Friday, December 27, 2019

What can we learn from the Gees Bend quilts?

Our local art museum (GMOA) recently had a great quilt show...the quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph (1935-)
Mary Bendolph is one of the original Gee's Bend quilters, an example of the African American movement in quilting that began in isolated small communities where there was a supply of fabric (usually offcuts from a factory) and not much other industry.  (Oakland in CA was another area where this kind of quilting spontaneously appeared).
The ladies of Gee's Bend - a small town in a bend of the Alabama river between Alabama and Georgia - began a Freedom Quilting Bee, a craft co-operative,  during the 1960s.

Quilt making took place between planting and harvesting periods during the year when there was not so much field work and the ladies got together to sew and chat and sing and support one another.

Mary Bendolph learned more traditional patterns the Log Cabin variation above (usually known as Courthouse Steps)...but gradually began to develop her own style.  This was much more dynamic and experimental.  Experimentation was the key - don't just copy a traditional pattern, play with it!

Cut it up and rearrange it, try a different orientation, add on another strip!
don't be afraid to be bold and strong.  sometimes that is just what is necessary to make a statement.
And the pieces became more and more individual:

How inviting and encouraging this looks - commanding a whole wall of the gallery! Obviously nothing else could hold up next to its vigor.  So don't be afraid...don't be timid...let the colors and the shapes sing.
Work large and confidently.

Begin with one idea, then enlarge it as you go around...and around...note how the sky and the sunshine blazed their way into this quilt!

More sky...but overall a cooler palette and a more controlled outcome...d'you prefer that? or not?

well actually it was a rather cool rainy day outside, but very pleasant...I love the winter colors here in the south-east:  here are a few more picture of the area around the museum - VERy different from these vibrant quilts:

so - tell me - what do you learn from the Gees Bend quilts?  There are many many more examples on line of course...and a beautiful giant catalogue from the first show that travelled around the country - I saw it in New York several years ago...great to have this one right on my doorstep!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!
Love to have your comments.....

Monday, December 16, 2019

from Photo to artwork

so Ellen asked me if I copied the photo literally when making a quilt or a painting....

I never did copy anything literally.

With a quilt I would take the photo, and make a sketch of it..a simple sketch, no fancy drawing!
the sketch I always found was sufficient for me to follow in cutting out the shapes and sewing them together.

This quilt is actually black and white!  it's about 16 x 24...I monoprinted the fabric with leaves from the's appliqued.

For painting - here's a recent example:

Here's the photo....
what attracted me is that beautiful limning with light.......

I did 4 little value studies...
to determine the placement of the biggest shapes...

and then painted the back ground

Next some of the big shapes.....

I actually rather liked it at this stage....very simple very loose!!!  but felt compelled to "finish":

In my online class Inspired to Design with
and in my book of the same name...I go through the steps of sketching and making a quilt based on a photo.  The class is available "on demand" i.e. whenever you want it!  and the book is available as an "e-version"   - does sound a bit medically unhealthy!!! - but the publisher sent me a copy and actually it's not bad at all!!

so now you know!!!
Do let me know if you have any questions, or comments...always happy to answer them...
and, if you have been, thanks for reading!!


PS don't forget to celebrate the Winter Solstice by buying yourself something nice!!! I'm kinda hankering after a red cashmere sweater!!!!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Time Management for quilters and other artists

Nolde (photograph by me of the original which is in the GMOA in Athens, GA)

Do you ever feel as if you are trying to rush forward against a high wind and making little progress?
Because there just isn't enough time!

Elsie wrote to me last week that she had read that you can  - and should - always find time for that which is most important to you.

but how?

People often ask me how I find enough time to do all the things I are a few suggestions I've worked on over the years..some might work for you, others won't I'm sure..many you probably already do!

don't be a nolde-noodle!!!!

1.  Always have a diary - digital, pencil, fancy, home made - doesn't matter....but always.  So easy to forget appointments etc.

2. Plan out each day - yes yes I hear you groaning from here!!!!  but you can plan in "down time" "relax time" or "zoning time"...that's fine.
but if you plan the day, you'll notice that for most of us there are actually 16 hours! and that's quite a lot!!!  The plan should be based on your to-do list...if you have a lot to do then prioritize (A list, B list etc or whatever method you like).
A lot of time is lost between tasks if you don't have them listed and prioritized...
Big projects should be divided up into manageable sections - this of course is easy for quilt makers for every quilt is a Big Project...but with several steps, many steps, along the way.

3.  One trick I've learned is that if you have several things to do, always do the one you LEAST want to do first...everything will seem easy after that!

4. Another is that for a Big Project, the first step can be just getting out Everything you need.
For example, couple of days ago I had to put together an adjustable bed that came in kit form...and I had been putting it off a couple of days knowing what a pain it is when "some assembly is required"!
so my first step (before the cup of tea!) was to lay out all the parts in order, and get the tools organized...and the instructions clearly to hand.  And I'm not "allowed" my cuppa until that first task is done.  It's strange ...but seeing it all laid out like that, almost makes you want to take that first step...
for quilters, having some place that you can leave Everything out ...ready to go even if you just have ten really helpful.

I think of it as being like Initial that it's always harder to start moving than to keep moving...I remember my first car - a 1948 Rover for those who are curious! - took about a gallon of petrol (gas) to start moving...but then it might roll for miles!!!

5.As you go through your day, notice where you "lose time".  This is one of the most helpful ways to improve your time management.  We all have different ways we "lose" it...and some we might not want to change!!!  e.g. walking around the garden to see what flowers just opened up etc...that's actually a good way to use time!  But having to go back to the grocery store for one item which we probably could have done without...well......or checking one's email every five minutes...hmmm
computer games are a big user of use them wisely..especially the ones with 30 second adverts.  UNLESS you stand up and do some push ups or squats during that time!!!
Make an especial note of time lost due to other people USING up your time.  People who want to stop and talk for example...just keep moving...very slowly....yes, it works!!!!  have a big smile on your face at the same time!!  Like they say, learning how to say "no".

6. Batching - don't do jobs, chores, errands etc in bits and pieces...stack them together in one batch.
for example, have one time a week for errands, drive to the one furthest away and plan an efficient route home calling in on all the others.  Don't go up and down stairs with one thing at a time, pile them all at the top/bottom and take all together when a bunch of them. Run machines when they are that unloading is more efficient.  Cook enough for 2, 3 or even 4 days.  Everlasting soups are a great boon!

7. Filing systems - can be a nice filing cabinet, or just a cardboard box that happens to be the right size...don't leave papers lying around....then you lose time looking for them!  And talking about pieces of paper - the old idea of handling a piece of paper just once is really helpful. Read it, make notes on it, file it or shred it.  If it requires a phone call do it right away so you don't lose time thinking about whom you have to call and why.
Emails: I try to answer right away, so I don't have to waste time going back several days later, rereading rethinking etc.
also pet peeve!!  don't "reply all" if it's a group email and that's not relevant...then YOU are wasting someone else's time!  Yes ! those seconds add up!

8. Don't do what does not need to be done! Now this definitely varies from one person to another.  e.g. I HAVE to make the bed! can't stand the look of an unmade bed, for another person that doesn't matter at for them - don't make the bed!!!  While it's good to patronize truly local businesses, if it's just a big box chain, then order on line - much more efficient.  If you like shopping, then do it as entertainment, but if you don't...don't waste time doing it.  When I had teenagers at home, I PAID them to do the grocery shopping!!! As you go through the day, think "do I really need to do this?" or "do I really need to do this every day?"  You can save a LOT of time by NOT doing things!

9.  If there's something Big and sure to spend a little time on it each day.
So for me, that is art, exercise and music.  Even if I just spend 10 minutes on a quilt....that all adds up...and doing it every day means that I know exactly where I'm at and doing have to spend a few minutes getting into the zone....

So good luck with the Time Management! and thank you for the question Elsie.
I'm sure there are LOTS of other ideas out please, comment!! and tell me them.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

The Art and Technique of Design: practice AND feedback

What inspires us to design?
To actually want to arrange beautiful shapes in a beautiful and stunning way..

 I’m not asking what images do we find lovely, intriguing and inspirational. 
Instead, I mean what is it that will make us sit down and make a proper job of designing an art piece?

 There are many “design guidelines’, with which I’m exceeding familiar  but in the heat of the moment, or very often, on my part through sheer laziness, I say oh what the heck and just plunge in!  And in nearly every case I am soon confronted with a mess.  So then I spend ages and ages trying to fix it and simply end up with an overworked mess!! I think this can happen in any medium, I'm certainly coming across it in piles of "waste paper" grow daily!

But, without play it's unlikely we'll come up with anything new.  The first ideas you have are nearly always too rigid, too glued to the original image, too predictable.  So, you must forgive yourself for that!  But then when the idea is good and fresh...then what?

esb apr 11 plein air a

Well while research show that Practice and experience are really's not just hours and hours of's also Feedback
We all need feedback, and the more informed the feedback the better.  I give  a lot of feedback in my classes, both in reality and online, but I realise I need it for myself too.  In my situation I’ve found it more helpful to get feedback from people who work in other mediums because they’ll address the compositional issues.  Another quiltmaker would be inclined to focus more on the stitching or technical issues.  
So I joined a plein air painting group.  My cogitations led me to the idea that if I came up with a good design or selection of colors while composing and painting in the fresh air I could translate those to a quilt design.  Now this is a keen group of people working in many different mediums: oil, acrylic, watercolor, pastel, colored pencil, sumi-e ink, photography, collage, mixed media and sculpture.  (so obviously they needed a textile person too!) The leader of the group drives around the area seeking out inspirational views and then we are all emailed with a time and destination!  It’s great fun and one is much more inspired to design in the company of others.  As well as not feeling like a blinking idiot sitting on one’s own sketching on a muddy farm track or  in the botanical gardens!

esb apr 11 plein air b

Everybody sets about the task with great seriousness, and because we will all share the results at the end of the morning, I find I set to with proper intention and am much less inclined to mess about.  Also there’s the added fact that the computer, email and scrabble games don’t work in the middle of a field of canola! I’ve learned a lot from being in this group.  It makes me really use the knowledge I have.

yes, I know...groups come and groups prepared for that...but look for all opportunities to be out there practicing AND getting feedback.
EVEN if the feedback is not necessarily good, e.g. one friend I ask always likes the work with bright colors regardless of anything else!!!...even then the experience of looking at the work with someone else helps you to be more objective...

And, if you have been, thanks for reading, I’m headed off to a grass verge somewhere!     Elizabeth
PS All feedback is sooooooooooo helpful…please, just hit the comment tag and speak!

Wednesday, October 23, 2019


Went to get my flu shot this afternoon...what a glorious day it is!!!  periwinkle sky, the leaves and red and orange and yellow and gold...burnt sienna, and permanent rose, and quinacridone gold...and those beautiful dye mixes of fuchsia and sun yellow....just shifting proportions in each dye bath...
color so beautiful and delicious you want to bottle it to drink all winter!!

I was thinking while I was waiting about a TV show where the dancers were being critiqued and  I was struck by how applicable those comments were to Art Quilts and to paintings , or any art work.
The most frequent criticism was that the dancer’s technique was flawless, but the performance lacked something.   And oh, haven’t we all seen quilts just like that? Beautifully pieced, neatly assembled, straight binding etc but just blah.  They don’t grab you.   Recently I’ve seen some exquisite pieces with tiny bits of painted fabric, lots of extra stitching, many details…but they’re dead.  Oh yes, beautiful, but on to the next one, this one’s a corpse.

And technique isn’t limited to sewing and assembly skills.  I think it applies to the composition too.  You can have a piece that is harmonious (no sore thumbs, no kitchen sink), that is well balanced, where the rhythms  and repetitions are appropriate and varied, where there aren’t any elements that are unnecessary – but they don’t come to life, they don’t fascinate you.  Like a room decorated by a run of the mill interior designer: safe, beige....

So I was interested to see if the judges would give any particular advice on how to jump beyond these basic levels.
One obvious necessity was that the piece should cause an emotional response in the viewer.  There was one dance where the audience went totally quiet, it was chilling – the dancer was able to create a raw emotion which all watching felt immediately.  I don’t quite know how you’d achieve this in a quilt!!  But I did once show a piece to 4 friends, two said they loved it, two hated it – and they wanted to argue!  Maybe that’s a start.   I’ve also read many a juror’s statement and one of the things they always mention is looking for a piece that creates a visceral response from them.  You have to try to put the feeling into the art work as the dancer put it into his dance.

Another judge made a comment about the emotion being revealed by the details: little compositional adjustments that bring out what you feel about the piece.   So your quilt is about a crisp fall day where you literally feel you can can you push the freshness, the fall-ness, the bounciness?  What details must you be sure to include?  You might think of the colours of fall, the temperature of fall, the intensity of the colours, the turning of the leaves.... shown by an upward movement in the lines and shapes.  The temperature in Fall is often  cool, but occasionally you’ll hit a warm burst of air in the sunshine – include that.  The air has more space – make sure you have that space and openness in the piece.

Sometimes the judges talk about forgetting technique in favour of pushing the performance?  How could that work in an art quilt?  Your piece is about raggedy lonely old ladies….d’you want the quilt to be raggedy?  d’you want to surround those old ladies with space?  The piece is about fireworks – should the colours explode screamingly off the piece even if the colour scheme is then a jarring one?
One of the dancers clearly wanted approval from the audience throughout her piece and was told  that the first approval for a work must come from yourself, not an audience, real or imagined.  Don’t think “will they like it?”  (though, sadly, quilt sales might be better if “they” do; decorative and cute being ever more popular than real, fresh and meaningful).   Instead always seek to satisfy your own standards, does it say what you wanted it to say?  For this you might have to look deeper into who you are, and what you want to say and your motives for saying it.
The judges defined the successful dancer as one who had beauty, quirkiness, athleticism, technique, who knew  who he/she really was and also knew exactly what they were creating.  Some goals to reach!  Might manage the quirk, not sure about the athletics! 

And onward, ever onward.... so, if you have been, thanks for reading.  Elizabeth
Oh! and comment…do please comment!

Friday, October 18, 2019

What is a "modern" quilt? What is "improv"?

People often ask me about "modern" quilts.
Are they actually any different from traditional ones?
 Where did the term come from?
 What is so special about them?

 And: what does "improv" or "improvisational" piecing mean?

Well all of the pieces you see here were cut and sewn together using Improv techniques...they're probably a little more elaborate than your average "modern" quilt - yes I got a bit carried away!!! - but if you look at just a small section of any of'd be close to a modern quilt...for example...just the lighter rectangle on the right hand side of the quilt below...would be considered modern.

Modern quilts have really revolutionized the field of quilting, bring into it younger energetic folk who are in a hurry!!!  and that's great!  I completely applaud the movement.
What I don't applaud is then trying to create and sell specific "patterns".....for the whole thing about being modern and improv is that you take a few basics...and then make it your own!

To find out a bit more about my thoughts and prejudices (!) and have a go on your own, consider my Mod Meets Improv class - and see you how go.  I think you'll enjoy it, plus you have unlimited access to me - which may or may not be a good thing!!!

I'd also love to read your comments about the modern movement....I promise to answer every one!!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth

Saturday, October 5, 2019

Color theory 101

Have you ever been flummoxed by color choice?
There are so many gorgeous colors out there, how do you create a work of art that looks rich and satisfying without being cloying and hurtful to the eye.

Oh but the lure and seduction of color!!!
Nature does it so well...but it's so easy to get it wrong in one's art work....

Have you ever seen an image (painting, photograph...) where the  selection of colors was so beautiful that you just wanted to eat in it, bathe in it, surround yourselves with it???

And here's another one...these are just in our garden by the way....

The first one is a complementary color scheme...colors opposite on the wheel...all those lovely pinks contrasted with the greens....the second one is largely monochromatic...with a neutral added which not only makes the yellows glow but gives you the needed dark value.

Above is an image from color?  Look again, my friend!!!  see all those pinks and purples and silverly sage grey...oh so delicious...

So from nature we can extract the most gorgeous schemes...but we can also analyze them and see how they are working...and how we might enhance them...deepening saturation, increasing the spread of values etc...

And each wonderful combination has a different "feel" or mood or ambiance to it...

Above a cold wintry morning over the neighborhood pond...analogous plus black...color used as the focal point ...high contrast....and oh so gorgeous!!!

So many people, when you ask them what inspires them, say "oh color, colour, colour is what I love!" (no matter how you spell it!)...... the right colors really work to attract, nay, seduce!, people...


On the other hand, I've noticed that when I'm teaching, and ask people to bring images from which they'd like to work to design their quilt, the photos or prints etc they show me often have gorgeous colors and it's really hard  to get beyond that to see the "bones" of  the design.  Very reluctantly, some can be persuaded to photocopy the image into black and white we can really see what's what.  And some look great in grey...others just disappear into a moosh of flat nothing!!
It is hard to get beyond  color, its siren song is so powerful..... 

Some artists are strong on color,  some on the basic design... a few can manage both. 
I advocate one step at a works for mountain climbing!  First, decide on the shape of the mountain!   Then go into color...and a lovely way to choose colors for a project is to work from those gorgeous photos you've collected over the years.

Color Immersion

But, one of the problems for our medium, when it comes to color, is actually finding cloth in the right hue/saturation/value/temperature - even knowing what to call the colors  is difficult sometimes!
Much easier with paint, thank goodness!
If you look at the picture above, the turquoise on the left is in several different values...and it also shifts from a cool to a warmer blue.  The pink on the right goes from a warm orangey pink, through a slightly greyed pink to a blue-pink and then into mauve.  And then what color is that shadow?  What kind of a grey is that?  Is it important to the image?

Want to know more about color and how to use it?   Well, I'm just about to start a new Color course at
The class covers basic color theory in videos and text with simple examples - You can learn about the 4 properties of color, how to use them to enhance your artwork, how to choose great color schemes and visual effects...and how to generate specific moods with the use of color.  
Think about it!  wouldn't it be great to make no more expensive mistakes with cloth, or having to start over on a watercolor?  and the basics are easily learned and very straightforward and with a little practice you'll develop an intuitive sense of color that will serve you well.

Please ask any questions in Comments!  or email me - there's a link on the sidebar at the top....
or:  elizabethyork100 AT will work too!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Basic Improv quilt Class

The Six Hour Quilt

My next online class is the six hour quilt.
This is the story of 3 people new to quilting, and designing and pattern free cutting out the quilt pieces from fabric..
We see them from the very first stages of coming up with a design, through to choosing colors - I let them use my stash since the class was held in my studio!!!  And Lord knows I have ENOUGH fabric!

Then, they designed.

They chose colors.

They ripped and cut away at fabric...pinning up pieces on the design wall to see what would work.

 They used my two old Bernina machines - one came from England with me when I emigrated  to the USA half a lifetime ago...

There are some good discussions as we evaluated design problems.  Then they basted the quilt sandwich, quilted - yes we talked about different ways to quilt ....and why.

Finally we applied a really simple but effective binding and enjoyed the finished pieces.

If  this looks like an interesting class to you  - please go to the academy of quilting!

I'm happy to answer any questions - just ask in the Comments section!
 I love Comments anyway!! so please !

And, if you have been, thanks for always...Elizabeth

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Creativity - the beginning

Creativity - the beginning....

Looking west over the Hudson River

 Many people are flummoxed when it comes to thinking about being creative ….
Numerous times I’ve been told at shows and workshops – oh you’re so lucky you have a talent!
Well…it aint luck!  I am lucky in that I’m tall…I didn’t have much to do with that!  And unlucky in that I have asthma…didn’t have much to do with that either!
But…in being creative? It’s a combination of awareness and persistence…with the help of some exercises as starting points.  Time plus good teachers.

Exercises? I hear you say! I hate exercising…well …I spent much of my life saying that exercise was bad for you…until I tried it…and then made myself aware of how I felt afterwards.
Yes it can certainly be tedious swimming up and down up and down looking at the concrete bottom of the pool with an occasional patch of algae – if I’m lucky! – for variation! But oh oh oh how you feel afterwards is great.  And the same is true with art exercises.  You do have to slog through quite a few, preferably without thinking too much, just going forward.  Then when you have a number of examples…at least a dozen.  Then you get to stand up, stretch, pin them up on the wall, make a cuppa of tea, and come back and look.  And you might be amazed!  And you WILL feel good!

So – when you look at the sketches on the wall, just what are you looking for?  Well actually that part is easy…have you ever been to a quilt show? Or an art show?  You know how some pieces just speak to you, just attract your eye with a combination of interest…intrigue and beauty? Well that’s what you’re looking for…only in a germinal version – in your preliminary sketches. 

What creates Interest and intrigue?  Something a little bit different, we are pretty much hard wired to spot things that are “different”…out of the ordinary,  unexpected, dynamic,  a sense of movement and energy.
Next time you go to a show – and I’m not talking about a museum show because by and large if the curators are any good and not just wowed by the Big Names’ leavings – which unfortunately you can sometimes come across…if they’re any good then everything is interesting and fresh and unique!  But in a regular quilt show, or an “amateur” art show, you can see a mix of work.  Much of it quite predictable.  And then a few stand out….so you walk around and come back to those pieces…and sometimes they remain with you…and sometimes they’re quite boring the second time around. And I'm sure you have done know that you  can assess what will interest, intrigue,  fascinate and satisfy. 

What is beauty? Generally accepted it’s something that’s harmonious.  We love harmony…yes with just a little bit of edge so it’s not “flat”!  but balanced, everything fitting together.  Harmony with nature is where we fit in with nature, harmony with others is where we get along with them well…harmony in music is not aberrant notes or faulty rhythms.....and so on.

The Exercises.
In many of my online classes there are lots of exercises, that’s the main way I devise a class…though once in a while I’ll write one that is more technique oriented.

But let me mention a few new ones that I’m just now trying out for myself and thinking about.
If I find them useful, I’ll put them together into a new online class.  So let me know what YOU think!!

Working from natural or accidental lines
Have you ever been intrigued by a pattern of cracks in the surface of a road?  Or the striations in a tree trunk., or the angles created in a pile of rocks…or even an arrangement of pillows on a coach…there are numerous accidental “compositions” like this to be found.
Da Vinci like to look at rocks and clouds…and use the main lines they created as a starting point for a composition.  A landscape…or a group of people.  
I myself like to watch the clouds and imagine that I’m up there…usually on beautiful empty golden beaches!!!
Another Italian painter di Cosimo…sketched the stains on the tavern walls and made those a starting point, the 11thcentury Chinese painter Sung Ti saw patterns in the damp stains on bamboo walls…Klee took ideas from the markings  and veinings on the marble tables.

Exercise with improv lines
You could start with clouds or rocks or a pattern of leaves against the sky…but you can also close your eyes and make random short marks on a piece of paper.  Not too many, and not too close together…and use your non dominant hand…maybe a dozen or so.  Then make several copies (preferably larger if you can)  of your “seeds” and begin to fill in …think about the marks as the contours of hills or mountains..or the outline of people or objects…alternate between abstract and realistic compositions.  Make a lot!   

I'm not going to show any examples because I don't want you to limit yourself to how I would do it....but next time you sit down to watch telly, or are in a waiting room...take a little notebook and a pencil and just jot down random short lines...or even one long connected line (the latter better done not looking!!)... and begin to develop a little stash of these "beginnings".  They're a bit like the first sentence of a novel:  remember: "It was a dark and stormy night on the west coast of Scotland..."  ???

Another way to do it would be to take some of the selvedges that you’ve ripped off your fabric, cut them into different lengths and drop them one by one from a height onto a piece of paper…take a photo of that…then print out several…and use those as a starting point.
Each piece of paper can be viewed in four different orientations…so keep turning your starting point around…don’t just stick with one way round.

The random lines are just the starting point...then later come back and see what you can create from them - is this a landscape?  or an abstract pattern?  What happens when I extend these lines to the outside edges of the paper? What does it look like if I double them? or join them together?  ...and also have an eraser handy...would it be better to omit this line...and so on.  Play with them for they are the building blocks of your final composition.


After you’ve got at least a dozen sketches based on the "beginning lines"  pin them up on the wall spaced apart, don’t really look at them!
Then walk away…get that cuppa tea!...take your time before you come back…then evaluate for unity/harmony….and for freshness/tension/energy.  
Which ones just stand out?  Like those special quilts or paintings at the show.
Keep them..discard the others.....or take your crop tools and look for "interesting details" never know there might just be a gem lurking within a larger piece!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading...and yes please do comment!!!  I promise I'll reply - after a nice cuppa tea of course!!  Elizabeth