Posts Tagged ‘gardening’

Once More with Feeling: The Bad Bugs

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
646 Floral Arrangement 25 - Copy (1)

Floral Arrangement 25

You know the feeling. You find it in the sink or the bathroom and you have to run  and get the bug identification book because you can’t imagine what that beetle is.

Well, none of us look our best sitting in the tub. I have a  Egyptian sort of attitude about beetles because of my father. He loved archaeology and regularly read me Gods, Graves and Scholars as my bedtime book. He read what pleased him. My mother kept trying to insist on things like the Little Grey Squirrel. I may have been only 3 but I knew full well the plot line on the Little Grey Squirrel just couldn’t keep up with the discovering of lost cities and tombs.  And beetles.

This did not extend to The Beatles. That’s a taste I acquired much later. If they’d come in iridescent purple and green, that might have been different. And if the Egyptians had drawn them with wings…..


163 Growing between the CracksLady  bugs are, of course, beetles, but if you dress up in black and red you[‘re already a buggy fashion statement that even Margaret would have considered stylish.






I’m talking about the beetles that are almost ornaments. They were often done as art deco pins.

They’re elegance is undeniable.

beetle bookSo I’ve gone in search of beetles. There’s a book called An Inordinant  Fondness for Beetles. It will give you the most amazing bug images you’ll ever see.

Here are some of my favorite beetles and bugs.

Sapsuckers. How could you not? They’re pink! And they look exactly like the blooms on the  branch. They are just too much fun.

382 Fallen Petals Rise - Copy (1)

Fallen Petals Rise


Brave Little Bugs

758 Bugs in Bloom (1)

Bugs in Bloom

And the Beetles that attend the garden. I so love these. Their shiny crunchy carapaces just please me.





Then there are the beetles that are too wild for words.

Beetles in Blossoms

Beetles in Blossoms


Light Japanese Lunch

Light Japanese Lunch

I have a love hate thing with Japanese Beetles. The hate thing is completely understandable. They eat everything in sight, but they specialize in roses.

The love thing… They’re iridescent purple green brown. How do you beat that? I’m completely torn. Usually I let them alone.

And how can you be sillier than rhinoceros beetles?

Stag party

Stag party


You’ll find An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles at

You’ll find fabulous beetles all over your garden. Look for them there.





Once More with Feeling: From the Garden

Friday, January 25th, 2013

646 Floral Arrangement 25 (1) There’s a truth that we can’t envision what we’ve never seen. I lived for so long in an apartment in Chicago that I’d lost the rhythms. There was an Easter Vigil were I walked out into the church garden and saw the daffodils. And an odd voice in my head said, “Why did they put plastic daffodils out?” Of course they hadn’t. I was that out of touch.

The oddest thing about buying a house, is that with it comes a garden. I was 44 and I had the first garden of my adult life. I had a terrifying case of constipated gardening. I planted everything everywhere. I even planted the hell strip in front of the street and got in trouble with the city fathers. I put in roses of Sharon, roses of all kinds, quince, five kind of lilac, day lilies everywhere, bee balm, Russian sage, pinks. dogwood, I couldn’t pass a garden center. I planted or mulched every square inch. I brought in a weeping juniper and white cherry tree. Eventually I ran out of land. And began to simply watch it happen, season after season   382 Fallen Petals RiseAll time is spiral in a garden Time is measured in one season after another. The season of tulips, of alliums, of lilies, of blackberries, of tomatoes, and the dreaded zuchinni. They cycle through faithful, every year. So the flowers themselves sudden began to pop up in my quilts.


I discovered that sheers made the best flower petals because petals are see through. I discovered that no petal is the same shape size or color as any other in the flower Which meant I needed to use easily 20 c0lors for a larger flower. learned that every flower is potentially a bird feeder. I learned I could be outside in a yard and not be attacked. It was a time of intense learning. Then I had to learn to let it go. The first October, I lost Gabriel, my big golden cat the day the leaves fell from the maple. Fall had fallen and all I could do was weep at the base of the roots. I cried until after Christmas. Then the garden catalogs started to arrive.

There’s a wonder a bout cycles. You watch things die. You watch things come back. I believe in resurrection for many reasons. But my garden is perhaps the most tangible. The cold came and went and then the cycle came back.

I walk through my garden in the winter and can see all of the dead waiting resurrection. Some things, like helborus rose, just refuse to go down. But even the tenderest roses poke their head up. I 

I also came to realize I wasn’t the only gardener. There were bees, humming birds, praying mantises and frogs all carefully tending the plants. I came to love and look for their hands in my garden. It’s there’s as much as mine. After all, we all live there.

Pat Jones: Mountain Fringe Girl

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012



I met Pat Jones at the Mountain Laurel Guild in Georgia. The whole guild was full of wild gardeners and astonishing fiber artists. Pat fits right in. She lives in a cabin up the mountain where birds sing to her right off her porch, looking down the gorge. It’s another world.

Pat tells me I gave her permission in my first book to try things. And she has. She’s this quiet and very proper southern gal doing wonderfully wild things with her thread and fabric.

She took my flower class, and being a master gardener herself, she build one incredible flower garden.

Here’s what she had to say about it.

“First, THANK YOU for your visit with us in June.  We were ALL blown away by your work!  What inspiration!  As a result, I had to put all the work I was in the middle of aside and try your techniques.  This is my first attempt, and I plan to do MANY more!  I have a long way to go….got to learn to be FREE!  What a joy you are and your work is gorgeous, on top of that, your teaching is so excellent that it makes us feel confident that we can try it. 
The pink flowers in the wall hanging were stitched onto a felt background then stitched on the background fabric sandwich.  That made them raised a little and I really like the effect.  The center of the flowers is all thread stitched onto Ultra Solvy then applied.  The butterfly is, of course, Angelina.  The wisteria is made of tubes of hand painted organza and silk. 
This past Tuesday was guild and it made a splash with the girls!!!”
There’s no way to know where she’ll go next with her work, but she’s unstoppable. I can’t wait to see.

Hydrangea Happening: In Search of Color

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

When I was visiting  the Mountain Lauren Quilters down in Georgia, I saw the most amazing hydrangeas. We have hydrangeas up north. I have some annabell hydrangeas that threaten to swallow the whole side yard. But not like these.

I was in Clayton Georgia, half up the mountain, where these women take their gardening seriously. And their hydrangeas are a thing of legend. Part of it is the warmer zone allows for blue lace caps and other wonders. Part of it is just passionate gardening on steroids. Both Lynda Doll and Kathy Booker had astonishing gardens with hydrangeas to die for.

Which left me wondering….What is it about the color of hydranges that turns us all inside out?

So we’re going to put it on the color wheel and look.



First off, they’re blue and there isn’t a whole lot of real blue in a garden. Lots of purples, pinks, reds, oranges and greens. So the ones that are merely blue are a wonder just for that


But most of them aren’t just one color. They flirt with all the purples and pinks to either side.

And this one adds just a dab of yellow in the center. It’s as if it were buttered. Yumm!

Here it is on the wheel. We have an analogous range of purples, blues and pinks, with that yellow complement to the purple sparking across the wheel. No wonder I want to play with this combination. I think, next dye day they really will be colors to dye for.


 Wondering how you might do this as stitchery? This roundish form, covered with a great hydrangea range of colors in garnet stitch does the job pretty well.

Before the heat starts to simmer today, go out in your garden and see what colors catch your heart. Go feed your eye.


Books in Action

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

It’s lovely when you get to see a book you’ve written  go into  action. Books are made to be working tools. 

Morna McEver Golletz just wrote a review of Thread Magic Garden on her blog for the
International Association of  Professional Quilters.

She says “At first glance, it’s clear that Ellen is a teacher. Using simple step-by-step instructions, you’ll learn basic skills that build upon each other, for example, special stitch techniques, building edge-to-edge color and progressive shading. Then she offers more than 20 floral studies to understand the shapes of the flowers. She notes that you cannot create a flower through fabric without first seeing and studying a real one, so she includes close-up photographs for this purpose. She also includes a good discussion on color theory. If you are interested in learning or expanding your skills at machine embroidery, you’ll enjoy this book and appreciate Ellen’s attention to detail.” Thanks, Morna!

I just taught a class at Mountain Laurel Quilters in Clarkesville, GA based on  the book. We did the abstracted florals class. These women are master gardeners. They took me up and down the mountain to see their gardens, which were spectacular.  I’ll post on that later. What a dynamic group of women!

I ended up demoing on hostas and lady slippers, in honor of their forest and clearing gardens, that absolutely make my heart sing. What a lovely trip!

You’ll find the International of Professional Quilters on their web site at They put together a very useful publication called Professional Quilter that serves the needs of the quilt community that sells, shows, teaches, writes and quilts professionally.

Want to Make a Water Lily Bloom?

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Every year I go through water lily lust. We have a fabulous garden center in Chesterton that has a magnificent fish pond. It’s full of water lilies. Do I want one? Don’t be silly. I want three dozen.

But I live in a neighborhood with small children, and they do sometimes get into your yard. Small children upside down in your pond, in trouble one way or another are not part of good neighbor relationships. Not even with a solid fence. I also don’t fancy finding a greyhound floating in one either.










So I have a fake half barrel planter that I fill with water every year. Last year it had tadpoles too. Can I grow a waterlily? God knows, I tried. I could grow great leaves. Somewhere around late August I’d get a bud. That doesn’t always mean you get a flower. It never happened. I finally bought a floating silk water lily. Then I went to water hyacinth.






But I can make a great water lily in the studio. Simple”C” and “S”shapes make this waterlily. No patterns needed. No direct sunlight either. Cut the shapes, place them, iron them down and embroider. I use all kinds of sheers, hand dyes, slinky fabrics, Angelina, and laces to make a translucent flower that glows.You’ll find the pond this lily picture was taken at at Chesterton Feed and Garden, in Chesterton Indiana. It’s a marvelous place.There’s one caveat.  You can’t take the whole store home. I tried.


If you’d like the full instructions for these lilies, they’re in and article in the new July issue of American Quilter called Pattern Free Blossoms. And more information in ThreadMagicGarden. It’s gardening without digging or dirt.

Thread Magic Garden

The Best Neighbors: The Best Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012


Vegies from Sherrill's Greenhouse

I really have some of the best neighbors. I have Liam and Mary who watch my dogs and come visit me. I have the Pat Winter, the Dye Cup Fairy.

And I have Sherrill Newman, perhaps the best horticulturist I know.

Sherrill has a small greenhouse. It’s small but it’s mighty. This winter she decided that she was going to grow the most amazing heirloom tomatoes ever.

If you don’t know about heirloom tomatoes, you should. Someone once said that a cello winter tomato is a vegetable, but a garden summer tomato is a fruit. Mulitiply that by 10 and you’ve got  heirloom tomatoes. You don’t  generally find them in the store. If you do you might well be asking “What is that?” If you get a taste you might well be asking “What was that?” for the rest of your life and just plain go in search of. They are a sacrament! To the most  part, if you want them, you must grow them. 

Sherril’s having a garden sale at her green house on May  26 and   27 Saturday and Sunday

You’ll find some of these tomatoes there. At least until I get there.

You haven’t heard of these? Don’t let that stop you. You won’t find them at the garden center.They’re a special garden treat. Do  you want them all? Don’t be silly. Of course you do! These are the best.

Cabernet Hybrid Tomato Red Brandywine Tomato
Chocolate Cherry Tomato Limmony Tomato
Black Sea Man Tomato Jaune Flammee Tomato
Grapette Hybrid Tomato Abe Lincoln Original Tomato
Rainbow Tomato Amana Orange Tomato
Snowberry Tomato Moonglow Tomato
Costoluto Genovese Tomato Brown Berry Tomato
Watermelon Beefsteak Tomato Ananas Noire Tomato
Aunt Rubys German Green Tomato Red Currant Tomato
Black From Tula Tomato Georgia Streak Tomato
Black Tomato Micro Tom Hybrid Tomato
Rose Tomato Tye Dye Hybrid Tomato
Vintage Wine Tomato Japanese Black Trifele Tomato
Torbay Hybrid Tomato Porter Tomato
Christmas Grapes Tomato

Sherrill’s plant sale is on 

May  26 and   27 Saturday and Sunday

at her green house at

300 Franklin Street

Porter, IN 46304

From 8:30 AM to 3:30PM


Or email

for more information

Sherrill also does landscaping and plantings for people. She’s got an astonishing eye. And great plants!

Cara Speaks from the Dog House: Gardening Projects:The Big Hole

Wednesday, May 9th, 2012


Cara Candis Canis

Every dog wants a special sitting spot this time of year in the garden. With a little stealth and effort you can dig a lovely hole that will cool and soothe you all summer long.


  • Look for a place where the ground is soft.
  • Watch closely to see that your mom isn’t looking. She’s not broad minded, and she probably won’t approve.

  • Dig a large luxurious hole that fits you even when you stretch out.


Refuse to sit in it in front of mom. No need to let her know for a certainty you dug it. There are other dogs in the house. It could have been someone else, right?


  • Don’t let her fill it with plants or chips. Training people takes years. You need them to understand you are in charge and that, in the end, you’ll get your way.

Ellen’s not over bright, but we all take care of her. I regularly garden with her, digging holes that are lovely structures and making sure that they stay perfectly fresh, for the perfectly fresh dog.





To Kill A Mocking Bird. To Shine a Light.

Sunday, April 8th, 2012

Bleeding Heart from Thread Magic Garden

I’m always astonished by media that changes who we are. I’ve always maintained that we are artists simply by our human birthright. It is simply part of a human soul to sing, dance, draw, write, tell stories, and share the state and circumstances of your life.  If you are a person who lives by and with your art, you hope that is resonates with others. When it does, it is transformative.

I was nine when “To Kill a Mocking Bird” came out. I know I didn’t see it as a small child. I grew up later with it. And this incredible scene has always been my favorite part. Where Atticus, who has just made himself a poster boy for every ugly name a  white person in a small town could own, gets ready to walk out after an epic fail and everyone he has fought for knows what he did, and honors it.  It’s become, in the way of good art, a symbol for me of the cause you have to fight, win or lose. It still leaves me in tears, but tears of pride.

Good art makes symbols for us. It takes us past ourselves. It reminds us of our similar humanity. It can take sides, but it’s real side is someone’s honest face in full light. It’s the illumination of someone’s truth.

Last night I stood in church at the Easter Vigil. It too, shines the light on truth. It’s done, wisely enough, at the change of the year when the cold and bitter time transforms itself into warm breezes and green new growth.

So my prayer and my hope for us all is to find a spot in the sun and grow with the new life, and to find a way to reflect that truth in the art that simply springs out of who we are.

Happy Easter!

Not Quite Ready for Prime Time Theater

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
 I was wandering around on the web  today and found this great segment that AQS taped for me at the Des Moines Show this Fall.

This is a very nice tutorial for making flowers out of simple shapes. They taped this the last day of the show. I ran in and babbled like a brook.

But I found it and listened to it today. I didn’t ummm. And it felt as good to listen to it as to do it.

Build some cool flowers. For heaven’s sake leave the patterns out.  Build something wild, while you’re under the gun. It is, after all, time honored.

Thread Magic Garden Is Ready for Pre-order!

Friday, December 30th, 2011
Thread Magic Garden will be arriving for shipment around January 20th. You can pre-order your copy today!
You never really know what a project will take until you see it done. Perhaps that’s good. A good dream well done should take your whole heart’s effort and give you your heart back in return.

When I started this book, I had no idea it would take 2 years to finish. Part of that is that I had to learn so much to do this book.  Part of that is the meticulous process C&T puts into every book.  I got my premier copy a week ago.I’m still scraping myself off the ceiling. It’s past my expectations. I’m hoping you’ll feel that way too.

When I started this book, I wanted to continue what I’d accomplished with Thread Magic. I wanted to show folk ways of adding wild free motion to quilts that set things hearts and imaginations on fire. I wanted to set up instructions that would take you through your own process with this. You’ll have to let me know how I’ve  done when you read the book.
But for those of you who’ve known me in class or in print, you know I don’t give recipes for cakes that don’t rise. I tell you everything I know. I also don’t do anything really hard. I just do things that are time consuming and compulsive.
So here is what we have.
  • Fifty eye popping new quilts in the gallery
  • A patternless approach to design
  • Intuitive applique that makes creating flowers  easy and fun

Tutorials in

  • Color theory for flowers
  • Corded buttonhole  binding
  • Angelina Fiber
  • 6 Free motion zigzag stitches
  • Machine Beading
  • Globbing
  • Sandwich stabilizing

I’m hoping I’ve done a good job of opening doors, traveling a new path, leaving good bread crumbs for anyone who wants to follow, and breaking the best rules I could find to break. See you on the trail.

You can  pre-order your copy of Thread Magic Garden at

No More Color Police:Creating Flower Colors

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

 “Roses are red. violets are blue. Angels in heaven know I love you.” Down in the valley

 What color is a flower, actually?

In spite of everything your kindergarten teacher told you, it’s not a simple answer. If she made you color all your roses red, give me her name and I’ll go have a little chat with her. Or better still, you might want to tell her that she can’t live in your head anymore without paying rent.

That’s not a white tulip. Nor is it really red or yellow. It’s a wonderful swirl of a number of great colors. Leaving any of that out is a loss. But how do you do it in fiber?

We have two great tools. Well, we probably have hundreds but these help with this.Hand dyed fabric has all those great streaks. It’s a great way to start a flower.

Machine embroidery also speeds us on our way.The wonderful thing about stitching flowers is that thread really is minutia. We can slip in that dash of green, that edge of orange or purple that flowers either do have or should.
When Mark Lipinski asked me how important color was on his show this week and why I put so much emphasis on it, I almost fell of my chair. Color IS the media. We see everything through the color and the texture. You can here that conversation on Mark’s Creative Mojo  show, December 14th.

Thread Magic Garden has a full chapter on creating colors for flowers. It’s a magical thing. And you can do it too.

Lauren Strach: A Botanical Lunatic with a Plan

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Lauren doesn’t look like a lunatic. She looks like a pink cheeked soccer mom. Look out! Stand back! 

She’s an emerging art quilter who attacks new approaches and techniques with gleeful ferocity. And masters them with passion. Every time she visits me, I find myself flying to my machine, inspired by her intensity.

Lauren says,

“My inspiration, like so many other quilters, comes from nature. 

As a life-long biologist and Master Gardener, I thought I saw nature, but it wasn’t until I embraced my artful journey that I began to really see.  My inspiration is found in the whorls of snail shells, the miniature worlds of mosses and lichens, the rugged nooks and crannies of the bark of the fallen tree, and the intricate shading and nuances in the early spring wildflowers. And, the more I see, the more I see.

The act of translating that vision in line, pattern and color into textile recreations introduces the next level of AHA!  It is an ever fascinating challenge to take the experience of seeing with eyes wide open, to shape it into form. From the fantastical realism of exaggerated insects, to the abstracted likeness of the quintessential flower bud, I seek to uncover the universal codes, to bring them to life with fabric and thread.  Tactile, textile translations of the mysteries of nature, celebrating the wonders of life, that is where I find my inspiration.

Lauren’s work has been showed at both Paducah and Houston. She was a finalist in the $100,000 Quilt Challenge. Where will she show next? It could be anywhere. If she doesn’t send it in, it’s likely 
to fly in on it’s own.

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