close at the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon, PA: a new and wonderful friend whose work was recently exhibited at the esteemed Snyderman-Works Gallery here in Philly: Linda Lou Horn.


Linda Lou Horn

These “Ladies” are:

“Lit Up for You,” created with a parts of a lamp and other electrical components

Slinky Sally Shimmers, created with chair parts and part of a broom

Dart of My Heart, with a brush, doll shoes, and one found object that makes it an irresistible target for adoption.

If you like treasures from trash, green quilts, mixed media from found objects, please   comment below, share your work with me at elevie@comcast.net…

… and stay tuned for more adventurous art!