Would you like to have a class with Ellen?

Ellen would be delighted to have a class with you or your group! You can check out her classes at www.ellenanneeddy.com. She also offers independent studio time in her studio in Indiana. Talk to Ellen about classes at 219-921-0885, or contact her scheduler Sarah at 616-485-5646 to set a date

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Ellen Anne Eddy
Author of Thread Magic: The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy Fiber artist, author and teacher
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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Musings: Art outside of the Box: Pushing back the Dark: Thinking does make it so.

As we reach the end of the year, as the days get darker and darker, it's no surprise that we've organized a holiday frenzy guaranteed to push us through to brighter times. The substances our bodies themselves produce are amazing. There's nothing like a full adrenaline high to skip past the fact that it's coal black outside at 4:30 PM and that the weather is resembling something happening in my ice box.Being a feckless soul who did all her shopping late, I got the full view this afternoon. I'm too tired to care how dark and cold it is. Perhaps that's the whole point. The holiday comes, the darkness recedes. By the time we have our breath back, it's already turning light earlier. We're through the worst and spring is if late, a possibility in the wings.

It's these times I'm so grateful for an artist's life.Because we endlessly get to build the world we want. You could be confused by my work, thinking I was copying nature. By my own nature, I copy badly. Now imagining? That I 'm good at. To imagine wild flowers that don't really exist. Dragonflies out of season? Of course! My yard in bloom instead of in ice. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!I also can image I've put my keys away and really truly believe it. It's a mixed blessing.But aren't they all.

So once I've caught my breath from the adrenaline rush, cleared my ears of muszac carols and recovered from the bob and sway of the grocery carts as people play "My Isle" in the rows, I'm going upstairs to the garden under my needle and tend it. I need the quiet of my garden and the warmth of it's blooms. It's there, waiting in my art.

Merry Christmas!

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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Musings: Art outside the Box The Turning of the Year, or I know there's a floor here somewhere.

As we come to the holidays and to the end of the year, there's an urge to wrap things up. Not presents, God help me. Everyone I know knows I've done well if it's not in a plastic bag with the tags still attached. I tend to give presents as I find them, whenever. It makes me a dud at Christmas, but it lets me focus on the story, not the hype. And they love me in April and August and all kinds of odd offbeat times.

But instead, I start that effort to find the studio floor, talk about mythically things we aren't sure that exist. I tend to work in howling chaos until there's a moment someone comes to visit. Sometimes I clean for the occasion. Most often, they do as they stand in the eye of it all. I've noticed that three year olds can be endlessly entertained handing you pins off the floor. The only mandatory time to clean is when the dogs become mired in thread and need a rescue effort to leave the building. Then you've got to do something.

But as I teach there's a steady stream of unfinished projects started to show process in class. In a busier year I would have finished more, just by default. But this has been a year for writing instead. So I'm sorting through the undone. UFO's are really a treasure awaiting their moment. I don't feel guilt over them. Instead, they're the perfect companion for a day without a lot of brain pressure. I put my brain on hold and color in with thread. I've always loved coloring. And I refuse to be bothered with silly things like lines.

So my floor is a mixture of trash and treasures, and I sort my way through. There was a fabulous water lily that just happened to land in this pond. Who knows what wonder lurks under the sewing machine? After all, there is nothing so neat as a nice neat pile.

Is the chaos necessary? I'm so sorry. For me it is. I can clean or sew. The one process stops the other cold.
But treasure hunting? Well I can do that and sew almost at the same time. Perhaps I'll find the floor after all.
Thursday, December 17, 2009

Musings: Art out of the Box: Once more with feeling.Serious about Series

C. S. Lewis, in the Screwtape Letters, said that since humans were incapably of continuously doing anything, we can only do things over and over. This is the closest we come to consistency.

When we start as artists, people talk about developing a style or a voice. That's a hard fought for goal. To take the skills we've learned and the things we need to say and have them become  consistent enough to be recognized as ours takes some time and huge dedication.Once we've done that, there's a depressing tendency for people to ask, " But hasn't she done that before?" Well. She probably has. Which is why she does it well.

For those of us who work in series, there's a flow that allows small changes to creep into our work. Did you use a color you'd not tried before? Is this a different kind of perspective? A different technique? A new thread? A stabilizer you haven't tried before?

Those things are obviously minutia. But they are the stuff of competent art. They demand experimentation to work out the kinks and make it function. One of the things that get's filtered out in art museums is the four million times an artist tried something that didn't work. We may, in a book or an odd retrospective, get to see those false tries. Most of the time we remember the 3 major works the person did, not the 500 other pieces that led him or her up to them.
So, when you see a piece from a major quilter and you say to yourself, "Aren't they done with that yet? Why is she repeating herself?", look to the minutia. What question has she asked of herself? What new skill has she explored? Most artists do repeat themselves a lot, but there are excellent reasons.They're working towards a specific goal, image, idea, technique, something. Often it's not even something you can find words for. 

The only way to answer that question is to do it again and again and again. It's a series. If the devil is in the details so is the divine. Nature has no trouble doing the same art piece over and over again with variations. You can't copy nature and not join in. Sunsets are different but we know they have the same substance, in a world of infinite effect.

I put in these heron quilts that I've done over the years. They are all, to my mind, strong different pieces done for many reasons, but most of all, because I loved the forms involved. They followed each other like pearls on a strand. And I know there's another heron in my studio waiting, somewhere in fabric and the thread.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Musings: Art out of the Box: I said what? The Dreaded Art Statement

If you've ever walked through an art museum, you'll often find huge art statements written on the wall of some of the exhibits. There's courage.

Someone I love dearly who had an Art History degree once explained to me that all art in a museum has been sanitized for your protection. Considering most artists I know, that's probably a good idea. Why did Van Gogh cut off his ear? Or Goya start doing pictures of kid snacks? These are questions where I think there's probably no answer I really want to hear.
But as artists, we're asked to make statements, to explain why we do what we do.

All of this makes two pretty tough assumptions. One is that the artist is verbal enough to make a cogent art statement. Some of them can barely put their names on the front. It doesn't mean they're not good artists. It means that their whole world is really truly a visual experience and that verbal stuff is nigh on impossible. It's part of what makes them an amazing artist.  It's more common than you think.

The other assumption is that you really could say it in public and not be run out of town.

Art comes out of such a central dark place. The unconscious is not dark necessarily because of the subject matter, but because it's not necessarily a clean and tidy place. It's is not a place where most people dust regularly. We stumble over old things within it, right ourselves and find them haunting us in our work, whether we intend that or not.Sometimes we drag something out of that closet and work with it. More often, the door opens a crack and things spill out. If they spill into our art, we're left trying to explain.

Now the unconscious doesn't do politically correct.Or socially acceptable. It is what it is. Because it's how we feel, rather than what we do, that's not a problem. What ever you feel about your nosy neighbors, unkind relations, old boy friends and other adversaries is irrelevant as long as you're not acting on it. Art is sort of a gray area here. Interacting with them in your art work is totally legal, personally cleansing, and probably fine as long as it stays on a canvas or the wall. It's considered tacky if it has names attached but it's certainly been done before. It's when you go to explain it to someone.If it's abstract probably no one will have a clue.

Which leads us to art statements like "I was playing with light and color." "Deep hues of reds, blues and yellows accentuate the personal experience". If it sounds like something out of a kindergarten class or out of a philosophy  seminar, you're probably looking at something you might be better off not knowing.

This in no way, reduces my love of that person's art. I just understand that like myself, she has a closet she can't quite keep clean and she can't quite keep the door closed on. And she has no idea how to talk about it.

As for myself, it's almost all personal experiences dressed in the animals I sew. My bugs are always about real beauty. Not the Barbie beauty of my  childhood, or the conformity of my adolescence ( boy did we fail at a that) or the tidy adult image (didn't do so well there either). It's about the wild beauty I see in myself that can't conform, that scares me and probably scares others. That is an artist's heart.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Ladybug's Garden is Here!

Ladybug's Garden has just arrived from the printer!
Ladybug's Garden is about the zigzag stitch. If you've never done free motion zigzag, your missing a world of possibility. It's not dependent on fancy technology. All you need is a hoop and a darning foot. It's perfect for appliqué shapes. It covers plant and animal shapes effortlessly, and edges organic curving forms.It's a new way of coloring with thread that brings out the best detailing, shading and textures. It offers a brand new vocabulary for your quilting toolbox. 

Soft Bound Paper,13pgs. $15

I'm so proud to be offering these small books that my students have asked me for. They've told me they want books they can afford that are full of instruction, pictures and inspiration. They want simple projects that build solid skills and can be achieved easily in a short time. They want to be shown something beautiful and then shown how they can do it too. These books are especially for them.

Thread Magic Studio Press is committed to creating these small, focused books that teach technique, train the eye and tickle the fancy.

 This is the fifth book I've done this year. Other books are:

Dragonfly Sky: A primer in bobbin work
Soft Bound Paper,13pgs. $15


Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Work Book
Lessons, charts and color theory for sponge dyeing.
Soft Bound Paper, 21pgs. $20


Quick and Easy Binding Techniques
All of Ellen's special binding techniques that let you out of the box !
Soft Bound Paper, 13pgs. $15

Tigrey Leads the Parade
A silly story about greyhounds illustrated in bobbin work on tea towels.

Soft Bound Paper, 33 pgs. $15

You can find all these books  for sale on my web site at

Musings: Art out of the Box: The Glamorous World of Art

I'm blue today. This has nothing to do with mood.I had an amazingly awkward moment yesterday when I set a whole basket of mixed dye cups flying across the room with my elbow and much of it landed in my face. It's amazing what a little bleach can do, but there is a bluish tinge over one of my eyes and I'm so glad it's not a bruise. Or that I don't have to go anywhere. I do have pictures but we haven't figured out how to get them out of the cell phone. I'll show you when we do.

When I got done rinsing off and laughing at myself the words came back to me, The Glamorous World of Art. It does seem like a joke of some sort.
Perhaps I just never got the knack.

As far as I can figure out, art is a series of incredibly messy projects.This might not have happened in a room where five of them were going on at the same time. Or it simply might have been inevitable.

It's only that moment when you're standing in front of an audience at a lecture or a group in a gallery explaining that the whole glamor thing kicks in. Of course that has its moments too. I was at a group show artist reception this Sunday where the 30 artists roaming the show, stalking for compliments the way you might look for Easter eggs Since it was a sparsely attended show, there weren't quite enough eggs to go around. Was their work good? It was lovely! But the truth is, your art is first off, for you. If you haven't spoken through your mouth, your eyes, your hands, your voice, yours, you understand, then it's an exercise in technique. If you're waiting for accolades, it might be a while.And when they arrive, they might be irrelevant. The real question is, "Did this piece change you?"

There are those projects done for others, done for shows, done for commission. Someone with good art skills can take that project and make it sing in their own key, but often they lack what I would call veracity. It's not about them. Sometime's it's eye candy. Nothing wrong with that, but like candy, it lacks something nutritionally.

There's also a limit on what authentic work, work out of your heart, can do as well. It's therapy in a way. What makes it art instead of art therapy? Perhaps when it moves something in someone else.  Is therapy glamorous? If it is, I'll just spend a glamorous day mucking out the basement. That's how I remember therapy.

There's another meaning to the word glamor that we don't hear often any more. Used as a noun, a glamor was a  fairy spell, put on someone to make things different than they appeared.Someone would give you a handful of gold and when you left, you would find yourself holding leaves or rocks in your hand. Glamor doesn't last.Real art, that rocks our soul and world, lasts forever.

 I have an art friend who says that being a good artist is like being a good plumber. It's a specialized bit of knowledge and you work with your hands.

There's a big difference between being an artist and doing your art. Perhaps it's the moment when you're dripping blue dye off your face. And you know that's just part of it all.
Friday, December 4, 2009

Reception in Chicago:Sunday December 6th

Art from the Heart of the Indiana Dunes
Please join me for a reception in Chicago on December 6th. I have work in a gallery with some other amazing Indiana artists. December 6 is our last day, and we're celebrating it with a reception for all the artists.
This gallery space was offered to the Chesterton Art Association.
It's at
Racine and Lincoln Ave.
December 6th
Hope to see you there!
Thursday, November 12, 2009

Musings :Art out of the Box: Fairy Gifts

My great grandmother believed in fairies. She did not believe in pretty little creatures posing in her garden with wings. She was fairly scared of them as I understand it. But my mother always told a story about her. She swore that when there was terrible trouble or someone was deathly ill, there would be a knock on the door. And if you opened it, it would be so dark or so foggy that all you saw would be a hand. And in the hand would be a bottle or a pot of ointment.If you took that offering, everything would change. It might look like poison or cure, the person might get better immediately or not. But the certainty was that change was already on it's way.

I do believe almost all great creative gifts start with something that looks like a limit. I've never believed you have to suffer to make great art. But I have a notion how that idea evolved. Art does transform our pain, so it's much more likely we'll work on our art when we're hurting.

A huge amount of what defines us is what we can't do. Klutzy as I was as a child,socially inept and ill most of the time, I spent most of my time making things. As dyslexic as I am, I know I see the world quite differently than others. My spelling grades and inability to read a map or a calendar are proof of that. But I believe that adds to my world vision, to the bit of the world only I can see or show through my art. My hands started to tingle and go numb at around 16. It meant I couldn't do hand work, so I found I could to astonishing things with my machine.Currently, my knees are so painful I'm having trouble with the studio stairs. Which is why I find myself compelled to write. Our limits make us who we are.If we embrace them, our limits are what make us whole. The fairy's curses became huge gifts in time, and I am grateful for them.

We probably would have given Grandmother Ryan a lot of Zoloft now-a-days. I wonder how many visionaries, artists, musicians and saints we medicate out of existence. Would their lives have been better without visions, fears, limits, pain and the attendant terror that goes with that? It's easy to say they might have been. But something dreadful would have been lost. Like a child, a pet, a love or a vocation, these gifts our ours only if we completely integrate them into our lives. We have to accept it completely, sometimes, for it's best parts to be part of us. Sometimes the gifts look like great and lovely wrapped packages, but much more often they appear to be terrible curses at first. Only in the process of acknowledging them, assimilating them, and affirming them, do we see that the fairies really were kind. But they do demand action and change. Perhaps that's what my great grandmother was afraid of. Perhaps she wasn't all that over an edge.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Musings: Art outside the box: Dyeing for color

In a world with millions of bolts of fabric, why is it I still drag myself out to the dye studio once a month and dye 50 yards of cotton? I've had numerous people tell me how fun that sounded. They usually feel  a bit differently about it after around 10 yards of dyeing in class. They adore their fabric, but no one is pretending this isn't pretty backbreaking work. Liking having a baby, when it all comes out, you forget just how much work it was.

I'm a relic of the 70s, someone who was quilting from 1975. Fabric choices then were left over fashion choices. There was no real quilt industry or real quilt fabric. There were some serious holes in the color wheel. These changed with the seasons and the fashions. There were no purples in the 70s, no oranges or brights in the eighties, and no choices in yellows until the early 90s. And there were never ever enough grays. So early on, I began to dye my fabrics, first in gradations, and later in light source fabric that's signature for me now.Quilting fabric began to come in by the mid 80s, but by then, I was able to dye what I needed.

I think the real truth is that we all see color so differently, that I'm disappointed by other people's vision. They tell us that color vision is very individual. The extreme end is color blindness, but it's clear people don't see the same things.

I've always had a good color eye. That doesn't mean that I understood color when I was starting. I simply was able to see it well enough to choose well. I began to study color theory when I was asked to to a color lecture. After several hours in the library, listening to what appeared to be male silliness like color formulas, charts, color tone symphonies, etc. I simply called the recipes and called the lecture The Color Cookbook.  Since then, I've spent a lot of time learning to codify the choices I make by nature, to explain them to students. We forget that color theory is only a theory. It's a work in process. We know it fails us from time to time and we're still looking for a better way to describe how it works.

The fabrics I dye are sponge dyed. They're designed to create a small universe of their own, a perfect world for one of my creatures. Many people prize them for appliqué and piecing as well, but that's my usual intent. So I build in a light source, shadows to weight the piece, flowers in the dye, trees in the shading. It's also an art by accident. I have some control, but not over everything. If I dye for a particular reason, I'll dye a piece 3 times to get the one I want. And sometimes need to go back to try again.

Why? The colors created with fiber reactive dyes are strong, vibrant, color fast and exquisite. They're not limited to only brights or pastels, although it can do both. And every piece of art I start, starts with a unique piece of art in the fabric alone.

So why did I start dyeing threads? Similar reasons. Almost all of the earlier variegated threads are in rainbow colors. Who over the age of 3 1/2 wants a rainbow colored anything? They stipple well, but they're impossible for shading imagery.  Many of the new variegated threads have stretched past that. But they don't know how to create a thread to shade an image.
It's not that hard. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Every image has a dark, a medium and a light. Along the way it should have shaders to weight the piece and shockers to wake up the viewer. I've dyed pearl cottons now for over 10 years to get that ability to shade an image to my liking.

I've started doing bobbin weight thread kits for The Cotton Club with patterns and threads designed to make shading easy and fun. You can join the club and get a new project with instructions each month.Check them out  at www.cottonclub.com

So why do I dye clothes? Well there is the great cycle of dye. You wear it. You spot it. You dye it. You wear it until it's dead. Then you wear it to dye things in.

But truly, it's a diet secret.The first time I dyed a dress for myself, I wore it to a gallery shoot. I blended right into my work. The photos showed a very pretty disembodied head among the quilts. It was like I'd lost 150 pounds. Now who wouldn't like that?

I swore I'm done being a victim. At least never a fashion victim. Fashions can come and go, but since I dye my own I  always have the colors I live and breathe in, waiting for me.
Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook is available at
Ellen Anne Eddy's Hand-dyed Thread Club is available for order at

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Ladybug's Garden

A Ladybug's Garden is my brand new project book, just sent to the printers today! Here's a sneak peak at it.
It includes a full step-by-stop ladybug project focusing on free motion zigzag embroidery. It has full instructions, supply list, patterns, tips, a gallery section, and sources.
This book is a companion volume to my class. A Ladybug's Garden, but it can be used separately to build your skills with free motion zigzag applique.
It covers direct appliqué, cut-away applier, hard edge appliqué, soft edge appliqué, shading, and slashed appliqué. It's a primer of powerhouse embroidery skills for the free motion stitcher.
Available by eary December, 2009. You can pre-order this book at www.ellenanneeddy.com
Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Pat Winter's Crazy Gatherings

One of the treasures of the Indiana Dunes area is Pat Winters, of Winter Gatherings. Pat is without a doubt one of the most inventive and talented crazy quilters I have ever seen.  She has an unerring  color eye, a wild sense of humor and imagination. She's known mostly as a web presence, because her family responsibilities make it harder for her to travel.She's like no one else. Her skill with a needle is unparalleled.

Pat's work first came to public attention when Quilting Art featured the incredible crazy quilt book she made for her mother after her father's death. She's gone on since then to do countless webzines and projects with people all over the world. She's an astonishment.

.Pat is now offering what she calls Crazy Gatherings.  She has a delightful studio  and classroom in her beautifully refinished prairie farm home  outside Chesterton, IN and offers her inspiration and skills in a intimate personal setting. She's offering classes in painting laces and dryer sheets, crazy quilt covered cigar boxes, and many other possibilities. A day with Pat is a rare treat. If you are a hand embroiderer wishing to stretch, someone who loves Victorian wonders, or just want to touch beautiful embroidered objects, you must have one of her classes

Here's what she says about her upcoming classes

Classes will be available after Oct first and ongoing so if you miss out on a class, no worries. There will be more. Classes can be organized at your convenience if you have a group of 4. I also offer private classes (one on one) .
If you feel like enjoying a day in the country, email me at 
angell100@comcast.net and set up a date for a fun and relaxing class where you will spend a day with a teacher who makes sure you "get it" in a comfortable and well lit environment.
There is nothing like paying for a class and wasting your day returning home with no idea of what you just learned.
 Refreshments always available throughout class time. Dress comfy and casual. Kick off your shoes!
Become a Gathered friend and receive class and merchandise discounts.
*Gathered Friend~ A return student will receive future classes at lower cost and freebies!

You'll find more about Pat at

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Musings: Art outside the Box Lost Art:Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Again

If art is about love ( not romantic love, but passion and expression) what do we do about love lost? Recently I spoke with someone who  had an odd and unpleasant experience with a gallery that  tried to steal work of hers. They did not succeed, due to her savvy and  good sense.  The gallery was shameless if nameless.The real damage from that kind of thing is that the world is never the same after that. When someone chooses to steal or deceive you for theft, you've fallen down the rabbit hole, and, like Alice, much will not make sense the same way again. It opened an old wound for myself. Eight years ago, I had a number of works stolen.

 Theft is a  rude shock to all that, particularly for those of us who have lived in the quilt world. 

The medievals had a notion about what made a good village. You took the prettiest girl, put her on the best horse and gave her a bag of gold to carry. If no one bothered her, the horse or the gold, it was a good village. Or everyone was sleeping.

The quilt world has always been  that kind of village. It's the land of everyone's mother and grandmother.  So it's been painful to watch as it's become acknowledged as art we've had a rise in theft, deception and shoplifting. The art world is a less virtuous place. It has a history of theft, deception and wrong ownership. It does indicate that quilts are being taken seriously as art. You don't steal something with no value.

It does make you wonder. Why would they do this? Need or greed? Rage? Self-righteousness? What need could be so strong? It's not like needing to feed a child or clothe someone.  The effort to sell a piece without it's provinance is silly. Most art sells for the price it sells for because we know who made it.It's value is largely in the name of the creator. There's almost no way to know why.The heart is a labyrinth.

Can we instill the same kind of decency you see in the quilt world into the art world? Good luck. It's much more ego driven and that seems to open some sticky doors on issues of morality and basic honesty. I've had even "honest" dealers remove labels from quilts without permission because they were afraid someone would contact me personally. Their fear of my potential lack of honesty destroyed theirs.They never understood what my problem was. It was, of course, all about them. And it was, of course several of those unlabeled quilts that disappeared.

 I let the quilts go, knowing they were really gone. What I know, is that even lost, those quilts changed me. I am a stronger artist for having made those quilts. They stretched my skill. They taught me to see something different. They were stepping stones in my path. 

Most pieces leave me at some point. Usually they sell. If they sell to someone I know, I may still have access to them, but not always. But all of my work stands in different places of my development and that cannot be taken or sullied. 

In a way, art is the byproduct of living as an artist. Sort of like silk is the byproduct of having silk worms. My real product is my own skill, vision, ability and responsibility to the things I'm able to create. The art just happens on the way.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook is ready to order!

 Ellen Anne Eddy, the author of Thread Magic,
takes you through a short course on color
theory and sponge dyeing. Ellen’s fabric is legendary for
having light sources, sunsets, ponds, lakes, forests, and
swamps, all within the dyeing itself. Ellen gives you the
information you need to dye your own amazing fabrics.
Complete with sources, how to’s and dye charts.

My new book, Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook has just shipped from the printer. We're expecting it to arrive on Monday, October 12th. You can order it signed for you at www.ellenanneeddy.comI'm so proud of this book. It's full color. It's a gentle helpful color course, it's got a nice set of step by step instructions for dyeing both fabric and thread and it's got coordinating color charts that make sense of both the Dharma and Pro Chem names (which are not the same and are very confusing). And it has a full source list to help you find exactly what you need to dye your heart out.It's written to be a support to my dye class, but you could also use it as a guide to in your own studio.
Order yours today!


Other Books by Ellen Anne Eddy
Dragonfly Sky
Quick and Easy Machine Binding Techniques
Tigrey Leads the Parade
Thread Magic:
The Enchanted World of Ellen Anne Eddy
Coming soon:
Ladybug's Garden
The Visual Path: Designing Quilts that Move

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Musings: Art outside the Box:Other People's Stuff

 As someone who's dyed fabric for over 20 years, it's almost unthinkable for me to use someone else's fabric in an art quilt. It's almost like putting on someone else's underwear or using their tooth brush. It feels very strange and wrong somehow. I'm used to the definitions I get from what I do in a dye room. I can create a whole world just in the dyeing and then embellish from there. I play with quilt fabric for my own entertainment, but usually what I do is make myself aprons. I quilt with hand-dye.

And I would have said that was written in stone if I hadn't gone back to making baby quilts. One of the ministries we do in my church is make quilts for babies and shut ins. I swore I would never do that kind of quilting again. Of course, that kind of quilting is only a little bit about blankets. It's about caring for people and learning how to give to people. It's about building community. It's a whole other art form, and absolutely vital. We forget that in our mothers' time so much of the world ran on what we called "service organizations". In a world where people are struggling to make things work with two jobs, volunteerism is almost impossible. But it covered a great deal of need, in giving to the community and in being able to have something to give. Both those states are a vital ying/yang of basic human existence. We give, we take. Hopefully we live in a balanced world where both of those things are possible.

So I found myself finishing a quilt for a lady with a brain tumor. We'd shopped specially for that quilt. Lots of Kaye Fasset, an amazing cat fabric, and some contemporary abstracts. I showed it to a friend. It was nothing but  nine patches. The people I'm working with have some pretty limited skills. We tend to keep it simple.But she said"You're fabric's doing the work for you here." She was so right. With fabric that pretty, who cared? The lady loved it. She's been taking it along with her for her treatments. That quilt is busy doing it's job.

That being said, how much of our art is totally ours?Certainly when we use commercial fabric, it's easy to forget that there's a designer in a back room who it really belongs to. It's their art. But what we choose to do with it is ours.

Ever since the first calicoes and Jacobean prints came from India, we've redefined, reworked, undone, redone and embellished other people's art into our own. I don't often use other people's fabric. But I do look at photos for anatomic information about animals I draw. All art is derivative. It all comes from somewhere. Perhaps the question is, are we honest enough to fess up to saying from where? I won't use calico. But I do find I have a weakeness for brocade. And when I'm done with it, it doesn't much look like what I started with

So the next time you see an amazing piece of fabric that is the work of someone else's hands, celebrate it. Buy it. Cut into it. It's only fabric. It only bleeds in the wash.
Monday, October 5, 2009

Musings: Art outside the Box: The Ressurection of the Trash and the Ugly Duckling

I've always  loved the story of the ugly duckling. It has to do with having been called ugly a great deal in my childhood. I don't think I was. I think it was simply something that the other children knew hurt. It was a common enough occurrence that at the time I took it at face value. There were no dates, no flirtations, no involved preening sessions in the mirror. Every time I tried it it became part of a cruel joke. Instead I fled into a room with a sewing machine. Now, that room ( not that particular room but rooms like it) are my studio. And I flee to that room not out of fear, but because it's a place I know I belong. Like the duckling, all I had to do is survive long enough to grow into myself. And to have a few people who were willing to support me while I did that.

How many little girls are ugly ducklings? We are brutal on our little girls. My best guess is that all of them are in dread of that decision, handed down by anyone upon them. My best guess is that if our models of beauty have to starve to be beautiful enough, no on is. Not by that yardstick. And for those who do and are, perhaps other yardsticks are equally cruel. I remember a friend of mine who was a model. She told me men thought less of her because she wasn't smart enough. Smart enough for what? Pretty enough for what? What if we valued courage, cunning and wit? Or kindness? Or compassion and a love of peace?

I had one of my quilters tell me she'd found a fish I wouldn't let her throw away in class. It was a hard study. She'd struggled very hard. The fish had a great deal of potential, past the troubles she was having creating it. My first impulse when she told me she found it was to wonder if I'd done a cruelty, in fishing the fish out of the trash.

Have I thrown away art? Well, yes. Not often. I don't finish everything if it really isn't working. I've always believed in taking something as far as it was helpful. But it was too good a fish to not let him find his way. To let him grow into who he was to be. I can't tell you how relieved I was to hear she felt that way too.

So often, something we take from the trash, something discarded, disregarded has a point and a place once we've let it grow into itself.

These fish almost hit the trash. I had made their background first and them second.  I put them in their pond and they were wrong. Not just a little wrong. Desperately wrong. They hung on my wall for weeks.
My god daughter Sarah came to visit, looked them over and said " Are we going to cut these puppies or what?" Sarah has an artist's eye and the courage of a lion. And since they were, to my mind, already trash, I said, "Why not?'
Separated, hung together, cut and rebound I loved them. They were lovely ducklings. They were very pretty swans.
So I hold on to my wings, hoping someday I will grow into them. I watch what I throw out and raid the trash with courage and abandon. And every so often, I watch a duckling grow into a swan.
Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Musings;Art Outside the Box-Symbols I have known.

As someone who has always turned to animal imagery, it's always a hard moment when someone says, " You really like frogs, don't you? "Or bugs, or any of the other creatures that fly, swim or crawl through my work.
Symbolism doesn't work that way. It's not a matter of what you like. Images are taskmasters. They grab hold and won't let go until you somehow dance with them. Work with them. Run them through the mill of the mind. Do what you will. Somehow that image will come around again and again until you've found a way to flip it into a different place internally.

Every so often I run into some bright eyed youngster who tells me their totem is the wolf, the dolphin, the eagle, etc. I loved the young man who told me his was the great brown bear. He didn't know enough to know that that image  is usually viewed as female. He was trying to follow indigenous religion and thought. He thought it was cool.  I think I would have shocked him had I told him, but perhaps he was improved by a female totem.

I've been writing art statements long enough to be aware of where much of my imagery starts. The frogs and bugs come from some fairly deep seated body images.The fish are about life in the stream of life. The birds are about the mix of feral wisdom within a bird's life. And in the midst of all of it, I know with certainty, I'm quilting people I know.  Most often it's about me. It's mostly social commentary. I'm trying to make sense of my life.

At one point when I was constantly on the road, I couldn't leave the dragonflies alone. Then it hit me. They live a transitory life, flitting from place to place. It was like they'd read my itinerary.

I often don't understand my own imagery except in retrospect. That's fine. If I pay attention, listen to the images that drive me, they will fuel my art.It may heal the bruised bits of ego and id that rule the internal chaos.Art is causative and purposely for transformation. Good art changes the relationship between the artist and whatever symbol they're in action with.

Perhaps what each of us have to give that is most precious as artists, is the unique view that spills out of our art. The symbols are a vocabulary. It makes sense if each of us is an island, a separate and distant country, that that language not be the same as anyone elses. What is most miraculous is when someone else sees that land from their distant shore, reaches it to view that different county, and can make the translation of it for themselves. When that happens, art breaks all boundaries, changes people's thought's and minds and hearts.
Saturday, September 26, 2009

Musings: Art out of the box. The Egg Fu Young of Design

Every so often someone asks me if I start with a background or with an image. It's probably cruel when I turn to them and say, "Yes!" So sorry. It's true. The chicken and the egg question is always part of the process of art.

I know when someone asks me that,  they want a formula. Wouldn't that be nice? A simple clean pathway that always produces something wonderful! Do a and b, finish with c, dust it with a dash of e.d.f and pat on the head.  All artists have some kind of map like that but it's always got huge territories within that are marked off with the ancient warning, "Here there be dragons." We don't know for sure that there's a dragon in there. We just know it's uncharted territory. Anything could be in there.

Now we don't have to go into uncharted territory as an artist. Not every day. But if we never go near,we're stuck strictly with what we know. That's sometimes very limited. And when you go into that uncharted area anything really could be in there. The mental quicksand of fear. The cure for internal cancer of doubt. A beauty not yet conceived. Uncharted art may be the last unexplored territory, the last frontier, with all the riches and terrors attendant.

But the nurture of any living thing is uncharted land. A child, a dog, a love, a passion, and a piece of art work are all living things with their own rhythms, needs, flows, patterns. We can extrude our own druthers  upon them, but they crack off as a living thing grows like a bad veneer.

I've maintained for a long time that art has a life entire of it's own. I learned long ago that it extends past my intentions, particularly once it's in the public eye. It often goes places I will never go. It has jobs of it's own to do. And hopefully, as one wishes for one's children, it has a life that goes out, past and separate from my own.
So perhaps it's not odd that I can't say for sure that the chicken always comes first .It simply can't be proved by practice. Sometimes you just end up holding the egg end of it first. Sometimes a background insists on an image and there you are. Insist back if you like, but art will demand what it demands. Whether you're up to it or not. Start with the background and listen carefully. It will take you in, layer by layer.

Other times the images are so strong that I form them first and then shop them around one background after another looking for the right home.It's like selling real estate to an image. we drive up to a piece of fabric, walk around in it and see it 's the right neighborhood and if the schools will be good for the kids. All jokes aside, there's a place that clearly right within a piece of fabric or it won't fit in.

Hunter's Moon

Hunter's Moon was completely image driven. In fact, the owl had been made for another quilt entirely. That quilt involved all kinds of images I couldn't quite master. As an demo where I needed an embroidered appliqué to show, I pulled it out of a pile and made a background for it.

It was a fairly simple thing to pull to pieces together and strip piece them to make filtered moonlight, powered by an Angelina fiber moon.In a way, image focused quilts are simpler. You finish your image and then you simply slip it into it's home, nestled into layers of stitchery and sheers. I added bats and moths because they too hunt the night by moonlight. They're part of it.

Balcony Scene
Background based imagery takes more of a leap of faith. The background for this quilt fairly squished with the kind of marshy land that grows calla lilies and extra large frogs. The frogs weren't exactly an afterthought, but they came after the callas. The butterflies came after that as a way to move the eye through the background.It built up in layers until the butterflies soared around the edges.

If art is alive, if it is a quivering, living thing, then it makes sense that we can't make a formula that works each time. We can't really paint by numbers without somehow losing something in the process. Instead, like every living thing, it grows accordingly to it's own inner map and clock. Like egg fu young, the chicken and the egg are both there, both present. But only in their own way. I can only be present myself, and lend myself to their growth.

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