Nellie"s Needles

Monday, May 29, 2006

I'm Off

I am off to Michigan. This space won't have any additions for about a week. Here's a quilt I had begun last summer that features our family cottage on Lake Michigan.

"MaCowCowa" - 20"x27" -2006

I used a "wonky" perspective to portray this 3-story barn of a cottage that has a cow theme. Hence, the name for the cottage. My intent was to convey the summer fun atmosphere that pervades. There is a fairly constant stream of family and friends visiting us and the beach. We have a lot of fun, sun, comraderie, good food, creative energy and projects ... and of course Elvis.

Give a honk and a wave if you see a black trailer on the road with a sign that asks, "Where's Elvis?" between Tennessee and Michigan in the next few days.

"Across the River" Update

I've had a few moments the last couple of evenings and couldn't resist working on this piece that was begun in Dottie Moore's workshop. This is what you last saw when I wrote that I wouldn't have time to work on it until I got to Michigan.

Yarn has been couched around the outside edge of the picture piece. Leaves and branches have been free-motion quilted on the mono-print/sun-print background. Also, I've rotated the background piece and repositioned the small picture piece on it.

"Across the River" - 18"x18" - in progress

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Kids Sewing

It's nearly time to move to Studio North in Michigan. I'm looking forward to sharing that space with those who "like to make stuff" ... most especially my grandchildren. Last summer the three then-6-year old boys finally got to operate Granellie's sewing machine. Each of them have been totally fascinated for years. Every time I sat down to sew, at least one of them would be at my elbow. They got to hand me things, fetch, and take care of the pins.

I always knew that I'd be letting these boys sew, but I hadn't a clue how we'd go about it. Last summer I met a woman in Colorado who's been teaching children to sew for years. She advised positioning the standing child between me and the machine. This worked great! The child felt like he had total control from turning the machine on, to lifting and lowering the presser foot, to pushing the button for reverse stitching,and of course stepping on the foot petal. All the while my hands were at the ready to make any corrections as well as to help guide the fabric. Also, I could talk/instruct quietly right into their ear. As you can see in the above photo, Jackson is doing very well sewing a super cape for his stuffed dolphin. Winston is patiently awaiting his turn. Jennings is still selecting his fabric.

I had drawn the seam lines for the boys to follow. Pins were placed along it about two inches apart. I instructed them to stop the machine when they had sewn to a pin and remove it before continuing. The frequent starts and stops kept them from racing the motor. I was amazed at how quickly they had control of the machine. PLUS, they know NOT to sew over the pins and WHY after a few broken needles. The first project of super capes for two dolphins, one cat, and a doll was a BIG success. All three boys helped make the one for Tessa's doll. She declined learning how to sew saying, "I'm too young (she was 4). Maybe next year."

Jennings Quilt - 24"x18" - 2005
Jackson's Quilt - 24"x18" -2005

The next project for the twins were quilts (the above photos) for those same dolphins. Again, they selected fabrics from a drawer full of novelty prints. I rotary cut them into squares. They arranged the fabrics on a design board. Part of the project was for them to figure out WHAT got sewn together WHEN. After the piecing was finished they used the acrylic ruler to draw the diagonal quilting lines across the squares (I had to hide the chalk wheel marker after that). They chose backing fabric and helped pin baste the quilt together. And of course, they did the machine quilting. The last design decision was which fabric to bind the edge. By that point, they each had reached their limit and I stitched the binding on. All this took place over two days. One boy built and painted a sail boat with his father while the other was making his quilt.

Jennings presented this picture to me at Christmas time when I was in Chicago for the holidays. All the important parts of the sewing machine are there ... especially the light.

The last weekend Jackson and Jennings were at the cottage their mother and I took them to the fabric store to choose fleece for new robes. The boys and I stitched those together during Christmas vacation. I can't wait to see what they'd like to sew this summer. Winston gets to go first, since he ran out of sewing time last year. I think Tessa may feel ready. I'm looking forward to a fun, busy time in the studio.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"Add Your Voice"

There is a journal, "Add Your Voice", sent out by Dottie Moore that is traveling about the country. Dottie is collecting the voices of women of all ages. She wants to know your dreams, insights and wisdom. Who are you? What role does creativity play in defining who you are? Tell her about a person or an event in your life, that you would like to pass on to a younger woman? If you are a woman age 18 years or older, she invites you to e-mail her with your journal entry at

That journal was brought to Knoxville in 2003 by Kate Cox and I had the opportunity to add my voice:

At the age of 30 I thought, "if I'm an artist at all, fiber is my medium." It wasn't until the age of 50 that I could comfortably proclaim (but not too loudly), "I am an artist". Now at the age of 60 plus I can say it confidently with the realization, "I'm the medium for art to be expressed through."

I can think of no other explanation for the phenomenon that happens so often during most every piece I make. At some point in the process of creation the piece begins to "speak". When this happens I feel there's a dialog between it and me. The consequence is that I intuitively know the color, the line, the shape, the texture, etc. that is required. I'm not saying that I breeze through the decision making process. It's just easier to recognize the placement, the color, the thread, the fabric, or the embellishment that is needed.

I wish it were possible to explain how to get to this way of working. The things that I do know that may help to get "here" is to establish a personal foundation.
- To know your medium ... its possibilities and its limitations.
- To develop your skills and craftmanship.
- Don't be too detail oriented at the beginning of a project. Leave room for an idea to expand and develop.

And the most important thing is to do all of the above with a sense of play and exploration. Remember the journey can be more exciting than the destination.

It's all a wonder! I thank God for the vision to see and the talent to express.

The photo is the center of "Into the Light" that I had described in a post this past March.

Monday, May 22, 2006

More Dottie Moore

Dottie had requested that we bring five items of inspiration to the workshop. I brought only the thought that had possessed me since the moment I read that requirement ... "Sea (see?) of green." I hadn't a clue how that was going to be manifested. Would it be water? trees? what?

After a morning of experiencing various exercises to hone our intuitive powers, the time came to work with a chosen inspiration. However, something tangible was required ... not just a thought. My friend Gayle had brought a handful of photos and offered me a choice of them. I chose one with a "sea of green" trees across a river.

Dottie gave us a few moments to study our piece. Then she instructed us to write down our initial thoughts about what we envisioned in our finished piece. I wrote abstract, orts, threads, and painted fabrics.

She then gave us two minutes to make a quick sketch.

My sketch featured the elements where the darkest values would be placed. I rarely make drawings. When I do, it's a value sketch. The placement of values affects all other organizational principles: dominance, pattern, and rhythm.

Another zinger to boost our intuitve powers was for each of us to pick a packet of Dottie's 8"sqaures of hand-painted fabrics out of a pile. This was much like choosing a fortune cookie. We were to use these as the main fabrics for our inspiration piece. Mine had a perfect piece of shaded blues for my background plus there were some greens and a green gold. Exactly what I needed! There was also a purple that ended up with Gayle for her piece.

When the workshop ended at 3:00 I had gotten this far. It was frustrating that I hadn't taken fabrics that were suitable for tree trunks and limbs. The dogwood blossoms are the triangle points made by pinking shears that I cut off fabric samples which Gayle had brought.

I got some "viewing distance" on this piece during our critique session. It's difficult to really see what's going on in a piece when it's directly under your nose. (In my studio I look through the wrong end of a pair of binoculars to get far enough away.) I saw that the darker tree branches and trunks were very much missing. I also determined that a touch of color was needed in order to draw my eyes to the bank across the river (my pre-determined focal point). Aha! A few young red dogwood branches would get me over there.

When I got home all that was added, plus more leaves and blossoms. The photo is cropped to where I think the finished edges will be. Most likely, I'll couch yarn around the outside to soften those edges. That will make a nice transition to the sun printed/hand-painted background I think it will end up attached to.

The layered finish will be yet another influence from Dottie. Most of her pieces are "layered quilts". There will be a smaller piece with finished edges (or then again, left raw and open) quilted onto a larger background quilt ... or two. This presentation contributes to the many layers of meanings and symbols within her art. My intent is for it to extend the "forestry" beyond the less than 8" square scene ... to be a unique frame. I won't be able to work on it again until after I get to Michigan. I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Dottie Moore Workshop

I had the pleasure of "playing" with Dottie Moore during a workshop in Athens, Tennessee on Saturday. The objective of the class was ways to get to the point of making intuitive designs, which is how I already work. I just wanted to have a day in the presense of this wonderful woman and her creative energy and enthusiasm.

She led us through numerous exercises to aid making design decisions ... breathing, physical movement, self exploration, gestures with pencil on paper, as well as actually stitching on fabric. One assignment was to make a tree.

I searched through my fabrics and found what I thought would be a good background on which to applique a tree. I was looking for something with horizontal ground lines and some upright shaded areas that would add depth to a stand of trees. In the process of cutting that piece, I noticed that my tree was already there ... hiding in what I had intended to be the foreground. Rotate the picture a 1/4 turn and you'll see what I thought I was after. I outlined this ghost of a tree and filled it with bark-like stitches with one of the few variegated threads I had taken to the workshop. Then I saw a stand of cyprus trees in the background.

When I showed it to my husband that evening he observed that it looked like the tree we had been fascinated with in Hawaii earlier in the year. The Mindango Gum tree looks like an artist has colored it with oil pastels. So intuitively I had begun working on a piece about that tree which I thought was a project way far into my future. I plan to finish it this summer using my ortwork technique to make a tropical garden.

A bit more about Dottie. I had first met her three years ago at a quilt symposium, "Wild by Design", at the University of Nebraska. She presented a paper about her compact disc book, Lives in Process: Creativity in the Second Fifty Years. She had traveled across the country interviewing women who were 50 and older who testified that life and creativity intensifies with age. I saw her again a year later at her solo exhibition and lecture at the university in Crossville, Tennessee.

I'm so pleased to have gotten to spend a whole day plus the dinner hour with her. Tomorrow I'll post about the other piece begun in that workshop.

Friday, May 19, 2006


Here's a fun quilt after the seriousness of the quilt themes in my previous postings. This one was just "playing." It was the first of several quilts made using a "trick" that I'd picked up from Simply Quilts. I don't recall who draws a shape and cuts it apart into templates with each piece getting a different fabric. I watched that at 1:00, marched into my studio and drew the fish, and then finished this piece by the time I went to bed. FUN!
"Aquamarine" - 24"x20" - 2003

Description: A flight of fancy under the sea surface spawned by my snorkeling experiences in the South Seas, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. There is much beauty in places we don't know and sometimes cannot even imagine.

Technique: I use a collage technique that I call "ortwork". It involves arranging bits and pieces of fabric and threads (the British term for these scraps is "orts") over a background that is layered on top of batting and a backing fabric. Tulle netting is laid over the collage to trap the "orts". Machine quilting holds all the layers together. Yarns are couched to the surface with machine zig zag stitches.

Materials: cotton fabric; cotton, metallic and polyester threads; oil pastels, yarn, wool roving, tulle, glitter glue. cotton batting

Exhibitions: 2004 Dogwood Arts Quilt Show - Knoxville, Tennessee
awarded Honorable Mention

It was gifted to friends in Hawaii.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Through the Door

"Through the Door" wall quilt's theme is in the same vein as the quilts featured in my previous two postings. It was made near the end of my mother's life. She was bed ridden and tethered to an oxygen machine. Her circumstances got me to thinking about being "trapped" by illness and limited mobility.

"Through the Door" - 26"x20 - 2002 (flowers were cut out from decorator fabric samples)
Looking through the doorway of a stark room that has an old worn chair ...

into a room filled with warmth and beauty.

I had previously made Mama a large wall quilt (36"x48") that featured a huge bouquet of flowers. Here too, the "sun filled room" is beyond the doorway.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Doors / Another Grief Quilt

This powerful piece "happened" at the end of the summer in 2000. My first inclination was to title it "At Death's Door". That made my husband cringe, so it's called just "Doors".

"Doors" - 35"x19"- 2000

I say that the piece "happened" because I had no intention of starting anything new at the time. There had been one paint rag among five that had been created during the summer's projects that had gotten my attention. Every time I picked it up there was one area I focused on. I knew that I'd have to do something with it sometime. Then there was one small stray book of decorator fabric that had gotten left behind that I found when looking for something else. Thumbing through it, I thought some of the solids or even plaids would be interesting to combine with that "paint rag".

Then there was my frame of mind. Three friends, my brother-in-law, and my daughter-in-law's grandmother had died within the previous months. Also, I had just completed a commissioned memorial quilt and Bill Moyer's series about the end of life and dying had just been on TV.

When I looked at the one area of the paint rag that always drew my focus, I couldn't decide where to cut it ... so I didn't. The whole piece was put on the design board. From there on, putting the composition together was like working a Ouija board. It was as if I were observing it happen. There were previously unnoticed lines on the paint rag that dictated the placement of the three whole pieces of fabric samples. Right away I saw these as doors and knew they had to do with the afterlife.

To counterbalance the doors, windows were needed. Originally, I cut seven ... thinking in terms of "7 deadly sins". It didn't take long for me to realize that only three were to be used and they were to represent the trinity.

The foreground was the area that had always drawn my attention and it required something more. Immediately, I thought of the scraps from my tunic vest (same ones used earlier in "Taken By Storm"). These would add texture and even more dimension to the piece. As I was digging through my scrap bag for these, the tulle pieces from David Walker caught my attention ... there was a circle of white and a ring of black just waiting for a place to be put. I knew the strips from my tunic needed to reflect the angle of the line that had established the placement of the doors. However, they looked so stark. The whole thing needed to be framed with something. The dark frame made the interior "light up" and it became a doorway around the piece. I angled the one side to give another visual clue to that mysteriousness of this piece ... the other clue is the unusual proportion of width to height.
The fabrics for the three doors were each woven with different colors for the warp and weft. This gave the effect of their not being solid ... they could be passed through. To accentuate this illusion, seed stitching with multiple colors of single ply floss that matched the value of each door was done.

The terrain of life that leads to death's door is not smooth. Is this door a passage? What is this next door full of colored light? Is it purgatory? Is it the place of reincarnation? Will passing through the last door make one whole and full of light? Is that the trinity casting light over all? ... the past, the present, and future?

Monday, May 15, 2006

Grief Quilt

The original title for this piece was to be "As the Crow Flies". I saw birds flying over a winterscape. However, I did the quilting while caring for my mother-in-law at the end of her life and this piece communicated a different "story" to me.

"Transfiguration" - 39"x39 - 1996 (Initially titled "O Blessed Release")

The tree limb patterns and their quilted extensions became associated with the network of pain she was never free from. The red color came to represent her courage and strength in spite of that pain. I felt the significance of the blackbirds during her last week. The day after her death I added the spirit bird to portray her release.

This piece is constructed of uphostery/home dec fabric samples. It's quilted in the Japanese sashiko style with carpet thread. The quilting lines follow and extend the printed branch patterns. The black triangles are quilted with a bird shape. The appliqued organza bird repeats the shape.

Exhibited in 1996 Dogwood Arts Festival Quilt Show
Awarded Honorable Mention

This piece hangs in the home of my nephew in Kaneohe, Hawaii

I wish to express appreciation for the care given to her and to me and to our family by the wonderful people who work for Hospice.

Our family will celebrate what would have been our matriarch's 100th birthday with a family reunion at the end of June.

Friday, May 12, 2006

City Cats

There are a lot of "cat people" out there, so here's a cat quilt that I had made for my daughter-in-law. She and my son have Gizmo, Zuzu, and Spot ... Snatches (click to see quilt featuring her) has gone to kitty heaven.

"City Cats" cuddle quilt size - 1996

My son and daughter-in-law lived in a condo when this was made. So my version of attic windows became windows in a big brick building. Each cat is cuddled in a crazy quilt (made from my scrap bag, of course) in a room with fancy wall paper (decorator fabric samples).

The cats are quilted and have a bit of needle sculpting about their faces.

The quilts are "tied" with embroidery satin stitches done with 3-ply strands of floss.

This is the third quilt I had made from a 1/2 yard of cat fabric. Quite a few blocks in other quilts feature some of them AND I still have cats to go.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Taken By Storm

This small collage started out as an exercise of the technique in Ilze Aviks week long workshop at Arrowmont in 2000.

"Taken by Storm" - 10"x13" - 2000
Materials: Hand painted silk, silk, rayon fabrics, threads

It all began with a piece of silk I had painted earlier in the week. I had taken a bag of "orts" (British term for scraps/leftovers) and silk fabric samples to the workshop. The black stripey fabric pieces are trimmings from a tunic I had "created" the fabric for. Silk chiffon samples were layered between an outer layer of rayon fabric and a silk lining ... then all were channel stitched together ... then just the top layer was sliced through.

All the fabric pieces are the shape and size as they came out of the ort bag. The silk squares were cut to their sizes. Then the threads were pulled out and arranged. I was just going for a interesting compostion. It wasn't until hand-quilting the piece that I became aware of the tornado.

The hand-painted piece of silk on the back got wrapped around to form the borders on the front.

"Taken By Storm" hangs in Memphis, Tennessee.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Challenge Quilts

A friend sent photos of the quilts made for the fabric challenge for which I created "Its A Hot Time...(in the old town tonight)". I think there are some wonderful uses of the required fabrics ... red/yellow polka dots by Jane Sassaman and the other one of multiple colored squares within squares.

I like to participate in challenges and block exchanges once in awhile. Usually it gets me to think outside "the box" ... to take a direction I wouldn't normally have thought to go. This one was a bit different. When I got the two fabrics at Christmas time I knew immediately that the polka dots were to be the foreground as well as the background for a Hunderwasser Happy House quilt and that the squares in the other fabric would become windows and doors. Without these particular fabric requirements I would not have made this quilt.

Sunday, May 07, 2006


You've been reading about a collage technique I use to make art quilts. There's a variation of collage that I use extensively which involves utilizing mostly scraps of threads and fabrics. The British term for leftovers or scraps is "orts", so I call it "ortwork" ... my play on the word "artwork". It began for me in the year 2000 with this piece.

"Twist and Shout" - 48"x48"(approximate) - 2000
Materials: cotton & silk fabrics, cotton thread, rayon yarns, organdy ribbons, and buttons. Hand and machine quilted.
Exhibited: 2000 Smoky Mountain Guild Dogwood Arts Festival - Knoxville, Tenn.
Award: Surface Embellishment

The patterns throughout this piece twist and shout with the joyful exuberance of the Beatles in the 60's. The center square is the result of a workshop, Organdy Ribbon Transparency, presented by Dianne S. Hire

I couldn't bear to throw away the scraps of ribbon. They were placed under the silk organza that I layered over the black&white checked border around the piece I made in Dianne's workshop. The black border with the small dancing white squares got the trimmings from the rayon yarn that I had used to tie on the buttons. They're layered under additional strips of organdy ribbon. From that point on, I have not discarded any thread or fabric scraps.

"Twist and Shout" was gifted to my younger son and his wife. It hangs in Oak Park, Illinois.

Previous postings that feature my "ortwork" are:
Here I am
Last Flowers of Summer
More Sunsets

With all the bags of scraps I've saved, or rescued, I really should be making nothing but "ortwork". I'll feature more pieces in future postings.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Hudertwasser's Happy Houses

The collage project that I worked on while Alicia made her "Oriental Robe" piece is the third in my series of Hundertwasser's happy houses. I made this to meet a fabric challenge presented by the quilt shop, Fabric Fusion, owned by a friend in Milwaukee. The quilts made for this event are on display at the shop on Brown Deer Road until May 20th.

"A Hot Time ..." (in the old town tonight) - 19"x22 - 2006

I've been fascinated with Friedensreich Hundertwasser's art and philosophy since 1998 when my nephew, Peter, brought a book about him to our summer cottage. I knew then that I wanted to interpret Hundertwasser's houses into fiber. I'm intriqued with his strong feelings about trees as fellow tenents of our dwellings and that we all should have the right to decorated our doors and windows for as far as we can reach to do so. To me most of his paintings are quilt-like.
"Hundertwasser's Happy Houses I" - 24"x24" - 2003
Gifted to Alicia - Christmas 2004. It hangs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

The quilting patterns for all three pieces are done with a "continuous" line. I did this to honor his drawing of a spiral climbing horizontally up the walls of a room in 1959. I almost panicked when my bobbin thread ran out. But then, I realized he most likely had to put down his pen to answer the call of nature before he was finished. So, I wound a new bobbin and picked up the line where I left off.

Also, I free-motion quilted all ten names that he claimed during his life in the foregrounds of my first two pieces.

"Hundertwasser's Happy Houses II" - 18"x20" - 2003

My daughter-in-law, Terra, had fallen in love with HHHI, so I made this one for her birthday. It hangs in Evanston, Illinois.