Practical Thread Magic

When I come to teach to a group, there's always a frantic rush of questions and concerns. I don't play with the same toys other quilters do. Though I talk about that at length in class, I thought it would be helpful to have that information available in a blog. So here we're going to discuss the nuts and bolts of the kind of thread work I love and teach. We'll discuss products, choices, threads, fabrics, tools, stabilizers and all the things that make my work work for me, and will help your work work for you.

If you have an upcoming class with me, you should know I bring almost all of the things I use for your needs. If you want to try something you've got, absolutely bring it. But if you're having trouble finding it, please don't stress. I'll have it there for you.

About Me

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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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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 She also offers independent studio time in her studio in Indiana. Talk to Ellen about classes at 219-921-0885, or contact her scheduler Melida at 405-735-3703 .to set a date
Friday, December 2, 2011

Getting Together

Normally December would be a time of getting things into place. Getting them together. Tax receipts. Almost finished quilts. Articles that have to go out. The teaching is done for the year, and all those tasks impossible in the travel have to be done.
This December, add to that I'm getting ready for Thread Magic Garden, my new book from C&T publishing to arrive in January. There's a flurry of newsletters, articles and new work that has to be in place. In the middle of that muddle, I'm trying very hard to realize that the best task is simplification. So with that in mind, I'm putting all my blogs into one place. I know that some people just want information, some people want stories, some people want a place to check for schedules, and some people just want eye candy. You'll still find it all here at the Art Outside the Box at blog. I've put in a cloud label so you can find what you need easier. And I'm very curious as to what you think. I'm hoping you'll let me know. All the blogs have been fed into this one. I'll still show you wonderful Lunatic Fringe people, color studies, funny stories, fabulous techniques and amazing embroidery. But, we're getting together. Right now.
Saturday, November 26, 2011

To Kit or Not to Kit: A Teacher's Dilemma

The decisions we make as artists are so different than the decisions we make as teachers.
I came out in the seventies with a primary degree, ready to teach first grade. 
It was after several breathtakingly bad years substituting  when I finally got a job, only to find I was really bad at crowd control. It doesn't help when you're personally leading the riot.

But your life finds a way.  I worked in a fabric store and quilted insanely, until someone asked, "Could you teach a  class on that?"
Well, when teaching adults, it's ok to be leading the riot. It's kind of what they hired you for. They want excitement and new ideas and that roller coaster feeling of a whole new stash of toys they've never tried before. I'm exactly where I should be.
But the decisions I make about class are almost in opposition to decisions about the studio.
When it comes to materials, I believe that more is more. More colors please. More resources. More options. Certainly more choices. So when I've taught, I want that for students too. So how much and what do you pack? I used to bring whole bolts of stabilizers, fusibles and piles of books for design.
Strangely enough, it comes down to weight. The new luggage fees have changed that world and I have to think like a teacher, not like an artist. It's very strange to pack what I'm sure you'll need. And to leave the things that you might want back at the studio.

So I am proud/sad/confused/and conflicted to announce for the first time in my life I'm kitting classes. I'm still bringing fabulous fabrics I personally dye, hand-dyed threads you can't get anywhere else, hand-dyed cheesecloth and a collection of the most beautiful commercial threads I can find. But I'm kitting up the stabilizers/fusibles/and patterns to make your life easier the day before class. I'm also producing small classroom books for project classes that cover the material, give you pattern, how to illustrations, tips, sources and gallery photos all in one one pretty little booklet. Simplification really is a math project.

This is my first year to do that.You as students and fellow artists will have to let me know how that works for you.

The downside is that you can't always be sure what that kit will cost. Your group will ask me for a cost for that perhaps a year before class, usually when they book the class. Prices can raise dramatically in a year, and I've usually sliced it down to give students the best break I can. So if shipping or the price  spikes, I have no choice but to adjust the kit fee. What I've told students is that if the extra means you eat peanut butter for a week, I'll offer you a dispensation. I can absorb the extra for one or two, but for twenty it becomes a problem.
Like all works in process, I'm trying to figure this out. So as students and artist, what do you prefer? Do you want to strictly find and bring your own supplies? Do you prefer a kit? and can you handle a small price adjustment if it's needed?
This little dragonfly was started in my Dragonfly Sky class, a class built and streamlined with kits, a set pattern, and a booklet to help people on their way. 
The booklet is available separately at
Dragonfly Sky
or at Amazon 
If you order from Ellen you get your book personally signed.
Or you can ask your guild to bring Ellen to teach you to make your own dragonfly sky. Ellen's  Teaching information 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Designing Ways: Ornamenting Grids: The Zentangle Dance

"A good artist should be able to draw with a berry on a fence." Tim Powers, Reach for the Sky

Like everyone else, I'm in love with the whole Zen Tangle thing. I tend to find these things later than everyone else. I finally lift my head up and see what's been going on for a long long time.
But I've always been a full believer in more is more. I'm in love.
What I've enjoyed most about this is the division and ornamentation of space. I also love the whole low tech part of it. These are done with a ball point pen on notebook paper.
All of this started with a simple grid. We quilters tend to thing in terms of squares and rectangles, but really there are no rules.

Here are a series of different grid fills. Left to right, we've filled in with spirals, a wonky ninepatch, a spider web, scallops, and a larger spiral. How fun is that?

How does that translate to quilting? We're still filling in space. Only with thread.Can you say "stipple?"

You'll find some very cool books on Zen Tangling on Amazon. See if it doesn't expand your thinking about space, design and the filling of space.

You'll find more of Sandi Steen Bartholomew's work at
Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Designing Ways: The Container and the Contained

" Mother, Mother, May I swim? Yes my darling daughter. Hang your clothes on the highest pin and don't go in the water."

In the same way we read mystery and horror novels, and watch romantic comedy, we flirt with edges. Come hither, hold on tight, don't let go, what really is at the edge? There's a lot of drama to be gained from art in the process of making a box and then breaking out of it.

We need the box. We need the safety and the security of it all. But we crave the excitement and drama of the edge. Where one thing starts and something else ends. When that edge is clean, straight and clear, it's very tidy. But it leaves us wanting to break out.

Nature, life, the world, the universe is not full of a lot of straight edges. We impose those on our world, but they impose right back at us. A good example is mint in your garden. You may have planted it in a small plot in a straight line. Blink twice after a good rain and you'll find it across the yard and down the hill has well. My feeling is that I might as well just go along with it.

So within art it's worth building both. You build the surface of your work, which is a container. Then you break out of that container,as nature itself is bound to do. The stripes here create a sense of order as well as filtered sun, but the leaf refuses to stay in place. It pops out and our ladybug comes right along with it.

The vine here creates the border here, and our lady bug nestles within it. But it too refuses to stay just on the surface. It pokes out just enough that we know it's a living thing and not about to follow a ruler.

This bug is contained by the flower she's on. But not entirely. She's clearly heading for the edge.

Finally this bug and leaf create the border together. They are the container and the contained all in one.

Wrapping it up:
As quilters we're used to square corners and straight edges.  We depend on them. They make a container for our images. But as we make borders and let our work edge right off them, we can take our contained work and put it in motion, by breaking out of the border and refusing to be contained.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Designing Ways: Dancing in the Grid

Back to fabric design. We've all watched Dancing with the Stars. Once we're done with that and Steve Goodman, how about Dancing with Butterflies? Remember the Arther Mury patterns on the floor? Basically they were just moving in squares. 
Just as an exercise in design, I took a butterfly drawing, colored it and went dancing with it in squares.
 As I was playing with the placement, it wasn't long before I recognized that it was just like playing with a triangle quilt design.
Angling the butterflies as triangles and making them different sizes turned them into instant quilt squares. Who knew? Designing fabric is really designing quilts.
I did this in Illustrator, partially because I'm trying to learn the program and it was as good an exercise as any. But it would be so much easier in something like Electric Quilt 7. I flipped them, shrunk them, turned them, and made them dance. 

Then I added a curlicue.
Fabric design is rhythmic pattern across a surface. It dances as it repeats itself, in the same patterns or in patterns that reflect or flip the original shape. 
Like all dancing, it's endless, built for improvisation, but always in place with it's on rhythms. Am I there yet? I don't think so. I need to practice with Arthur Murry, just a bit more.Want to dance?
Wrapping it up: Designing both quilts and fabric is about rhythmic patterns in and out of a grid.
Find more information about designing fabric on Spoonflower.
Find really cool design software at 

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Designing Ways: Gravity Meets Geometry

What makes a shape move? We acknowledged that graphically on paper, things move strictly in our head. After years of things falling down around us, we can look at shapes at certain angles and say, "Yep. That's falling." We observe that it should be moving, and our mind makes it do that.
So what makes a shape itself mobile(moving) or static(staying still)?

In the same way angles make things move, symmetry makes things stay in place. A square is the ultimate stable shape. Nothing about it suggests movement. Because it's even sides it doesn't even move the eye from the center.
That changes a bit when we draw it in three dimensions. The third dimension adds an angle just in the drawing, and we see it move a bit.
If we elongate the square into rectangles, the shape is much more mobile. As we go further from equal sides and symmetry, our shapes are more mobile.

But when we put them in a line and change the size the movement is in place and active. The eye connects them into a shape with one side much longer than the other, making things move.

Of course if we put them in at extreme angles, they tumble across the surface.

How does this translate to quilts that never have a square in them? All shapes are geometric shapes we manipulate into organic shapes. But the shape of the quilt itself, is the strongest one. A quilt designed with an elongated outline is in motion from it's inception.

Wrapping it up:
Symmetrical object are stable. They do not move unless you put them at an angle or unless you use them to create a shape that is longer on one side than another.
Non-symmetrical shapes aways have the suggestion of movement built in to their form.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Designing Ways: Gravity and Motion, Movement in Design

We talk about designs moving. But in reality, unless you're dealing with a series of images, they can't. A two-dimensional image is stuck in one place forever. What moves is not the image. It's our imagination of what happens next to the image. We imagine the movements that must, in our experience happen after where the image is now.

We have a life long experience of  gravity. We know when things are going to fall. We also can see from that same life experience when something appears balanced and stable. Our life experience supplies the suggestion that something is moving. The picture itself stays stable.What is the defining element? The angle of the object.
Our tree moves here because she's off balance. Her yellow background is at an angle against hers and the feeling is that she's in extreme motion.
Our tree here is reaching up at a slight angle. But she's not really moving because she's stable against her background.

This tree is completely rooted and solid where she is. Her angle is straight and vertical to the sides of the work. She's 
not going anywhere.

  1. Summing it up, all movement in design is an illusion formed from our memory and experience of gravity.
  2. If we recreate the feeling of falling or motion in a design, the design will appear to move.
  3. All movement is created in the angles we apply to our designs.
Next, Moving in on and around a grid.


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