Eleanor Levie HomeAboutEditorial ServicesBooksGallerySpeaker TopicsWorkshopsPast BookingsFree StuffLInks Contact Me

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

Archive for the ‘Unusual Materials’ Category

Trash Stash Quilting

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

My immodest alter ego calls it Recycled “Art.”

ReUSE #1, by Eleanor Levie, 2009
REUSE/Re:use/ Re: us/Re: U.S….

Here’s the thing: I just can’t throw away colorful, foil-lined packaging–the kind that holds a crease. So colorful and sturdy. So easy to cut and sew through. Pressing is just pinching—no ironing, unless the packaging is really wrinkly (which can be a good thing).

So besides the clear Rubbermaid tubs of fat quarters, and the drawers of wool, linen, upholstery-weight cottons and dress goods, I’ve now got bins of coffee bags–the kind that fold down, boxes of tea bag envelopes like Stash and Constant Comment, plus sacks of dog food bags for large backgrounds, Alka Seltzer and energy drink packets,  and even thinner packaging if the graphics rock. My friends save their empty bags for me. They know about my ReUse series (see it on my website gallery here). Yup, every so often I return to my stash of trash to make quilts. I could probably devote the rest of my quilting to using this medium…

The first one I made is on the wall of our just-renovated kitchen. Grease and dust? No prob, just sponge it off.

Another one is in our archway, between a gate and our front door. Silt and dirt from the city streets

are equally easy to wipe away.

Grounds for Recycling, by Eleanor Levie, 2011


Here are 2010’s and 2011’s ReUse series pieces, donated to the Quilt Alliance for their fundraising auctions:

ReUse #3, Home Sweet Home, Eleanor Levie, 2011; in the collection of Mark Lipinski

Tahrire Square, by Eleanor Levie, 16" square, 2011; in the collection of Meg Cox

Tahrire Square, by Eleanor Levie, 16″ square, 2011; in the collection of Meg Cox

The latest entry for the Quilt Alliance was three-dimensional:

Coffee House, by Eleanor Levie, 15"x19.5"x 2"

Coffee House, by Eleanor Levie, 15″x19.5″x 2″, 2012

Coffee House: side view

Coffee House: side view

Coffee House: open door

Coffee House: open door



I’m excited to say that one of my best friends–and suppliers of used coffee bags–won the auction bid on this Coffee House. So, for Christmas this year, I made a little sign: Emmetts’ to go over the Coffee House oval, and glossy photo of their beloved English Springer– hopefully in scale!–to personalize their new piece. I’ll add a photo of the new piece when it’s available, but in the meantime, you get the point!






The newest addition to my ReUse series is this little sample for a class I’ll teach for the Pomegranate Guild in Philadelphia next October. Notice it’s a simplification of Tahrire Square, featuring the Middle East hamsa, a good luck motif that wards off the evil eye. I’m also taking the opportunity to reuse bottle caps and vintage buttons. Not only that, my go-to background and backing is craft felt that is made from recycled plastic bottles. Once again, trash into treasure.

Kitchen Hamsa, by Eleanor Levie, 2012, 9" x 11", not including dingle-dangles

Kitchen Hamsa, by Eleanor Levie, 2012, 9″ x 11″, not including dingle-dangles

So….after you’ve got your serious work done, and your deadlines met, why not play hooky with a stash of trash? Here are my top tips:

  • Use small amounts of glue stick to hold appliques in place.
  • Use small amounts of cellophane tape to hold patches together, but be sure you are not stitching through the tape.
  • Use a size 90 needle in the machine, 50 or 60 weight thread, and larger stitches: you don’t want to perforate the foil-lined packaging so much that it tears.
  • Perforations are there to stay, so forget about ripping out. Just cut and restitch. Or throw the unit away–it’s just trash.
  • When your “quilt top” is done, lay it over a larger piece of felt in a coordinating or contrast color: this will show as your edging, and also provide the thin, soft filler. No pins or tape necessary. Quilt simply, and not too densely, working from the center outward.
  • Lay the quilted piece on another piece of felt, the same size as before. Quilt around the edges, adding a strip at the top for a hanging sleeve, and catching its top edge as you machine-stitch through all the layers.
  • Trim the felt slightly larger than the quilt top all around, using pinking shears or your rotary cutting supplies. Hand-tack the bottom edge of the sleeve in place.

These are just tips. There’s only one rule for making Recycled Art with a stash of trash: HAVE FUN! Please leave a comment. What do YOU recycle into ART?

At play with mud…mud cloth, that is!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012

Here I am with the hub in Belize–this was taken a couple of years ago. Only photo I could easily locate where I’m carrying my go-to travel tote, an airport purchase, made in China, waterproof, and many-pocketed. But not my own work, and despite the leopard print, eminently forgettable-looking. So NOT worthy of the author of Unforgettable Tote Bags–don’t you think? So I recently went about remedying that.

The process was a cinch, using small pieces of mud cloth.

Bògòlanfini or bogolan (“mud cloth”) is a handmade cotton fabric from Mali, woven in narrow widths and dyed with fermented…you guessed it, mud.  It is a symbol of Malian cultural identity.

Newsflash from Janet Goldner (see below):

Although usually translated as “mud cloth,” bogolan actually refers to a clay slip with a high iron content that produces a black pigment when applied to handspun and handwoven cotton textiles.  Mud is any old bit of earth mixed with water and will not dye the cloth.  Although bogolan is traditionally done on hand woven bands of cotton cloth, the word actually refers to the dye process.”
 Check out this wonderful site from the Smithsonian, called Discovering Mud Cloth. I love the fashions of Chris Seydou on this site, and there’s also a fun little interactive section for making virtual mud cloth–quick and dirty–NOT. Don’t want to actually mess with mud? Do what I did, and buy pieces of mud cloth from  Lisa Shepard Stewart of culturedexpressions.com.  Lisa no longer has the scraps (unless we all “virtually” get down on our knees and plead with her?), but she does carry packets for making mini purses, journal covers, and more on her website.

I removed the tray from my sewing machine, and with the free arm–or shall I say, arm free (like for stitching sleeves and pant legs), I could get the needle into the pockets. It was a simple matter to straight-stitch or zigzag-stitch the edges of the mud cloth to the outsides of the tote’s pockets.  Now, the delicious pattern and texture of the mud cloth tote-ally adds style and uniqueness. A few vintage buttons sealed the deal.



Click here for another fashion foray in mud cloth for you all. And, if you want to visit Mali and see for yourself how mud cloth is made, then you can do no better than to keep in touch with my friend Janet Goldner.  Janet is an amazing artist, sculptor, writer, photographer who frequently visits Mali– sometimes as an art tour guide. Not to mention, well, here I go mentioning—a passionate activist. And an inspirational model for how white chicks like me can get away with dressing African style! That’s the global trend, friends, for the utmost in style and sophistication.  Read the fashion mags, rags, and you’ll see, it’s clear as, well, mud.

Pick a Pomegranate, Perhaps

Thursday, April 12th, 2012

“Choose a motif to represent yourself,” said South African contemporary quilt artist Rosalie Dace (rosaliedace.co.za). In this extraordinary class called “Signs & Symbols” that I took at Quilt Surface Design Symposium four summers ago, Rosalie explained that even basic shapes can be used to express your essence. Circles and curvy, round shapes, for example,  are intuitively feminine forms. Rosalie, hot as a teacher as well as quilter, frequently uses the sun of Durban, her hometown, in her work. Me, I tend to be pretty fruity. My body, I figured, brings the pear to mind, but I picked the pomegranate. The rich colors, the bulbous form, and that crown–it says diva to me.

I’ve just pulled out that class piece I worked on in 2007 and brought home to finish…but never got around to. In showing it to you here, the pressure is on to go back and make it ripen it to fruition! Please share a critical comment–plant a seed in my brain to help me organize and improve the composition, or to motivate me to just get it done! As a thank you, I’ll enter you into a drawing for my book, Unforgettable Tote Bags: 20 designs too cool to leave in the car. 


NEWS FLASH: The amazing Pamela Allen of Canada just honored me with more than a mere crit, but a dynamic, digital rendition.  Had to add right here, right now. Because it’s such a  brilliant idea, with potential to work in many other applications–your work, perhaps! What Pamela did was to adapt elements from my piece and echo and elongate them for unity, cohesiveness, and flow.

Pamela pitches pomegranates to perfection!

I can’t wait to play with this concept, using my cut and paste, er, pin way of working. Now, back to the blog.

Ahh, the mystery, the history of this fantastical fruit!

Embroidered panel I saw recently at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels.

Did you know…?

  • The forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden is thought to have been a pomegranate. (Since when did you ever see apple trees in the Middle East, the cradle of civilization?)
  • Ancient Egyptians regarded the pomegranate as a symbol of prosperity and ambition. (A few of these fancy fruits–to dry and set out in a big bowl–is gonna set you back quite a few dollars, so you better have a good amount of disposable income for this showy decorating effect.)
  • In India, for generations, the rind of the fruit and the bark of the pomegranate tree has been used to treat diarrhea, dysentery, and hemorrhoids; to stop nose bleeds; and, in combo with mustard seed oil, to tone skin  and firm up sagging breasts! (Note to self: add pomegrates and mustard seed oil to the grocery list.)
  • Jews have often used views of this fruit on coins, coronets, and to decorate the handles of the Torah scrolls. My people like to co-relate the many, many seeds with the many, many laws in the Torah (613–don’t ask me how many– er, how few I observe).
  • All those multitudinous seeds means the pomegranate symbolizes fertility in many cultures. (Hey, I may only have one child, but let my publishing and quiltmaking efforts be fruitful!!)
  • In paintings of Mother Mary or baby Jesus, pomegranates are shorthand religious symbols for Sandro Botticelli, and for Leonardo da Vinci, code.
  • The French term  for pomegranate is grenade. Soldiers noted the similar shape of early explosives and the name stuck. (Can I maybe get a little credit for using of pomegranates in my work as an anti-war statement? Even if I didn’t know about this at the time I began?)
  • To “seed” a pomegranate, break pieces of seeds and pithy membrane and put in water. The pith will float, the seeds will not.  Scoop up some seeds and sprinkle over a green salad. The sweet, juicy pulp is a wonderful enhancement. (And in moderation, the crunch of the seeds is not half bad.)
  • You can make your own pomegranate juice or syrup (grenadine). I don’t though. After all, Pom comes in that great bottle, and you just need to pour a tiny bit of  the dense grenadine slowly over OJ on ice for a very arty effect. Plus, a jigger of tequila turns it into a Tequila Sunrise. Cheers!

Here’s a plum offer: Mention other cool pomegranate facts, mythology, and recipes, and I’ll enter you into the drawing for my book, Unforgettable Tote Bags: 20 designs too cool to leave in the car.

Much more recently–last week, in fact, I was lucky enough to take a class with Judy Langille  (judylangille.com) called  “Cut, Slash and Tear Your Way to Innovative Fabric Design.”  It was, conveniently enough for me, held in my local area as part of the FiberPhiladelphia 2012 extravaganza. Judy had us students using silk screens and making thermofaxes, but freezer paper was the key tool.

Determined to avoid adding to my stash and coming home with yet another unfinished class project, I began with one of my grandmother’s linen dresser scarves.  Hemmed and edged with tatted lace, it dictated the parameters and the old fashioned, feminine mood of the finished piece. Following Judy’s cue, I ironed freezer over the whole linen rectangle, and then cut out various pomegranate shapes to color with dyes. Then, I masked only the pomegranate shapes, and went to work on the background.  Longtime buddy Sammie Moshenberg’s photo of a dune fence, taken during a joint family beach vacation in 2007, provided the repeat motif. Fed through the thermofax, the image gave me great visual texture I applied in yellow, tan, and green paint. In addition, I utilized some of Judy’s thermofaxes (rings, a gridded dot designs) and my own– well, text cribbed from the Internet, the definition for pomegranate, printed out in a florid script font. Plus a few dots and rings from stamping with a pencil eraser.

The best thing about my class project? It’s done!

Hey, do you ever do surface design, applique, quilting, or embellishment over vintage linens? If so, leave a comment and tell me about it, or point to your website or blog for a picture. Would you believe it, you’ll be entered into a drawing for my book, Unforgettable Tote Bags: 20 designs too cool to leave in the car. It’s a green book, so I’m prepared to give away 22 copies by Earth Day, April 22. (Note: Flat rate postage to be charged if winners reside outside the contiguous USA.)

Remember, I’ll be pleased as, well, pomegranate punch if you leave a comment!


Funny-Side Up: FiberPhiladelphia 2012

Friday, April 6th, 2012


Yup, I needed help. When the most deep and conceptual installations of FiberPhiladelphia were without cloth, let alone quilting or stitches, I started to feel waaay out of date–positively obsolete. But here and there, I found the perfect antidote: Fiber art that made me chuckle, giggle, and grin.  Seriously,  who says art must be serious?  Have a good laugh, and then get inspired to make art that’s just for fun!

House of Cards (all credit cards), by Amy Orr


This piece is at the Philadelphia Alliance of Art, in Rittenhouse Square

Peering into the living room

Credit card siding, on the side

Also at the Philadelphia Alliance of Art, this hilarious piece by embroidery artist Marcia Doctor; the needle gives you a sense of the scale on this one:

“Don’t Fuck with Me,” by Marcia Doctor

Formal Argument, by Diane Savona, at the Crane

a detail












Here’s the back of the award-winning piece.

Part of a series of collages, by London artist Spinks, these little classical prints are warmed up by tiny knitted sweaters and hats. It’s at the Gershman Y exhibit called Mending = Art.

Random Acts of Kindness, by Spinks


Random Acts of Kindness, by Spinks

Cute, huh?


Slurp, by Jill Rumoshosky Werner, which was at the High Wire Gallery

Dots Rush In Where Checkers Fear to Tread, by Renie Breskin Adams, at KelliJane, and about 7″ x 9″


Zipperwall Quilt 2, by Bryan Day, at the Crane

Yes, those are plastic Easter eggs!

Happy Easter, Happy Passover, Happy Spring!

Hair Comes A New Concept

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

Must confess, the Inside/Outside juried exhibit at the Crane, a big part of Fiber Philadelphia, was sooo conceptual, so avant garde it left me feeling left behind…Here are two pieces, with their labels that are hairy–with respect to being made of human fibers AND to being risky… the hair–er, heir apparent of high fiber art in 2012:

I will bring you more high art, jaw-dropping, serious stuff…do comment on the significance as you see it!  Keep visiting… I’ll also be sharing some much more accessible fiber art: to simply make you laugh!