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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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
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.


LynDee said...

I. too, appreciate your various influences - especially the Japanese artists and Japanese influenced artists, but I'm not sure how much I incorporate into my work. I'm sure it lurks somewhere in the background. I have done my best in competition when a little humor has slipped into the piece. Suggestions about how to access that muse often and repeatedly?

Gloria said...

Thank you! I wasn't aware of how the Japanese artists influenced some of our early great impressionist artists. I wonder what Van Gough would think of how revered his work is now.

I remember when I first started making quilts. I didn't know how to applique so I painted vines, birds, and other things on my quilt tops. Then I would make my quilt sandwich and quilt away. It seemed strange to almost all the traditional quilters I knew back then, but now many others do that all the time. I found it somewhat amusing how non quilters loved the quilts though and that kept me going.

I did eventually learned to applique with fabric, and used paint to shade/highlight. I'm now using both paint and thread thanks to art quilters such as yourself.

I also remember how some people reacted then (and even now) to the term "Art Quilt". I wonder how future generations will view art quilts. Will they receive the recognition I think they deserve? I hope so.

Gloria said...

My first pieces were designed with what some of my family members or friends liked, foremost, in my mind. Now I find myself doing more of what I like or what inspires me.

I try to thumb through books or magazines, and browse a few art blogs much inspiration at my fingertips. Ideas for designs fly through my mind. Sometimes it is almost overwhelming, so no ideas stick in my memory unless I can write them down or make a rough drawing of the idea(s).

I do have a small notebook I use to sometimes draw ideas in as they come to me. I also make notes of ideas/color choices in this little book. I try to carry it with me when I leave home. Amazing what you may see and the inspiration you may feel while waiting in line or sitting in a Dr's office.

I also find it helpful to save a few of the inspirational type art web sites/blogs that I view to a folder in my "favorites". I've named this folder "Art Inspiration" so I can easily go back later and look when I have more time or my mind is a little clearer.

Enjoying this thread. Thanks for sharing with us.


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