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.

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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.
Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Designing Ways: East Meets West

It's almost impossible to talk about our art without talking about the art that comes before us. Before we talk about design, it's worth saying that there are many different design aesthetics. It's not that a design is good or bad necessarily. It's designed to be part of the statement. The notions that fuel our art choices are a statement loud and clear past subject matter and past our technical handling of fabric and thread. 

As quilters, a lot of us have backed into art by accident. We started with squares and one day found ourselves with an odd quilt that somehow was an art quilt. Maybe it had too much orange in it or you found yourself like me, embroidering frogs and bugs into the borders.There's a tender soft spot in most quilter's artistic persona. The part that said that you should have gone to art school or studied water color. So our first designs spring out of a personal view. Later, as we become more facile, we realize that the choices in design are a huge statement all their own.

My first artistic love was the impressionists. I grew up near Chicago, and there was a pilgrimage every year to the Art Institute. I strolled through the halls looking for paintings like old friends. Since they were my first real introduction to art, they felt bland to me. Safe. Something soft and soothing out of my childhood.You know it's become mainstream when you see it on a birthday cake. This astonishing cake is by Megpi, a pastry chef in Silver Lake. California. You can see her work if you follow the link to Flickr. 

impressionist cake by megpi
impressionist cake, a photo by megpi on Flickr 
Since you can buy Van Gogh's work on umbrellas and coffee cups, it's easy to miss the point that he was a raving revolutionary in his time. His work nauseated the current critics, got him hospitalized, was refused for all the important salon shows, and the subject of ridicule in the press. Time and familiarity have made him a lionized artist, but that was not who he was when he began.

I was immediately in love when I discovered Japanese prints. It was a while before I realized why. The Impressionists took much of their new artistic vision from the prints out of Japan. The first prints that came out of Japan hugely influenced them as beginning artists.

In contrast, this is a painting  called Nocturne from around 1825 by Turner. Turner would have represented the design aesthetics from the early 19th century, that Van Gogh and the other impressionists and Post Expressionists blew out of the water.

Early 19th Century Western art was about permanence. It honored stability. It was a world of people in their proper places, forever and ever. It used Greek and Roman scenes  and portraits of nobility as an way of saying we had an eternal understanding of a world that stayed the same.

Japanese art was about the moment. It moved. It created a path for the eye to follow. It went off the page. The impressionists saw it, fell in love with the concept and incorporated it into the designing of their art. And changed us all.

The decisions behind design are the most telling. Without a word they say so much about what we create, what we find important, and what we value. The way we structure our art is at least half the story we tell.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Designing Ways: An Exploration of Design in Fiber Art

Just recently I've been looking at the Spoonflower website. At Spoonflower you can design your own fabric. 

That sounded simple. You add cool elements from your quilts on a neat background. How hard can it be? How cool can it get?

Well I don't think it get's cooler, but it's not as easy as it looks. I'm not ready for prime time yet but it's reminded me how important design is, and how it changes when we have different things we want out of our designs. So I'm going to take some time to explore design myself and to talk about that in some  posts.

So often when we create we get all caught up in what we're creating. A flower, a frog, a bug, a picture. But design is the hidden framework under all of that. There are different aesthetics to design, different theories, different approaches. So when we talk about good design, we need to ask the question, "For what purpose."Designs that repeat are a whole different set of considerations from designs that don't have to. I'd like to look at design over a series of posts, from the point of view of pathway, rhythm, framing, and  balance. Next time, East Meets West.
Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Search of Peacock Colors: Anatomy of a Color Study

Confessions of a color junkie. I get drunk periodically. Not on alcohol or ice tea or even ice water. But I do get drunk on color. Every so often I find myself swimming in a color combination that is just plain intoxicating. It hits me viscerally. Color is visual emotion. It's a language all its own.But just because I find a color combination exhilarating doesn't  mean I understand why.
Whenever I find a color combination I can't leave alone, I like to work with it until I understand it.I've always loved peacock colors. I don't necessarily feel like quilting a peacock at this time. But the colors.....
So I went in search of peacock colors. Dyeing fabric is one of the best ways to understand color. So I went out to dye some peacock colors.
Peacock colors have always mystified me a bit. They're an analogous range (a row of colors in a line) but there's something odd about it. When I charted it out on the color wheel it began to make sense.
That's when I find it's time to chart it out on the color wheel and to see why these colors do what they do. The color wheel is a family tree for color. It shows how colors are related to each other. The basic color is teal, with bright blues, purples and greens. But fooler is that olivey chartreuse  green. It's a dulled out  sun color in a range of clear cool colors. In another way, the contrast in the combination is the olive that leans towards the sun while all the other colors lean to the shade.
No wonder it's so exciting.

So this is what i dyed!

Mystery solved! I used an analogous range of procian dyes including turquoise, teal, robins egg, chartreuse, jade, cayman island green, and sun yellow. The chartreuse is the olivey contrasting sun color. I stalked the wild  peacock. Now those colors are mine!
 Don't be afraid to hunt for the big game: the fabulous colors that rock your world and move your furniture. Use them, chart them, put them where they can excite you and illuminate your world.

If you want to explore more of the world of sponge dyeing and how the color wheel works, check out my book, Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook. Not just a dye book, it explains why the colors do what 
they do together visually. It's available on my site at
Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Beadaliscious: Eye candy and puctuation

As addictions go, it started small. I worked in an antique mall for a while where there  were several people working in old Czech glass beads. I can ignore most gem beads. I can ignore crystal. But Czech glass can empty my pockets so fast it's like there's a hole. I made my fair share of necklaces and earrings and found myself way too involved quilting to play endlessly with beads.
But beads sneak in. They're so pretty. They're shiny. They're almost like candy without the calories. They also make fabulous details. When I did the embroidery for Tigrey Leads the Parade, almost all of the flowers in my gardens were great glass beads.
Where do they come from? I never pass on a bead shop, no matter where I'm traveling, but the bulk of these beads came from an amazing store that's literally down the street from me.
Blue Stem Beads. They're in my little town of Porter, but their collection is mighty and for the size, it's one of the best bead stores I ever saw. Almost all the beads for this book came from there.
These were hand stitched onto tea towels I embroidered. They were fabulous flowers and too much fun. You can see and purchase Tigrey Leads the Parade at my web site
You'll find Blue Stem Beads in Porter,Indiana (just an hour out of Chicago. It's an astonishment.
For the next few posts I'm going to talk about other cool and wonderful ways I've used beads and seen beads used in  quilting.
You'll find 

Blue Stem Beads at
300 Lincoln St # 1X

Porter, IN 46304-1894
(219) 926-9004


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