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Archive for the ‘Recycled Art’ Category

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!

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?