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

Archive for the ‘Art + Quilt’ Category

Crested Cranes, Part II

Tuesday, July 6th, 2021

The skinny quilt is finished! I sure hope my Kenyan collaborator Meryline Ingaso likes it, and that folks out there will want to bid on it when the Advocacy Project holds its auction of art quilts later this year, which will raise funds for services that will benefit Meryline and her Sister Artists.

But first, here’s the skinny on African crested cranes: thanks to storyteller.travel for this info and video!

1–The African crested crane is quite the looker: light blue eyes, bright red neck, and gorgeous plumage on its head. It stands at over 3 feet tall and from wing-tip to wing-tip can measure over 6 feet. Despite such a wingspan, the adult weighs less than 8 pounds. Hollowed out honeycomb-like bones means the bird is light enough to take flight.

2–It’s the national bird of Uganda (right next door to Kenya) and featured on the Ugandan flag. The marshes and flat grasslands of both Kenya and Uganda offer the birds everything they love in a habitat. Rather than migrating, crested cranes tend to stay in place throughout the year. However, their habitat is slowly being depleted, due to over-use of water for irrigating fields of crops. So, the population is declining and the crested crane has been designated as endangered.

3–The Crested Crane is quite the omnivore gourmand, eating leaves and seeds from a variety of plants, as well as insects, worms, and frogs. These birds have also been seen eating small fish, snakes, and various aquatic eggs.

4–Romance is in the air: Crested cranes choose a partner early on, and mate for life. The only cranes to nest in trees, they build nests that are high up, safe from the reach of predators. Females typically lay between 2 and 4 eggs in a clutch, and the eggs are ready to hatch in about 30 days. They are then ready to breed when they reach 3 years of age, and given their long life-span — about 22 years, they have plenty of years to find a mate and lay lady lay.

4– Not just for courting and breeding, crested cranes love to dance at any time of the year. Young birds often join in the dancing.

Moving on, I think I managed to combine the three sections — raw-edge applique landscape, Meriline’s embroidery, and a woven expanse — into a cohesive whole, 12″ x 48″. The quilting certainly helped integrate and tame the disparate elements, especially the warp and weft strips of the bottom section.

Facings along the long side edges kept the piece from feeling too circumscribed and hemmed in. African fabric for a top border, and a bottom border of batik couched with ribbon was, to my thinking, just enough definition.

And here we are!

Crested Cranes of Kenya

Monday, June 28th, 2021

Let me introduce you to my most recent art partner, Meryline Ingaso, who lives in Kangemi, an under-served neighborhood of Nairobi, Kenya. She writes:

Hi! I was born 17/12/1996. I am an orphan, a mother of two kids, all girls. The first, 6, is in baby class. The second, 3, is not yet in school. I earn a living as a mentor. I do voluntary work to empower girls on how to protect themselves in this pandemic. There have been a lot of challenges e.g. buying food and paying rent. But I get a little support from washing cloth to people. That’s how I survive.

Beautiful, inside and out. Hard-working. Creative. Caring. Nurturing. Meriline has joined with forty other “Sister Artists” who under the auspices of the Advocacy Project and during the height of the pandemic, produced beautiful embroidered blocks depicting Kenyan wildlife.

I answered the call to choose a block and incorporate it in an art quilt, and Meriline’s “Crested Cranes” called out to me. The finished piece will be auctioned off to fund services that benefit Meriline and others like her. Maybe you’ll become the proud owner for the completed piece, or another featuring a Sister Artist and a quilter?

By the way, two years ago, I participated in a similar project celebrating the creativity, in embroidery, of young women in Mali. That time, security issues surrounding these women who were victims of sexual violence prevented me from knowing the artist’s name. Nevertheless, I was proud to support the cause and create a Mali Medallion around the charming village scene. Read my story about the making of that art quilt here.

This time, the plan is for a Skinny Quilt. If you know my books, Skinny Quilts & Table Runners and Skinny Quilts & Table Runners II, you’ll be aware that this long narrow slice is my favorite way to compose. And that I love to weave with a variety of textiles. I decided to elaborate on the cranes pictorial with a new, l-o-n-g weaving easily composed on my Big Board. And on top, I added a little UFO — a landscape I threw together long ago in Sue Benner’s exciting Composition Quartet class. My goal is to integrate the three sections so they are cohesive and hopefully flow together.

In addition to my usual weft of commercial fabric and assorted ribbons, I’ve included trimmings from my recent art quilt made with fabric I printed or discharged, and strips cut from upholstery samples. Always keeping Meryline’s charming pictorial close at hand, I tried to bring out the colors she used.

Stay tuned for the quilting and finishing!

Take a class, for goodness sake

Thursday, March 11th, 2021

No excuse not to refresh your skills, broaden your outlook, and fall in love again with fabric when there are so many great instructors teaching on Zoom these days.

No better teacher (in my book) for sharing how to advance and enhance your skills in improvisational piecing and composing than Pat Pauly. I had the pleasure of taking her new class, “Make It/Break It” this week. My fabulous classmates, all FOPs (fans of Pat) were attending live and online from Germany, Canada, and different parts of the USA. Because in this day and age, we can do that.

Pat puts her mark on her work by exclusively using her own printed fabrics, almost all with large-scale designs.

And we FOPs followed suit, either using fabrics we printed in Pat’s Glorious Prints classes, or with half-yard purchases of Pat’s creations.

Here’s my design wall, at the end of Day Two. I’m getting somewhere…

The husband passed by and remarked, “It’s certainly different than most of your work.” That’s a good thing; I am quite pleased to be setting off in a different direction. It’s like hitting a refresh button. Boosting confidence in your design skills and aesthetic sensibility. Honing your critical eye while you give yourself permission to play.

Take a class, or a workshop. Try a new direction…something different, or beyond your comfort level. Just google a subject that intrigues you and see what opportunities present themselves.

Trees with Human Traits

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021
“Aurora,” by Libby Cerullo

Standing upright, their branches like outstretched arms, certain trees certainly take on the spirit of a human being. Quilt artist Libby Cerullo has a really lovely series of trees in diaphanous frocks. Here’s how Libby works–and I trust she will correct me if I’ve got this wrong: A photo she has taken gets transferred to fabric, using a service like Spoonflower. A following stage involves dressing her subject with appliques of chiffon or organdy with a translucence that allows the photo to show through. Makes me want to dance until dawn!

On a recent trip to Denmark this winter, my family and I got many chances to commune with the trees. Covid lockdown prevented us from going to museums or shops, so hikes to various woods and sculpture parks proved to be the cure for our cabin fever. In the cold, damp environs, many of the trees wore skirts of moss. Such wearable art gave the man-made art some stiff competition:

Makes me want to sew and wear a green velvet midi.

Other trees were gnarled and burly, like an old village elder:

Many a tree sported facial features:

These trees resemble a couple who have grown apart…or two people with different outlooks on life:

Human relationships, as expressed with trees, brings us back to two more exquisite works by Libby Cerullo:

“Mother/Daughter,” by Libby Cerullo
“The Lovers,” by Libby Cerullo

How have you engaged with trees as if they were people?

Line, contrast, form

Wednesday, February 17th, 2021

No, not quilts this time. But I just have to share the sublime work of Cheryl Levin which I caught on the last day of her exhibition at Da Vinci Art Alliance on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s the description on DVAA’s website: “Forms for a Continued Life is an exhibition of ink drawings by Cheryl Levin shown alongside sculptures and fragments by her late husband, metal worker Robert Phillips (1962-2012), and their son, Electrical Engineer and Generative Artist Aidan Phillips. This visual art exhibition contrasts weight and form to investigate impermanence, collective grief, and emergence of life from loss.”

Heavy, right? I met Cheryl a few years ago, when she worked alongside her friend DaVid Harari to paint our balconies. DaVid is a highly skilled housepainter; the tall, dark, and handsome Israeli has a flip side: musician and music lover. Cheryl is a warm and gracious, humble, petite and pretty woman who sometimes joins DaVid for some house-painting jobs, and offers custom faux finishes and murals to clients. And, she’s a highly conceptual contemporary artist. I’m dazzled by her backstory of partnering with her late husband in creating big works of public art and the ways she evokes very quiet, private emotions in the work of this exhibit. Learn more about her many dimensions — including her very colorful paintings — on her website: http://www.cheryllevin.org

I’m posting to share my own reaction to this exhibit of tightly curated works. And since this is my quilting blog, I’ll take the privilege of citing the elements I savored which echo the ones that get me jazzed about art quilts:

1–Fine lines (like dense, hand-driven machine quilting)

2–Contrast of delicacy and strength (In contemporary quilts, I’m talking about pinstripe stitching paired with monumental shapes and dimensions.) Oooh, those fine lines hand-inked with a pen in rhythmic repetition vs. the weight of the substantial, seemingly solid forms they fill. And, of course, the absolutely huge contrast of her meditative drawing with the often craggy and robust steel sculptures of her late husband.

3–How being at the exhibit in real life allowed me to interact with it: Moving through the spaces. Seeing how the light hit at different angles. Avoiding the inevitable glare from the glass but occasionally tickled by how spots of track-light reflections occupied the margins. Unknowingly casting my shadow on it, and thereby becoming a part of the art. (OK, that was presumptuous and vain of me).

How fortunate I am to be a member of Da Vinci Art Alliance, which allows me to visit during Covid closures elsewhere — albeit by appointment, masked, with only the executive director of DVAA and my husband present. Kudos to all the people and places that allow us to interact with art and artists in the only ways possible during the pandemic. I’m surfing the net, Zooming with other artists, watching lots of different PowerPoint presentations.

But aren’t we all starving to visit museums and galleries IRL–in real life, to be alongside teachers and students in art classes, workshops, and live crit sessions? There’s just nothing like seeing art — and art quilts — up close and personal. There’s nothing as great as getting together in person, unmasked, with the talented makers, critics, and art lovers to share our stories and perspectives as well as what we make.

Art in Aarhus

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2021

Because we have a son and daughter-in-law and baby grandson living in Aarhus, Denmark has graciously allowed us to visit — with all due process of Covid testing, natch. Denmark is on lockdown, with only grocery stores and pharmacies open. Even so, walks in icy, mostly gray January and February weather yield lots of cool sights re: architecture, design, and art. And plenty of inspiration for quilting, I daresay.

The above mural continues, as shown below. It occupies the wall of a driveway leading to a parking lot.

Believe it or not, the “gallery” below takes up two facing walls of another passageway to a parking lot:

Murals aren’t nearly as numerous as in hometown Philly — dubbed the City of Murals with a Mural Arts Program that has made it the largest public arts program in the United States. Still, art finds a home in Aarhus on many a vertical space, no matter how odd-shaped, narrow or wide it may be:

The next photo depicts tagging more than street art, and comes with a message of protest:

Look down to find pure pattern:

Then, look up: specifically, at the ceiling under the library. I hear that Penn Station in NYC adopted this upside down design idea for a ceiling as well. Has anyone seen it?

In the windows of what I take to be an art school, I gather the instructors have presented some pretty cool assignments.

Finally, at least for now, our son’s latest art project in his spare time: 3-d printed photos. The thinnest areas allow the most light to penetrate, the thickest are almost opaque. Result, a really detailed image. Of the grandson, of course. Which we’ll hang in a window when we get home.

Bodil Gardner’s Ladies

Sunday, August 25th, 2019

“I’m just a simple housewife,” she asserts, when I ask Bodil Gardner, if she calls herself a fabric artist or an art quilter. In fact, she is an international star of the quilt world beloved for her disarming, quirky masterpieces. “I just make my pictures, she says.” Her modesty is typically Danish.

As she explains on the website her husband, Peter put together for her, “I have not had any artistic training and was brought up to be the practical one in a creative family, which needed to get the washing-up done. Are my pictures art or not? The question is frequently asked. For me, it doesn’t matter what they are. I make them for my own sake, hoping all the same that you will also like them.”

I have invited myself over, finding myself in her vicinity when the husband and I are visiting our son and his wife in Aarhus, Denmark. My daughter-in-law, Bev, volunteers to drive me over to the suburb of the city, where Bodil and Peter live. “Drive up the road through the garden,” are her emailed instructions, which turn out to be quite the understatement.

As you can tell, Bodil and her husband live up to their surname, Gardner. Like Peter, the garden style is English, transplanted and intermixed with Danish determination. The warmer seasons are mainly for gardening; winter is when Bodil devotes herself to working on “her pictures.” Playing with colors and patterns are the common source of joy.

Bodil doesn’t have a “studio,” and when we visited, we sat at a dining table where she served us homemade apple crumble, with danishes and chocolates and tea. We brought a bottle of red wine, and a packet of various fabric prints. An old, portable sewing machine under its cover sits on the shelf behind the table, and there’s a jumble of fabric scraps on a trunk beside Peter’s computer table. Otherwise, no sign of a work space. Past a large archway, you’re in the sitting room, where appliquéd pillows and patchwork command the lower planes, and books and photos fill the walls from floor to ceiling.

After dessert and far-ranging discussion, Bodil displays some of her pieces the same way she composes them: on the floor.

Lots and lots of delightfully funky portraits. Like Joni Mitchell’s Ladies of the Canyon, Bodil points out, each one has a unique personality. Fabulous hairstyles, flower accents, funky colors. Friends bring her fabric, and she uses what she has. No fusible web for her. She chooses from her assortment of scraps, cuts each piece freehand, assembles elements as she goes on larger background pieces, pins pieces to secure them in place temporarily. Only when she is satisfied with the entire composition does she moves to the sewing machine to satin-stitch over all the raw edges. Quilting and finishing details are minimal. Larger works elaborate on women at home, of generations, taking tea, counting sheep, gentle pets, and children, either confident or shy.

It’s easy to recognize a Bodil Gardner art quilt, isn’t it? And to feel the warmth and friendliness, and yes, a bit of zaniness embodied in each and every one. Far from quilt shops, shows, classes, she retains her own signature style, and doesn’t travel far, so relatively few students can learn from her way of working and her genius for face values, so to speak. Pamela Allen of Canada got her to join the Studio Art Quilt Association (SAQA), and Peter Gardner encourages his wife to respond to more of their calls for entry. Her work has been showcased in many top-drawer, juried exhibitions, within and outside of Denmark. But in many cases, a juror chooses a cohesive collection of sophisticated abstract and painterly tour-de-forces; Bodil’s pictorials stick out as being too different, and so don’t make the cut. That was the case when Bodil entered the piece below for the SAQA show for which the theme was Tranquility. Her reclining woman with cat, book, and teacup didn’t make it into the exhibit….yet SAQA saw fit to feature the piece on the cover of their magazine.

There’s not a whit of pretentiousness in these portraits of wise, nurturing women. I can easily imagine each one a sort of self-portrait…the alter ego of their maker. There are probably hundreds of them, a treasure trove of joyful folk art, with many more to come from from Bodil Gardner.

My Glorious Prints

Saturday, August 3rd, 2019

Glorious Prints is the name of a Pat Pauly class which was one of the most exciting art-making experiences of my life. See my previous blog post here. With Pat as your teacher, demo-ing her techniques twice a day over 4 1/2 glorious days, and with plenty of space to work and to spread out pieces to dry, you, too, can produce yards and yards of fabrics featuring exciting, large scale prints in the colors you love. Here are a few of the pieces I squeegeed, stenciled, spattered, dribbled, and silk-screened at Quilt & Surface Design Symposium in Columbus, OH the week of Memorial Day, 2019.

Big piece–see my foot! I’ll add a few strips at the bottom and call this an almost wholecloth art quilt!
Another big piece–printed on yellow fabric. I’ll definitely cut this one up.
Printed on a vintage tea towel. This will be a background for applique and embellishments.
Printed on a linen napkin. Will be fun to quilt as a little work.
Also printed on a linen napkin. I love how the electrical cord on the floor flows out of the design, and I’ll be extending that line with a satin cord onto the fabric that serves as a background, border, or picture mat.

I’ll try to add more of what came out of this class, and what I do with it. Hopefully in the next few weeks…

P.S. For that to happen, first I must pray to the Creative Spirit for the power to ignore housework, chores, family and volunteer commitments, deadlines, crises… Sometimes, I think a power outage would be a nice surprise. Get me off the computer, and in front of the design wall…. Oh, but then there’s that “Be careful what you wish for” caveat… How much would I actually be able to do this August without AC or a fan?!

Pat Pauly: House Tour!

Thursday, August 1st, 2019

The always vivacious, irrepressible, and dare I say it, totally lovable Pat Pauly: Exuberant doesn’t begin to describe her, or her richly textured art quilts, which appear in THE most distinguished shows, private collections, and books about art quilts.

Mummy Bags, Canopic Jars, 66″ x 56″

So you can imagine how thrilling it was for me, when I was in Rochester, NY last fall, to get a tour of her house. And now you can, too. The front is charming and neat, but friends come in through the back door. 

Pat painted the clapboards of the exterior — she painted the interior, too. Installed cabinets, refinished furniture. A gardener, she planted all the containers, trees, and flower beds. What that means is that, just like with her fabric-printing and art-quilting students, she establishes the ground rules, guides their development, then lets them loose to do their thing. 

Flowers, or rather, lotus pods command the big diptych which dominated the living room when I visited. This, however, is a space where Pat rotates her giant (relatively speaking) masterpieces. The throw pillows are her work, too. Hot tip: Pat sometimes jumpstarts the process, beginning with linen or cotton ready-made covers which she squeegees and marks with thickened dyes. High-style soft spots that unify the color scheme of the exhibit du jour.

Other corners of the house showcase a cool mix of antiques, vintage, and modern, spare groupings of souvenirs, tchotkes, and art by friends. But it’s her own work, even with smaller dimensions, that invariably captivates your attention. Like the one shown below, Pat’s signature style of layering visual textures in strong, large-scale patterns make for abstract art that seems devilishly complex. Yet she will often produce 40″-squares following her own “Take Two” workshop technique, cutting and combining just two pieces of fabric. 

Pat wouldn’t let me take pictures of her basement studio, where she does the messy work of printing on fabrics as well as the improvisational piecing and free-flowing free-motion quilting. Not a ton of space, but suffice it to say it allows her to be her authentic, whirlwind self and create a prolific body of work. Especially remarkable, given the demanding pace of her teaching gigs. She should bottle and sell that energy, if not that talent.

Lucky me, I had the incredible thrill of taking two classes with Pat at QSDS earlier this summer: Glorious Prints, and Take Two. If you hunger for art, inspiration, or adventures in surface design or composition, she’s the teacher you want— PatPauly.com. Check her calendar and see if it meshes with yours. Attend a presentation or program or workshop, and you’ll probably get the opportunity to purchase her gorgeous fabrics. Oh, and if you want the inexpressible pleasure of living with her art, salivate over her portfolio on that website.

After blogging about Pat Pauly, you may find I have some nerve showing you some of the fabrics I created in her workshop…in my next post. Gonna do it anyway…

My Sanctuary City

Friday, April 26th, 2019
Sanctuary City, detail

Last summer, I took a collage class at QSDS–Quilt & Surface Design–from Deborah Fell.

Standing alongside my design wall in Deborah Fell’s class.

See that sprawling assemblage to the left of my hip? It started as a small abstract composition…abstraction being something I aspire to. But I can’t help myself; my work invariably calls to mind some object or scene, and I’m off to flesh out figurative or landscape designs.

This held true here: I saw buildings and began to recreate my current hometown of Philadelphia. I had a few recognizable buildings, some vague representations, the Schuylkill River on the left, the Delaware River on the right. It came together in stages, and I placed sturdy pieces of canvas or upholstery weight fabric under the expanding areas as foundations for a large, odd-shaped wall hanging.

City between two rivers…

A few months later, I read about a SAQA (Studio Art Quilters Association) call for entry: Forced to Flee. The theme resonated. As a volunteer, I’ve long advocated for compassionate immigration reform and protested against Muslim bans, the Wall, family separations, and inhumane detention centers. I decided to finish my cityscape to express pride that Philadelphia is one among hundreds of sanctuary cities in the U.S. My “city of brotherly love” (sisterly love is implied!) accepts its moral obligation to protect immigrants and refugees. City leaders and activists alike fight against detentions, deportations, family separations, and discrimination. We rise to welcome the stranger, give shelter, secure safe haven for those “forced to flee.”

Knowing the caliber of work submitted to a SAQA show, I thought I’d have less competition for a 3-D piece, and be more likely to get in. So, I traced around an oval trashcan for a pattern — cuz what better to give me elegance than a trashcan? I continued to build my city over thick Pel-tex stabilizer so the vessel would be an upstanding example. Alternately, I worked on the inside surface, using a vintage quilt fragment for its soft, comforting associations, plus emergency mylar thermal blankets of the sort that are given to detainees. I cannot express how much struggling, how much cursing, how many broken needles went into assembling this beast. It stands 28” high. To ensure steadiness without adding weights, I fashioned a spiral pathway with signs and symbols of concern and welcome: bi-lingual expressions, caution tape, keys and safety pins and zippers.

There were further frustrations as I hand-stitched the elements together. Then I had to photograph it to try and meet the demands for pixels, clarity, background, and appropriate depth of field. I managed to submit my information and images 45 minutes before the deadline.

I didn’t get in to the Forced to Flee show. I get it. Jurors receive hundreds of submissions and usually curate down to under 50 — for a cohesive, high-quality exhibit at venues with limited spaces. Perhaps my piece was too discombobulated and did not appeal to the judge. Perhaps there were no other 3-D pieces and this would have been odd man out. And perhaps my photos weren’t up to what SAQA demands for not only the judging, but also the catalog.

Rejection gave me several advantages: I really wasn’t satisfied with the piece, and was now free to make significant changes. Another SAQA call for entry beckoned: 3-D expressions. I had time to revise and polish the composition from all sides and the inside. New construction and embellishment strengthened the overall aesthetic and referenced more Philly iconography. I added more vintage mini-blocks and doilies to the inside, and crocheted an oval rug to cozy up the “inner sanctum.” I want those who see the piece to take time to walk around it and peer inside. And yeah, I’m tempted to throw in little stuffed heart-shaped pillows, additional keys, and poems of welcome…but mostly because I don’t know when to stop. What do you think? More secrets and treasures? Or enough already?!?

Happier with the piece, I took the time to hire an expert photographer — Gary Grissom — and set it up in a better-lit niche. Now I felt more confident submitting it to the other show.

More time and attention to detail and good workmanship, along with professional shots, did the trick. I got in!

Icing on this cake is the impressive decision-maker, an art professor and gallery director who is one of the finest modern fiber curators in the world. (Oh, and he’s a Philadelphian.!) SAQA’s website states, “The wide variety of pieces selected by juror Bruce Hoffman include vessels, wearables, wall-pieces, and sculptural artworks. This cutting-edge exhibition shows how textile art can expand both into the third dimension and into the future.”

This exhibition, 3-D Expression, will premiere at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan in September 2019. I am angling to see while it’s there. Aside from the honor of having my work included, I would be thrilled to study all the other works in the only way they can truly be appreciated: by walking around them and checking them out from every angle.

Meanwhile, I’m back to making essentially 2-D art quilts for a while. Oh, and shopping for a workhorse of a sewing machine that may allow for thick, sculptural work in the months to come.