Posts Tagged ‘design’

Dyeing for Threads

Monday, July 8th, 2013

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAYesterday I threw 288 threads into the washer. I had to. I’d dyed them

dyed threadsI’ve never gotten over dyed threads. I started dyeing threads 15 years ago. These are #5 weight pearl Cottons. They work brilliantly in an adjusted bobbin case. And they. dyed like champs. Someone asked how I dye thread, and how it washes out, so here you are.

Of course you have to wash them out. There is no trick at all to dyeing thread. Add color. There you are.

Washing them out. Not so easy.

lumps in the washerEnter the less than lovely lump. These threads have been twisted into lumps and stuffed in black nylon stockings. Once they’re tied, they’re going no where bad. Throw them in the washer with synthropol and softener on the last wash, and you get.

Thread lumps!thread lumps

Once you cut away the stockings, it get’s much more exciting.




thread on shower hook wOnce the thread is out of the stocking, you control it with a shower curtain clip. These are getting hard to find, but they do show up at Lowes. Put them on a hook and hang them up to dry.

Altogether, this is what this batch looked like.




Most of these are for me. But I am putting a small quantity of them on sale at Etsy as kits of three threads in  dark, light and shocker/shader collections.  You’ll find them on my Etsy shop at

Ellen Anne Eddy's Dye Day Workbook cover front for web tnWant more information about dyeing threads? There’s a section on thread dyeing in my book, Dye Day Workbook, available on Etsy as a pdf and available on my web site and on as a paper book. 

Here’s what the threads looked like.



I put them in packages of threes, perfect for embroidery, bobbin work, couching, crazy quilting and hand stitching.

They come in

  • Stone Grey
  • Growing Greens
  • Blueberry Blue
  • Aqua Waters
  • Ripe Reds
  • Tangerine Dreams
  • Glorious Mud
  • Olives
  • Sunflower Yellows

I’ve dyed for thread. Wouldn’t you?

Ellenisms: Artistic Aesthetics

Friday, November 16th, 2012

They say you can’t really teach art. They’re really right. What you can teach is art tricks and drafting skills. And you can teach basic rules anyone can violate any time they don’t work. 

So teaching aesthetics  really doesn’t work. What you do is expose people to what you see as a wonder and let it take them where it will. Most of this is about color. A bit of it is about design. All of that is just a toolbox for seeing things differently.

With that in mind, there are things I say, just to open the doors a crack on that regard. 

  • Break the match instinct. You’ve matched thread all your life. You want it to show up here. Pick the brightest thread  you can find that will shine against your backdrop.

  • Complementary colors are the definition of excitement. And you can’t have too many. If you’re bored, add the complement.

  • Use a shocker and a shader in your color choice. A darker color anchors your piece and puts it into dimension. A bright shocking color gives it a final shimmer that puts it into the light.

  • A three legged stool always stands. Designs with three elements balance almost automatically.  It’s easy design.

  • Built a visual path. Create a path for your eye to follow and your eye will move through your work. It will make your work seem to move too.

  • Design so that your piece is as exciting up close as it is at a distance. Details and design are both vital. Detail brings excites up close. Good design brings them in.

  • Hang it up and look at it. You’ll know in six months. You don’t see a piece in whole until you hang it on a wall and look at it for a while. Unless you’re in a crushing hurry it’s always worth doing that. Especially if it’s large.
  • Build a frame and break out of it. We crave structure. We celebrate release. if you build a frame into the work and then break out of it in the design, it gives you both feelings at once.
  • All art depends on contrast. You have contrast between hues (basic colors), shades (darks and lights), and casts (golden, blue, clear and muddy). You can create contrast with colors, textures, shapes and sizes. Without contrast your eye has nothing to grab onto. Everything is sadly the same.
  • Of course all of this works except when it doesn’t. Which is so true to everything I say it all the time.

Art tricks are just tricks. They’re easy ways to think about building your personal aesthetic, the rules that really work for you. And they’re the only ones that count.

I teach a lecture called the Visual Path that walks people through this pretty simply. If you have a group that would like some real design tools, it’s a good starting place.

 I teach color theory on all classes. Can’t do it without it.


Bernina Skins! How Cool Can It Get!

Saturday, August 18th, 2012


Remember the old black sewing machines with great decals? They had beautiful swirls or flowers or flourishes. Of course it was cosmetic, but how cool!  I often wonder how people must have thought about them when they bought those great old machines.”George, I want the one with the flowers.” No, Nancy, we’re getting the one with the sphinxes. ” It’s some measure of how folk felt about them when you see the pictures of the sod house with the sewing machine out in front.

Here’s something I want in the worst way! I love skins. I’ve skinned my computers, mp3 plyers and phones. I’d skin the cats but I don’t think the vinyl will work that way.


Bernina has set up a way to skin your sewing machine. It’s really mostly for the Activa series.  I won’t be able to order them for my 2 twenty year old Bernina Records, more to the pity.  But I absolutely love them!


They have a gallery full of designs. You can pick and crop them as you will. But you can also put your own design up and fit it to your machine


Here’s what I chose for my machine. I had several quilts I liked but the one that worked out best was Fall Confetti. I loved how it looked. Just the right amount of detail. But I wanted the praying mantis ( who really is my alter ego) to be front and center on the sewing machine column.




My Machine Skin

So I flipped her. I flipped the picture and then sized it so she was just there, directing people to the right buttons.






Mine hasn’t arrived yet. I really can’t wait!









The site for skins is at You can follow these instructions: Click on Start > SkinDesign > Product > Specials > Bernina.  Design skins are available for the BERNINA artista 635, B215, activa 210, activa220, activa 230, activa 230PE, and activa 240.

Before you say it’s silly, imagine this. You have 10 sewing machines in a classroom. They’re pretty much the same. And you say to a kind and helpful student who is packing you after a long class day, “Would you pack up my machine?” They wouldn’t have to ask, “Which one is yours?” And you wouldn’t go home with the wrong machine. At least that’s what I’m telling the tax person.

 There’s another great post on this at

Anatomy of a Quilt: Background Search

Friday, May 4th, 2012

One of the most telling decisions for every quilt is a background. It’s the light within the piece.

I’m working on a commission  which gives me the opportunity to play with a lot of possibilities. This is a great little quilt with butterflies and bleeding hearts. I’ve got number of backgrounds to try, to very different results.

Here are some of our possibilities.




I did some paint stick rubbings for this. But this is going into a baby’s room and the mom has a sensitive nose. So the answers to those is  no, no matter how lovely.









Which leads us to several hand dyed options. This has a darker black, blue purple background that is more mysterious.










This brighter background gives us a well of color behind the red exterior.

Which did my owner like? The green felt I embroidered the vine on. So I’m off to look at my stash of green hand dye.The background of a quilt is usually your first decision. Except when it isn’t. It changes how everything in your quilt is perceived.



Sometimes it’s very valuable to take your elements and give them an interview on differing backgrounds. You know.

“Do you work and play well with others?”
“Do you share the limelight?”
“How do you fit in here?”

Often the answers aren’t what you expect. Aren’t you glad you asked the question?

Anatomy of a Quilt: Building Elements

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Butterfly Components

I’m currently working on a commissioned quilt for a new family that’s just had a baby. The dad has asked me to do a butterfly quilt, partially for the mom but for his baby daughter as well. Commissions are a privilege. It’s an act of trust, that I am always a bit nervous about.

So I make several approaches possible and go from here. The premise was pink and purple butterflies. So I’ve started the quilt with those. I’m using an applique process where I cut my shapes out on sheer fabric backed with Steam A Seam 2, fuse them into a form, embroider them and then cut them out to use as appliques on the quilt. You’ll find full information on this in my new book Thread Magic Garden.



Fabric for butterflies

These are my butterfly fabrics. They’re great sheers and an oriental brocade. I buy these wherever I see them, because you never know if you’ll see them again.




butterfly bits on a pressing cloth

Here they are cut out as butterflies. Each butterfly has two teardrop wings, a body and eyes. They’re on a non-stick pressing cloth so I can arrange them.





fusing onto the sandwich.


Once their formed, I fuse them on to a stabilizer sandwich. This sandwich is made from hand dyed fabric, poly felt, and Decor Bond. This makes a firm embroidery surface that controls some of the distortion that happens with intense embroidery.




I embroider the  butterflies from inside out. First the bodies, then the veins of the wings, then the shadings and finally the outlines. They’re embroidered with a freemotion zigzag stitch and metallic Supertwist threads from Madiera. Finally I added in my bleeding heart blooms as well.


in place with the stem

The image at the top is what they look like cut out.
Here’s the rough placement with the stem I have planned.

Next time we’ll talk about backgrounds.










Thread Magic Garden

You’ll find information about freemotion applique in my book Thread Magic Garden, available on my site, on Amazon, and at your local quilt store.

Paint Stick Update: New Toys 2

Saturday, April 21st, 2012

painted fabric 1

The last time I talked about paint sticks, I had rubbing plates hanging from the ceiling, paint sticks everywhere, huge piles of fabrics I was waiting to dry and no idea how they would work in quilts.

That’s about par for a new toy. You don’t always know how to use it.

There’s a great book out called “Poke the Box” by Seth Godin. It’s kind of a one note wonder, but the premise is rock solid. It really doesn’t matter what the instructions say. You learn any new tool by taking it out and poking at every button, switch and display it’s got. You learn by poking the box. You watch what it does and when it does something bigtime cool, you see if you can repeat it. 

863 vinery

So I was a bit worried when I took my first couple of oil stick rubbed scraps and used them as surface designed starting spots. They remind me of wall paper. I love them.

From a practical point of view, I stipple less. But they fill the space with glowing light and color and I think I now have all the rubbing plates except the ones for Xmas.

Poke the Box! Take a new toy out. Don’t worry about what will happen. Poke all the buttons and switches and see what you’ll come up with.

You’ll find all kinds of cool information about paint sticks at

Laura Murray Designs

And at

Cedar Canyon Textiles

You’ll find Poke the Box on Amazon  

And you’ll find my very cool new quilts on my web gallery 

Check them out!

Designing Ways: Ornamenting Grids: The Zentangle Dance

Tuesday, August 2nd, 2011
“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

Designing Ways: The Container and the Contained

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

” 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.

Designing Ways: Dancing in the Grid

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

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 

Designing Ways: Gravity Meets Geometry

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

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.

Designing Ways: Gravity and Motion, Movement in Design

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

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.

Designing Ways: East Meets West

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

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.

Designing Ways: An Exploration of Design in Fiber Art

Monday, May 30th, 2011

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.

In Search of Peacock Colors: Anatomy of a Color Study

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

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

Beadaliscious: Eye candy and puctuation

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

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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